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Daudi Abe - 6 'N The Morning ("Apparently the Police Have Been...") lyrics

Apparently the Police Have Been Beating Up Negroes Like Hotcakes

The comedian Dave Chappelle observed that when you see something reported in Newsweek magazine, you can tell it has truly entered the mainstream consciousness of the United States. The March 19, 1990 issue was perhaps the coming out party for the fact that hip-hop music had established another foothold as it invaded mainstream culture. On the cover was a picture of Tone-Loc, with the headline “Rap Rage: Yo! Street rhyme has gone big time. But are those sounds out of bounds?” The first story, entitled “The Rap Attitude,” by Jerry Adler, offered an establishment-toned review of hip-hop's cultural rise:

Let's talk about ‘attitude.' And I don't mean a good attitude, either. I mean ‘attitude' by itself, which is always bad, as in you'd better not be bringing any attitude around here, boy, and, when that b**h gave me some attitude, I cut her good.

One clear marker of negative mainstream reaction to something considered ‘ethnic' is the awkward attempt to appropriate language, in this case Ebonics and/or urban vernacular and slang. The article worked to qualify attitude as something that must be earned:

Attitude primarily is a working-cla** and undercla** phenomenon, a response to the diminishing expectations of the millions of American youths who forgot to go to business school in the 1980s. If they had ever listened to anything except homeboys talking trash, if they had ever studied anything but the strings of a guitar, they might have some more interesting justifications to offer.

From the beginning of United States history, the word ‘they' has been used as code to identify a group of people, often male and of color, who have somehow supposedly not done enough to ensure themselves a life of prosperity and happiness. The author was clearly suggesting that simply listening to ‘homeboys talking trash' (an overtly prejudiced term) was a reasonable way to understand and morally judge the origins of hip-hop and urban decay without mentioning the devastating effects Reaganomics and crack had on the inner cities of the U.S. in the 1980s.

Newsweek's approach attempted to bring balance to the discussion at certain points, for example, citing some ‘offensive' lyrics by the rock group Guns-N-Roses, but the article continued down a path of rigid perspective and limited vision. It described NWA's home base as “the sorry Los Angeles slum of Compton.” Whether or not Compton was a ‘sorry Los Angeles slum' in 1990, there is a difference between a resident and a stranger from the outside describing it this way. Residents of Compton would surely characterize their community differently than a White, male magazine writer who lives in New York.

The artists themselves were given a chance to speak, but bias of a national publication ensured that the writer always got the last word. Eazy-E noted:

‘f** the Police' was something people been wanting to say for years but they were too scared to say it. The next album might be ‘f** tha FBI.'

Adler responded:

Yes, having an attitude means it's always someone else's fault. The viler the message, the more fervent the a**ertion that honesty underlies it.

NWA had long positioned themselves as simply reflecting what was really going on in the streets. Eazy-E was further quoted:

We're like underground reporters. We just telling it like it is, we don't hold back.

Adler's follow-up:

The fact is, rap grows out of a violent culture in which getting shot by a cop is a real fear. But music isn't reportage, and the way to deal with police brutality is not to glorify ‘taking out a cop or two.'

Why was getting shot by a cop a real fear? The author failed to address the relationship between places like Compton and the police, and in the process missed the opportunity to connect police violence against young Black males to the creation of hip-hop. The opinion that music ‘isn't reportage' may have been a previous generation's reality, but many hip-hop followers from around the world would argue that the exact opposite is true.

The article insisted on cla**ifying hip-hop as an ‘attitude' instead of a culture and a way of life. As he continued to define and discuss ‘attitude' within a negative context, the author's personal disdain for hip-hop was obvious. His ‘attitude'/hip-hop connection limited his view of the culture's ability to find intelligent solutions to their problems:

But of course attitude resists any such attempts at intellectualizing. To call it visceral is to give it the benefit of the doubt. It has its origins in parts of the body even less mentionable.

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You might not expect to necessarily see an article in a mainstream publication like Newsweek just come out and sing hip-hop's praises, but the magazine seemed determined to play hip-hop music into a dead end, similar to what had happened with rock and roll:

The end of attitude is nihilism, which by definition leads nowhere. The culture of attitude is repulsive, but it's mostly empty of political content. As Gitlin puts it, ‘There's always a population of kids looking to be bad. As soon as the establishment tells them what's bad this season, some of them are going to go off and do it.' And that's not good, but it's probably not a case for the FBI, either. If we learned one thing from the ‘60s, it's how little power rock and roll has to change the world.

In making the comparison to rock and roll, the author was right on one level but wrong on another. Like rock and roll, hip-hop was eventually co-opted by the corporate mainstream and in the process lost much of the anti-establishment blood that made the culture so popular to begin with. However, what separated hip-hop from rock and roll is that hip-hop culture grew from social conditions and turmoil involving race, gender, and cla** that have yet to be resolved. These issues speak to people across ethnic and geographic boundaries, which accounts for hip-hop's global presence and influence today.

