About a year ago, I did a phone interview on a Washington, D.C. radio talk show hosted by Cliff Kincaid. The subject was censorship, and all Kincaid wanted to talk about was N.W.A.'s "FUCK THA POLICE." He went on and on about how the song should be censored because it was outrageous and dangerous and inaccurate. After about an hour of trying to reason with this guy, I hung up in disgust.
Now a home video of Rodney King being beaten by the very police force "FUCK THA POLICE" was about has proven N.W.A. was right and Cliff Kincaid and all the other rap-bashers were wrong. Most of the planet has seen the footage by now and you might think the mass revulsion would lead to a change in police behavior. Not yet.
Even under the glare of international scrutiny, the cops in LA are still at it. 16 hours after Rodney King was hospitalized, LA sheriffs beat an unarmed man senseless in South Central LA. In four separate incidents between midnight and 6 AM on March 23, LA cops shot 4 unarmed people, including 40 year old Emiliano Camacho, who was killed in front of his wife and children.
The issue of police brutality has grown so hot that even the politicians who've condoned it--from George Bush to LA Mayor Tom Bradley, have taken steps to diffuse the outrage. The first ploy has been to try to portray the issue as white cops against black men, even though whites, Samoans, Mexicans, and black mothers have all come forward in recent weeks to tell their own LAPD horror stories. The second is to try to narrow the issue to getting rid of LA police chief Daryl Gates, who has merely rubber-stamped a policy of excessive force that goes back at least to the Watts Rebellion of 1965. Limiting the issue to Gates automatically confines the problem to LA. But 3 million people bought N.W.A.'s STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, and that fact, as much as the indictment of 5 New York City cops for murder in late March, indicates the problem is nationwide.
Rock & Roll is trying to help the American people wriggle free from this squeeze play. "You know we couldn't play here and not talk about it," Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid told a sellout crowd at LA's Universal Amphitheatre on March 22. "I ain't gonna say much, cause y'all know this stuff goes down everyday without being taped. All I got to say is: "fuck the police!" The mostly white crowd roared its approval. Meanwhile, Warrant's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is a consistent high finisher in MTV's daily Top Ten Video Countdown. The "Cabin" video tells the story of a cop who murders a young girl and a witness, then throws their bodies in a well. Two boys see him dump the bodies and the cop kills them too.
As for N.W.A., Easy-E is planning to cut a new version of "FUCK THA POLICE" with Rodney King as a rapper. If the audiences of N.W.A., Living Colour and Warrant can get together maybe we can keep the new version from being universally censored the way the original was. The alternative is to allow the voice of rap music to be silenced. Then we may all get our 15 minutes of fame the hard way---just like Rodney King.
Editors Note: Lee Ballinger is Contributing Editor for the LA based ROCK & ROLL CONFIDENTIAL. This article appeared in the April 1991 issue of that publication. It is reprinted in THE ROC with RRC's permission. JW.
A network of police fax machines tracked N.W.A. on their 1989 national tour, urging cops to do all they could to stop the shows. What they could do was quite a lot, N.W.A. gigs were either jeopardized or cancelled in Detroit (where the rappers were placed in illegal police detention), Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Tyler, Texas. F.B.I. national public relations director Milt Ahlerich sent an extremely intimidating letter to N.W.A.'s label in which he spoke for all law enforcement in condemning the group's music. This is the first time in history the F.B.I. has taken a position on any work of art.