Immortal Technique

The Assassination of Hip-Hop: Did the L.A. Riots Murder Rebel Music?

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of’s month-long series , “Rap, Race and Riots: Hip-Hop 20 Years after the L.A. Rebellion.”

“They know one day we’ll learn how to use it/That’s why they fear our jungle music” – “Jungle Music”, Jeru tha Damaja

April 29, 2012, following the assassination of political Hip Hop artist, Lil J B, in Jasper, Texas, America experienced her worst riot in the last 20 years, prompting the authorities to enact Operation You Gots Ta Chill. Like clockwork, “responsible” leaders held press conferences urging for calm, while at the same time activists were being hauled off to football stadiums that had been converted into concentration camps. Immediately, all Hip-Hop was banned from the radio, except for songs by Nicki Minaj and Drake…

Think this can’t happen? Think again.

For many years people have been talking about how “Hip-Hop is dead.” But what must be understood is that the bullet that killed real Hip-Hop was fired on April 29, 1992, during the L.A. Rebellion, following the acquittal of the cops that beat Rodney King. Many Hip-Hop historians will tell you that, at that moment in time, Hip-Hop changed forever.

Since we know, according to Lou Cannon, in his book, Official Negligence, that during the L.A. Rebellion, something called Operation Cool Response was enacted to keep the natives from gettin’ restless, could some operation also have been launched to silence political rap music?

It’s very possible.

Prior to 1992, America had been somewhat tolerant of rap music as entertainment, however, they underestimated it’s potential to spark a revolution. So following the outrage surrounding the so-called Rodney King verdict, something had to be done quickly. They resorted to the old tactics that had been used for centuries to squash political dissent.

The suppression of Black voices is nothing new, as it can be traced back to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade when the drum was taken from tribes for fear that it would have allowed the Africans to unite against the slave traders.

It must also be noted that the reason that most people are under the false impression that the enslaved Africans did not rebel is because that information has been hidden from history.

In his book, American Negro Slave Revolts, Hebert Aptheker argued that the reason that most people believe that the slaves did not fight back was because of the suppression of information by politicians and newspaper owners who felt that the truth about rebellions would spread fear among Whites and encourage more rebellions among Blacks. So, this type of information was kept on the low.

This manipulation of facts continued into the 20th century.

According to Dr. Patricia Turner in her book, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, during the heated racial period around World War II there were even “rumor clinics” set up to “prevent potentially adverse hear say of all sorts from gaining credibility.”

Perhaps the most horrendous acts of political suppression happened during the Civil Rights /Vietnam War Era. Attorney William Kunstler wrote in his autobiography, My Life as a Civil Rights Lawyer, that H. Rap Brown (whose words were ironically the basis for Big Bank Hank’s line on “Rappers Delight”) was arrested in July 1967 in Cambridge, Maryland for advocating a riot. This led to the Rap Brown Statute, which made it a federal crime for anyone to cross state lines with intention of starting a riot. According to Kunstler, this law was used in the infamous trial of the Chicago 8 which included the bounding, gagging and chaining of Black Panther Bobby Seale in the courtroom.

The entertainment industry has also played a major role in squashing rebellions over the years.

Although “urban” radio is seen as the voice of the ‘hood, it has played a major role in suppressing more “militant” voices.

According to Brian Ward, in his book, Just My Soul Responding, during the ’60s “militants felt that soul radio discouraged Black insurgency and reinforced the racial and economic status quo in subtle ways.” Ward states that in 1967, the Take a Look Foundation was established to “use Black oriented radio to defuse tensions.”

So anything with the ability to “move the crowd” has been used for us and against us. Hip-Hop is no exception.

Rap artists are no strangers to censorship. Back during the early ’80s, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five couldn’t even say “pissin’ on stage” on the radio, and we still can’t figure out what was so bad about Digital Underground’s Humpty Hump braggin’ how “he once got busy in a Burger King bathroom.”

However, there is a big difference between censorship of that nature and the suppression of political ideas. There are many examples of Hip-Hop artists feeling America’s wrath after they crossed the line of demarcation between rap and radical thought.

Perhaps one of the best examples is West Coast artist, Paris. According to a November 29, 1992 Los Angeles Times article, Time Warner gave him “six figures” as compensation after refusing to put out his Sleeping With the Enemy CD.

Also, rapper Too Short recently alleged that his record label made him make sex songs instead of more political music around that same period.

In the years since the L.A. Rebellion, it has become increasingly harder for artists to fight for their rights to politically party. It must be noted then even rare instances of activism, like Mos Def’s performance of “Katrina Clap” outside of the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards Show are viewed as random acts of radicalism or temporary temper tantrums, not part of a protracted struggle against oppression.

Let’s be clear. The reason that you don’t hear Dead Prez and Immortal Technique on the radio is not because of their profanity but their “profound-ity.” There is no more cussin’ on an Immortal Technique record song than there is on the barely edited, yet radio friendly “Marvin’s Room” by Drake.

Fortunately, there is still a small Hip-Hop resistance made of activists, writers and artists still bringin’ the noise. But speakin’ Truth comes with a price.

Like Ice T once said, “Freedom of speech, just watch what you say.”

The powers that be don’t want the masses to know the truth. And if you are one of the few who dare to speak it, you may find yourself being banned from radio, blacklisted from Hip hop conferences and all other venues.

But somebody’s gotta do it.

Like Lupe Fiasco said, “The Show Goes On.”

“Even if they ban us, they’ll never slow my plans up.”

TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is This Ain’t Hip Hop, a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at, on his website,, or  on Twitter (@truthminista). 

26 Responses to “The Assassination of Hip-Hop: Did the L.A. Riots Murder Rebel Music?”

  1. John

    There are many factors to this.  First, hip hop is more money oriented now than ever.  Back then,  cats would jump on a track wit another artist because they genuinely was showing love to the artist and the hip hop game.  It wasn’t totally about the money back then.  Labels had no idea back then that rap would have the influence it has today.  Now, the labels can control your subject content and in most cases not even let you put out an album if it’s not what THEY like.  The name of the game is money, and at the end of the day,  the younger generation don’t want to hear the rebellious message in music.  Just money, cars, clothes, and weed is what the younger people want to relate to.  To be honest, white people are the only ones really running out to the store to actually buy cd’s nowadays.  And if the labels feel your music is too pro black or militant, they’re not gonna let you in the game in the first place.  Basically, hip hop is one big puppet show with the corporate heads pulling the strings.  And if you think they’re gonna let you come in and mess up their money, your music will never see the light of day.

  2. Aaron Davis

    yep, ur 100% right. In the 90’s, ppl jus didnt know how big this rap thing could get. Now dat they know, artists could make lots of money (especially if u promote them right) and the influence dat they have, these Execs want their slice of the pie too. They can care less about the quality of music or the state of urban radio. Greed is what helps kill hip-hop along w/artists who dnt wanna help elevate the culture. But hip-hop isnt dead, you jus have to search harder now for good music. Alot of mixtapes are better than Artists albulms. An Artists rather have a dope mixtape instead of a classic albulm.

  3. Kevin Park

    The L.A. Riots was a tipping point for the city and its problems, and the Rodney King case was only the trigger that finally made everything fall. Personally, I believe the reason why Hip-Hop, or at least West Coast rap, was so assertive before the aquittal was because there had not been a reason for Angelinos to finally “snap”. The Black community in Los Angeles had so many issues that weren’t addressed by the city, at least correctly: the Latasha Harlins incident, extreme police brutality before the Rodney King case, Koreans taking businesses away from lower-class neighborhoods…In a way, the L.A. Riots showed the nation that the anger expressed in music were not empty statements. I think once the riots, the climax, occurred, the city tried to find a solution to what has been going on: the (failed)Rebuild L.A. project, reforming the process of being a policeman in Los Angeles. Will a “rebellion” occur again? I think so. I kind of see the Rodney King/L.A. Riots incidents as the aftermath of that one Jenga block that has the entire tower crumble; afterwards, it’s another round of Jenga, and every act of injustice is another block being pulled out from the bottom, slowly adding to another eventual downfall.

  4. ccwaterbound32

    i find it coincidental that only TWO MAJOR CORPORATIONS bought up all the radio stations around the country, it used to be an anticipation for a new artist or someone you haven’t heard of kind of like being a sneaker head going into the shoe store buying up all the latest sneakers “cuz aint nobody got these yet”, thats what the rap game was like back in the day it was so much fun to know you had a tape nobody ever heard of. you would dub exclusive freestyles from the radio that nobody else heard of and trade your tape with your homeboy down the street who might have a tape you want and you have a tape he wants so you trade.   i mean the streets made up the trends, dress styles,fads, and everything else in between. record companies these days want to suppress as much information about the struggle as possible in order to make it appear as if everything is all lilies and daisies happy faces and lollipops. the record execs don’t want the artist to compare notes and contracts to figure out how to gain power over them. so they keep their artist in a mindless fog and out of their faces. i gotta admit as much as Napster was a blessing it was a curse to the music industry thats how all the anticipation died for these artist once they leak a record and the masses find out its garbage than nobody buys the project and it’s all up to the artist to cover the cost of manufacturing that project, because either way that artist HAS to pay them back or other wise suffer going into a massive financial debt.