The follow up piece in Newsweek, written by David Gates, brought a somewhat different tone to the magazine's discussion of rap and hip-hop. Gates initially linked the development of hip-hop to the legacy of African-American musical influence on United States culture:

You know that American popular music is unimaginable without such Black contributions as blues, jazz, and rock and roll. Maybe you even agree that rap is the next evolutionary step. And you recognize its social significance as a communiqué from the ‘undercla**' – or, less euphemistically, poor Blacks.

The fact that these different types of initially African-American musical genres had become absorbed by the mainstream was only part of the story. Another piece of the equation was that both the mainstream and hip-hop were beginning to engage in a flirtation that threatened to lead to something much more serious, with West Coast MC's leading the way in getting their mack on, so to speak:

For over a decade, the music [hip-hop] had remained largely una**imilated; crossover hits like ‘Wild Thing' now seem to threaten its integrity.

While Tone-Loc and other rappers found success on the pop charts, the level of skepticism in the hip-hop community toward the mainstream and its motives rose alongside “Wild Thing's” popularity. The question of hip-hop's integrity and how it was potentially ‘threatened' by increasing mainstream attention began a pa**ionate debate within the hip-hop community around the notion of the MC as a ‘sellout.' Tone –Loc's response to the charge that he was shortchanging the essence of hip-hop in order to appeal to the ma**es would become a familiar one as this issue expanded. “I'm glad as hell,” he argued back. “Anybody saying something would love to be played on the pop charts.” Whether that is true or not is almost beside the point. As a culture that was still essentially on the margins, many of hip-hop's kids were naturally protective of the music and culture from ‘outsiders' who all of a sudden wanted to be down. This is a point Gates seemed to understand:

Rap's coded language, mystic monikers and Martian-sounding background noises keep outsiders outside – and create a sense of community among those in the know.

Also included in this article was a clear refute of Adler's statement that music isn't ‘reportage.' Chuck D discussed what he knew about Too $hort from listening to his records:

I know what kind of car he drives, I know the police give him a hard time, I know that there's trees in the area, you know what I'm sayin? It's like a CNN that Black kids never had.

Gates also offered a few insightful thoughts regarding some of the subtle social points being made by groups such as NWA, and even started to sound like an advocate:

As their name (n***as With Attitude) suggests, NWA caricatures ghetto misbehavior partly to rub White America's nose in its own racism… rapping about smoking people is still rapping, not smoking people. Whether such theatrics vent your rage or aggravate it, they keep you on the mic and off the streets. (One of rap's oft-repeated themes is that rap itself is the safe and legal road to riches.)

More than a few people got rich legally as hip-hop music continued to grow. However, the high profile murders of 2Pac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. in the coming decade would raise doubts about the ‘safe' part. But Gates displayed some awareness that gave his article a different flavor as he argued NWA's “Dopeman” “may be the strongest anti-drug rap ever recorded.” He also noted that “f** tha Police” was a sentiment that “is hardly novel in the Black community,” and that while songs like this are “nothing the kiddies should hear, they're not the end of civilization, either. That comes when the rhyming dictionaries and microphones are gone.”

The mainstream splash created by the Newsweek cover stories brought a range of responses. Within a week, The Los Angeles Times ran a story that examined the fallout and included the Newsweek writers, David Gates and Jerry Adler, defending their work. Adler: “I really have no particular interest in rap. This was just an a**ignment. Our stories reflect opinions other than the writers themselves.” Gates: “It was a long term project. We first contemplated doing it as long ago as last summer. I'd be very surprised if anyone sat down and said, ‘OK. Let's trash rap.' That's not the way we work around here.”

Whether anyone said “let's trash rap” was not the point. The so-called debate between Adler and Gates only reinforced how, as older, middle to upper cla** White men, far apart their lives and perspectives were from the musical lives and reality authored and directed by young, urban Black males. Newsweek's moral authoritarian and elitist tone was entirely predictable.

Speaking to The Los Angeles Times, Ice-T gave perhaps the most telling insight as to what was really behind the mainstream's simultaneous fascination and fear of hip-hop culture:

The story is really a reflection of White parents who are freaked out that their kids are all into rap. More than half my fans are White kids now. That's what's scary about rap to the people who're in power – it breaks down barriers between the races.

Even before Newsweek jumped on the bandwagon, hip-hop had been making inroads to the mainstream. And while some may not have appreciated the tone of the articles, there is no doubt that it raised the public profile of rap music and hip-hop culture. The implication of the Newsweek story was that hip-hop was a new, cool thing that started in the inner city and was now beginning to conquer the suburbs. The fact that large numbers of kids with money to spend were becoming infatuated with hip-hop culture meant corporations would soon be there to profit in any way they could.

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