Hip-Hop was always supposed to be the voice of the people. The art form developed out of struggle and never stopped talking about what it meant to be black in America and to struggle in a system created for oppression. Police brutality (or violence) has always been a present theme in hip-hop music and culture, because police violence has always existed in urban communities.
Released in 1988, “F**k tha Police” by NWA was the first song that directly, and confrontationally, addressed police brutality. Framed, ironically, as a trial of the Los Angeles Police Department for their history of brutality with Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy-E acting as “prosecuting attorneys” and witnesses. In the now historic letter from the F.B.I., the U.S. Government accused NWA of “encouraging violence and disrespect” for law enforcement officers.
But, what’s changed in the last 30 years since this song was released? Very little. Former United States Congressman Joe Walsh in a now-deleted tweet blamed the sniper shooting of 11 Dallas police officers (5 fatally) on “Black lives matter punks,” as well as the President.
NWA’s “F**k tha Police” highlighted the police violence that was a direct result of the crack epidemic in Los Angeles. By the time the album was released, drug possession arrests had doubled in less than ten years. In addition, the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act changed the system of prosecuting drug crimes as a punitive one rather than one of rehabilitation. The act changed the mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of 5 grams of crack to 5 years, whereas possession of powder cocaine was 500 grams, a 100:1 disparity that disproportionately affected African Americans. Ironically, 30 years later after the decimation of an entire generation, government officials admit that the act was a ‘tremendous’ failure.
“F** tha Police” was also inspired by LAPD “crackdowns” on gang violence. Compton’s repressive anti-gang laws allowed police to detain any group of three or more young people, allowing for young kids to be treated like criminals. The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act) of 1988 made it possible for a youth convicted of “participating in a gang,” to receive a felony sentence of up to three years in prison. On the song Ice Cube explained, “Fu**ing with me ‘cause I’m a teenager/with a little bit of gold and a pager.” Oppressive youth laws fueled and still influences the sound of West Coast hip-hop.
Conversely, J. Dilla’s “Fk the Police,” was released over ten years later on September 18, 2001. The song was supposed to be released on MCA Records as part of Dilla’s first major debut. However, the single and album never saw major release. Instead, because he felt strongly about the song, “Fk the Police” was released just a week after the 911 attacks as a single on Up Above Records.
Whereas the NWA version was about police violence, the Dilla version was more about police corruption. Between 2001 and 2003, 18 Detroit police officers were indicted for corruptions. Years later, just days ago, two more officers were indicted by the federal government for taking drugs from raids, even setting up fake drug busts. The government alleges that the officers would roll up on a scene with their lights flashing, causing low-level drug dealers to run. They would then take any money found, and resell found drugs.
In his single Dilla asked, “Now who protects me from you?/I got people who buy tek’s and weed from you/and all a nigga see in the news/is cop corruption/niggas getting popped for nothing/and niggas get stopped for nothing.”
These two songs are just two examples of protest songs against police in hip-hop, in fact, over two dozen songs with “F**k the Police” as part or all of its title exist in the genre. As the voice of a people, and multiple generations, hip-hop will no doubt continue to write about police violence which is a consistent and daily fact of life in the urban communities where the music originates. However, even hip-hop empathizes with the loss of life that took place last night in Dallas with messages communicated by various artists via social media.
“F** the Police,” as Dilla states at the beginning of his song, is not a statement that advocates violence against police officers. It, instead, is an indictment of a corrupt system that tortures the people in the same communities it is sworn to protect.