Immortal Technique

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

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of AllHipHop.com’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 info@nowarningshotsfired.com, on his website, www.NoWarningShotsFired.com, or  on Twitter (@truthminista). 

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