Arizona law takes hip-hop back to its roots
Despite its tendency to sometimes dwell on bitches and bling, and despite its status as arguably the most dominant force in pop culture, hip-hop remains the mainstream musical genre that most willingly delves into politics – and nothing has made that clearer recently than Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
Racial profiling and disparate treatment from police helped launch hip-hop from the start, and has been a consistent thread for decades, from N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police” to Tupac Shakur lamenting “Cops give a damn about a Negro, pull the trigger, kill a n—-, he’s a hero,” in “Changes” to Jay-Z speculating in “99 Problems” that he got pulled over because “I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low.”
After spending much of 2008 and 2009 celebrating the candidacy, and win, of President Barack Obama, rap artists are getting back to the business of calling foul on disparate treament of minorities. Kanye West and others already joined a group of musicians – including rap troupe Cypress Hill - under the banner Sound Strike, all of whom promised not to play in Arizona because of SB 1070, which gives law enforcement officers broad authority in stopping and demanding documentation from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.
The Washington Post points out that Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli has also taken Arizona to task in his song “Papers Please,” aimed squarely at Arizona, rapping “I could never support a law that don’t respect humanity.” Kweli told the Post that he felt a personal connection with what Arizona minorities will be dealing with when the law takes effect:
“I grew up with my mother telling me . . . you are never supposed to leave your house without ID,” Kweli said in an interview Friday. “This is something I’d grown up used to as a young black person. I’ve been stopped and been detained.”
Indeed, such encounters with the police are enduring hallmarks of some timeless hip-hop tracks. Chuck D and Toki Wright have also released Arizona-themed songs – not to mention the tracks like Public Enemy’s original “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” which took issue with the state back in 1991 when it refused to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday.