Eric Garner. John Crawford. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford. All these recent news stories about police brutality are heart-breaking and a painful reminder that, despite how far this country has come in terms of race relations, law enforcement and the justice system still have African-American males in their cross hairs. Moreover, there’s no damn good reason these humans are are dead. It isn’t right and things need to change. And then, there is the media. Why is the mainstream media seemingly more concerned with relatively minor indiscretions surrounding a tragedy than the tragedy itself? These were human beings with families and loved ones.
Never forget: The real tragedies were caused by the police. And while not all police officers are bad, racist, or corrupt, Hip-Hop has never shied away from addressing the ones who are. Here is a list of 10 Hip-Hop songs to vent to as we toil over the issue of police misconduct and pure brutality. And don’t get it twisted, this isn’t about fanning the flames. It’s about calling out those responsible for starting the fire in the first place sometimes.
10). “Constables” by O.C.: “Constables” confronts the issues of unjust suspicion and police brutality head on. The track begins with O.C. explaining his feelings about how law enforcement is watching him like a hawk. Then the song then gets heavier when, even though no crime has been committed for police to investigate, O.C. spits, “They clocking, shocking, and knocking me / Wanting a reason for whocking me.” For those who think that everyone who runs from cops are criminals, sometimes they do it because criminals are cops.
9). “Crooked Officer” by Geto Boys: While there are some violent lyrics in this record, it deserves inclusion on this list for other reasons. The opening imagery in the song’s video is very poignant and with rhymes like, “Friend, do I have to move to River Oaks? / And bleach my f****n’ skin so I can look like these white folks? / Just to get some assistance / Because the brutality in my neighborhood is gettin’ persistent,” it reiterates the issue of police not being as responsive to crime in black communities as they should be.
08). “The Enemy” by Big L feat. Fat Joe: Track 8 from The Big Picture has Big L and Fat Joe criticizing overzealous cops who see them as guilty until proven innocent, instead of the other way around. “Pulling me over to see if I’m drunk, but I’m sober / They wouldn’t f*** with me if I drove a Nova.”
07). “Friendly Game of Baseball” by Main Source: This is a very clever and insightful song where baseball is used as an analogy for police brutality. Instead of “runs batted in,” R.B.I. stands for “real bad injury.” A “good batting average” means shooting lots of people. And the umpires are the government. Obviously this is no game though and the songs ends powerfully with the cops being sarcastically called out for the damage that they do. “Instead of innings, we have endings / What a fine way to win things.”
06). “Who Got the Camera?” by Ice Cube: Cube is widely regarded as one of rap’s strongest storytellers, and this record strongly supports that argument. With The Predator being released in the aftermath of the L.A. Riots in 1992, “Who Got the Camera?” finds Cube putting himself in the role of a motorist being harassed and beaten by cops, not unlike Rodney King. It’s a great example of Ice Cube balancing social commentary with his hardcore attitude.
05). “Illegal Search” by LL Cool J: Before Mase and Kanye each borrowed the beginning of this song (“What the hell are you looking for? / Can’t a young man make anymore?”) to simply talk about how fly and successful they were, LL first came up with it to question police about their desire to search without probable cause. Fortunately, on this song, it concludes on an uplifting note. “Jail is something that I can do without / Case dismissed, and now you wanna pout / You feel like trying it again, but you know it won’t work / Illegal search.”
04). “Sound of Da Police” by KRS-One: The second single from Kris Parker’s solo debut is an amazing record. It doesn’t just deal with police misconduct, but also institutionalized racism within law enforcement that African-Americans have had to deal with for generations. “Yeah, officer from overseer / You need a little clarity, check the similarity….” It’s one of KRS’s most memorable songs, and, after one listen, it’s easy to hear why.
03). “Invasion” by Jeru the Damaja: Atop haunting keys, the song starts with Jeru getting pulled over by police and then he goes into how as a young black male he is stereotyped and therefore targeted by police once he starts rapping. He then takes it a step further and explains his plight of life in the ghetto. Props to DJ Premier too for outstanding production on this cut, especially the Nas sample from “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” for the title.
02). “Claimin’ I’m a Criminal” by Brand Nubian: One of the standouts from Everything is Everything is definitely this record. One of the most brilliant things about it is that the beat samples Luther Ingram’s “I’m Trying to Sing a Message to You” while Lord Jamar talks about being labeled a criminal for speaking out in order to make others aware about police corruption. And then Sadat X tells listeners to reserve judgement on the penal system until they’ve been there themselves.
01). “F*** Tha Police” by N.W.A: This iconic cut takes the top spot because it was the first time police were addressed so bluntly about their wrongdoings. This song is all about expressing the frustrations a community feels about being mistreated by the cops in three bold words. When speaking on the song in a documentary for Vh1, Will Smith said, “That was in everybody’s hearts, that’s what we felt. Being 17, 18 years old with a new car. You can’t drive two blocks without getting stopped.” Being a brown skinned young man who has personally experienced that nonsense, I’ve certainly shared Mr. Smith’s sentiments…. As have countless others who have gone through the exact same thing.
What do you think of the list? Add your favorites in the comments section!