  5. John Graham

    The record labels made Rap what it is today; dissension has never really been much of an issue. What IS an issue is all those executive lawyers with their ‘hos and cocaine – as Rap progressed, nothing else was even allowed to be played on the radio, because what mattered was whether the company execs got there’s first. Otherwise, Rap would today ne a marginalized, regional phenomenon. Greed kills; just ask Tupac or Big E.

  6. LetsBeRealpeople

    Let’s be clear, we are talking West Coast rap. East Coast owns the majority of labels and distribution. East Coast shut down West Coast rap(mainstream) , who had spoken more on social issues then, than the liquor sponsorships/material wealth. West Coast rap threatens East Coat business. In our life time to get what we desire, all supporters of Hip Hop will have to invest into West Coast rappers to get their Hip Hop back into power, like they want it to be. Otherwise it’s mastubatory  henchmen system running through your speakers. I always promote local hip hop, regardless of region. However, you want to shake the game up as a listener…support West Coast artist and independent labels. Take Viacom, CBS, SONY, BMG, WARNER, VIRGIN…and the like out. Clear Channel…out.

    • immackulate

      i understand where you going in regards to region … but East Coast did bring us Poor Righteous Teachers, Public Enemy, Intelligent Hoodlum, to name a few hell even Chubb Rock was conscious and he dropped a lot of Party records… so i cant really rock with the whole of your explanation but i understand ur point

      however, they did kill off the West Coast indie hustle – cuz niggahs was going gold in the Bay off moms and pops distribution – def jam signed a lot of west coast artists to the shelf and eventually killed the indie hustle til Master P brought that shyt back … and where did he go to learn the game NorCal Richmond, CA

      • LetsBeRealpeople

        I know we point to point. East Coast Rappers are one thing. I’m talking the lockout tag out from the business side, but we point to point on how it went down.

  7. Pierre Elliott

    NOW WE ARE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING… I almost have nothing to add cause everyone here has hit on so  many points….Who remembers Tragy Khadafis Song: Arrest The President

    The beat was sick. Hot. Lyrics blazing. WTF why you gotta touch OUR BLACK MUSIC..
    OUR SOUL……If you listen to Drake Niggi Wayne whatever…..But I promise you.
    NON OF THAT OR VERY LITTLE WILL BE REMEMBERED… Because these beings that habor between human and un human, figured the one thing that is the most powerful.

    The human condition. The soul. The pain, which makes you stronger and more resiliant.
    I was in Home Depot, and Im buying some stuff for the crib n all….
    But on the radio was Anita Bakers: Nobody But you   Classic Classic song.

    And you know what
    ? From the adults to the teens THEY ALL WERE SINGING THE SONG, IN EVERY ISLE TILL
    IT WENT OFF THE RADIO……..When do you see that, ever? Anymore?

    Where does this idea come from where, music with good soulfull chords isnt good music.
    Why, cause they have these blk and spanish kids programmed to hate SOUL.

    How is SOUL part of the BLACK HISPANIC  experience for as long as we have ever known, and then all of a sudden, people of color abandon something that is as close to them as the blood
    they bleed……CaN YOU IMAGINE SOME 26 year old spanish cuban guy saying:

    Yo Celia cruz is wack compared to Drake….

    And thats what is going on right now…….
    All the rap labels of the 70s 80s 90s… All gone. WHY??
    Cause Labels bought them all out and then destroyed everything……

    Its time to take it back…..

    I produce. I rhyme. I can dance.  Im a triple threat.
    Im going to show these clown ass niggas, that YOU STAY TRUE TO THE GAME…..

