Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Though the artist may leave politics alone, thinking they are no real concern of his, politics may not leave the artist alone...
- Henry Moore, 1938

30 years ago, there were no black cops!
-KRS-ONE, 1993

Although he did it to himself, it's a great tragedy that KRS-ONE's contemporary image is a caricature: hectoring pedant, crackpot doomsday preacher.  While his blowhard routine deserves all the derision it gets, I keep thinking back to one of his songs every time a black man is killed by police.   With respect to the overseer/officer alt-etymology, "Sound Of Da Police" is more agitprop than nuanced critique.  "Black Cop" might be myopic in its focus, but it addresses issues of representation, enfranchisement, and power structures better than any of the more cathartic "fuck cops" raps we rally behind.  Stroll around Brooklyn and it's hard not to see the parallels between Operation Impact and military occupation, an issue writ larger in areas that are gentrifying in the most lopsided socioeconomic terms.  Who exactly is being protected?  Is everybody in the community being served?  Answer: it took a demographic shift before Fort Greene even got decent garbage pick-up.

Cam fucked up when he went on O'Reilly.  "Stop Snitchin'" could have been a great opportunity for dialogue if anyone had bothered to explore the underlying grievances behind the attitude.   Instead, he took an opportunity to give mainstream America a credible definition and made a publicity stunt out of a cheap soundbite.  He let the media run with sensationalism at the expense of real injustice.  Like its spiritual predecessor Warna Brotha, it was irony as defense mechanism, a way of laughing so you don't cry for lives lost to heavy gavels.  Ultimately, "stop snitchin" wasn't some comic-book gangster code of ethics or a petulant justification of criminal activity.  It's a reaction to a history of brutality and corruption, excessively punitive sentencing and tactics that prioritize surveillance and containment over protection and real change.  In a perfect world, "We Don't Talk To Police" would have got the same attention as Cam, but that shit ain't meme-able.

Here's where rap pundits decry the dearth of political rap, which is usually just coded nostalgia for Public Enemy's heyday.  But the beauty of rap is that it encompasses so many things.  It sustains itself on contradiction.  Toni Morrison insists that all good art is political; while I think that's too clever for its own good, I'm inclined to agree.  All good rap is political, but that doesn't mean all political rap is good.  Drill music is some of the most political shit to come out in years, so don't underestimate the subversive.  We don't need more Immortal Techniques in the world.  We could use some more Ices T and Cube, artists who responded to the Reagan-Bush I regime as citizens rather than ideologues. History repeats itself.  Let's hope our generation responds in kind.

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