Talk isn’t as cheap as we think. Before action comes intention and idea--Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof (V for Vendetta…) Ideas don’t die easily—they’re like Jason from Friday the 13th, unforgivingly relentless. If you’re a fan of N.W.A—or if you’ve seen Straight Outta Compton—you’re aware of the power they inspired within their communities, and the fear these young black men inspired within white power structures, with a song titled “Fuck Tha Police”. The song starts like they’re at a court hearing, starting with Ice Cube taking the stand. Some excerpts:
Excerpts from Ice Cube’s verse, and by far my favorite—that man is a poet, No Vaseline is just an incredibly large and well written middle finger to the remaining members N.W.A.
Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
a young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
and not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
for a punk mother fucker with a badge and a gun
to be beating on, and thrown in jail
we can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fucking with me because I’m a teenager
with a little bit of gold and a pager.
Searching my car, looking for the product
thinking every nigga is selling narcotics.
You’d rather see me in the pen
than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o
Excerpts from MC Ren’s Verse
For police I’m saying, “Fuck you punk!”
Reading my rights and shit, it’s all junk
Pulling out a silly club, so you stand
with a faek-ass badge and a gun in your hand
but take off the gun so you can see what’s up
and we’ll go at it punk
and I’ma fuck you up
The popularity of N.W.A.’s lyrics prompted the then assistant director of the FBI, Milt Ahlerich, to send a letter to Ruthless Records—founded by Eazy and Jerry Heller—and to Ruthless’s distributors Priority Records condemning the lyrics. Police actively refused to provide security for N.W.A.’s concerts, and in some cases actively attempting to stop concerts from happening.
And this was all in the late 80’s, right before the 1992 L.A. riots. Not that N.W.A was single-handedly responsible for the riots, but the content of N.W.A.’s lyrics were speaking to the violence black US citizens were often subjected too. N.W.A. validated the “normal” person’s experience—these famous rappers were telling their story. It happened everywhere, to everyone. N.W.A. was more than just a band, it feels like N.W.A is a part of Los Angeles’s—and the US’s—troubled history of racial relations.
Words are powerful because of the ideas and experiences they represent—which is why poetry, as well as lyrics, can summon such emotional responses. But I think it’s dangerous attempting skirt difficult ideas, or to censor one’s self because of someone else’s interpretation. Not all words are pretty, but I believe they are all necessary.