  8. immackulate

    RESPECTFULLY I DISAGREE … the rodney king riots spawned Ice Cube’s DEATH CERTIFICATE – which was one of the most political, rebellious, thought provoking albums of all time and captured the essence of the LA RIOTS

    rap and rebellion went hand in hand from the beginning up until 1991  IMO that whole BIG vs PAC
    is what killed that shyt fam and they turned into an east coast
    west coast beef that even had the Fu-Gees off they square LOL and – the riots brought niggahs together similar to Trayvon situation that made us band together – similar to OJ (unfortunately)

    “the PHOENIX always rises from the ashes”

    • TAHIR

      Death certificate came out in fall of 1991…rodney king got assaulted in Spring of 1991 and the Riots started in 1992. But I agree that Ice Cube record was a reflection of the “stress and tension” in the streets during that era. I don’t buy into that whole “East vs. West Coast” BS, let’s keep it 100…the real problem was the lack of “hip-hop” marketability outside of NEW YORK CITY!!! In laymen terms, cats started to realize that the only way you was going to get a deal(money) or any real airplay, you had to be from one of the 5 Burroughs or a affiliate of one of the 5…And emcees across the country started to “question and challenge the status quo”. Just go back and listen to Geto Boys “Do it like a G.O” and we talking about roughly 1987-88, a good eight years before this concocted “E vs. W” foolishness;it deflected away from a larger issue. Biggie and Tupac deaths were just the nails in the coffin for hip-hop artist who actually had talent. But the DEATH of Hip-Hop in my humble opinion, should be directly appointed to 2 cats, Rick and Russell.  What happened to Def Jam once R&R relinquished power to the BIG Corps? They got rid of PUBLIC ENEMY, who were making platinum albums every time they dropped! …this was the beginning of the end…the removal of VARIETY in Hip-Hop. Aint nothing wrong with Lil Wayne and Drake, (if that’s what you are into), but there are way too many artist with more depth,range,charisma and talent. 

    • malachindyahveah

       u are being controlled by mainstream media..they wanted black to ban together to further there agenda for obama to remain in there

  9. immackulate

    “we gon do you like KING – rodney KING – martin luther King and all those cotdayum KINGS from africa”

    Steady Mobbin
    Death Certificate (1992)

  10. Pierre Elliott

    But I must also say to that: On both coasts…..I was chillin with my jew boys bout to drop acid.
    And we all watched BLK WHITE SPANISH together, Reginald Denny get beat. NO ONE!!
    I MEAN NO ONE SAID; Yo rock that nigga”  We all knew that was wrong. We also knew it was wrong for BLACK PEOPLE TO TEAR UP THEY WHOLE TOWN……Cause they didnt destroy white hoods, they tore up their own. Reguardless that it was Korean owned or Blk owned.

    The thing was: They were talking about that in Hip-Hop since damn near the beginning.
    And NOW, im supossed to be into Jeezy Wayne Yelawolf? Rhianna? 

    Are you f*cking kidding me??!!! Thats like asking PAC to dance with a glitter suit on.

  11. Raphop71

    I agree with Jay Overstreet below. I would say the Pac-Biggie beef and the political, regional and partaility implications that came with it led to the demise of unity in the rap community. Ice Cube’s Death Certificate was a reflection of the times, not the trigger behind King and other LA political uprise. The labels can be held responsible for some of the dissolve of old school rap and its importance in urban communities, but truthfully, I see this artcle as a political guise to influence more West Coast rap back into the mainstream. We control what we hear and when blacks want something new, the artists and labels will know. I like the refelction on the LA riots and its times, but if you’re really just writing all this to push LA rap back on the scene, can’t buy it. They need to get relevant and stop living on rappers from 20 years ago to get some attention.

  12. Pierre Elliott

    Lansky shut up. Yeah they were 20 years ago, but there is cultural backlash.  When the Govt starts intervening in music, theres a problem. When ALL AMERICAN MUSIC now sounds the same, theres a problem. Its called control. Remember: You just a white dude, looking through the window on black culture. SO show respect, because its way bigger than just Hip-Hop.

  13. WhozOoze

    the “militant” or political rap still lives… Immortal Technique, Lupe Fiasco to name a few…

    even my own music is somewhat political, the problem is people dont want to listen to that deep rap anymore. it doesnt sell. people have been dumbed down to a level that the problems of the world are of no importance to them.i dont usually post on this site but this was to let u know there is still independant, young rappers like myself who are intelligent and not asleep like most of the sheep out there.

    Check it out if u choose
    Youtube channel : Ooze905

    quality needs improvement but the words are on point, everything will be re-recorded along with new material and released as a mixtape, look for it…

    check out “Real Power Is The People” and “No Sunshine” for the more conscious, political tracks

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