When N.W.A. released “Fuck Tha Police,” it scared the hell out of white people. Radio stations wouldn’t even touch it. It sparked protests. Some guy claiming to represent the entire FBI even wrote a letter to the label condemning the song for encouraging violence against the police. He mentions in his letter that the prior year had seen 78 law enforcement officers slain while on duty. That number is too high.
This was in 1989. Curiously, there are no numbers on how many civilians were killed in police-related incidents that year, or the prior year. In fact, the police in America didn’t start tracking those until…Hey, they still don’t! That’s cute.
“Fuck Tha Police,” of course, has become a cultural icon, its refrain so widely recognized that even if you’ve never heard the song, you know the chorus. In 1989, radio stations were afraid to play it. In 2020, Anonymous is hacking the sound systems inside police vehicles so they can blast it at full volume during protests.
In 1989, middle-class white people arguably had an excuse to not understand the shocking (although comparably tame by today’s standards) lyrics and abrasive instrumentals of a song like “Fuck Tha Police.” After all, they had no idea what Compton was like. They had certainly never been there, and no one who did live there had camera phones to show what it was really like. They would walk out their doors, get in their cars, smile at the local policeman, and drive off to work, blissfully unaware of the war zones that existed in their homeland.
In 2020, there is no excuse for claiming ignorance to why violent themes persist in rap and hip hop. Hip hop is more than just black music, it is a tapestry that tells the story of the black experience in America from the time of its inception through to today in a way that very few history classes possess the data to accurately portray. And that tapestry is splattered with systemic racism.
That’s why there’s no better time than now to become a fan. It’s unfortunate that the rap from the ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s, and 2010s is still so, so, so, so, SO relevant today, but it also means that a lot of it still sounds pretty fresh, unlike a lot of the rock and pop from those same time periods. So there’s a LOT of new music to discover.
You can start with this song released in 1991, or this song released in 2000, or this song released in 1982, or this one released in 2014, or even this one that went viral just a couple years ago. It doesn’t matter. The sound has changed with the decades, but the message is the same. And it’s high past time everyone heard it.
Can I get away with this one more time? “Fuck Tha Police.”
Written by Syd Ghan
*Edited by Dominic Abate