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Jul. 12 2010 - 1:06 pm | 256 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Arizona law takes hip-hop back to its roots

Talib Kweli performing in Brooklyn/Red Bull Ex...

Image via Wikipedia

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.


2 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    If only they could take all those good intentions and put them to use in the Black Community.

    As I remember Hip-Hops roots began in NYC where I was brought up with the Sugar-Hill Gang, The Disco Twins and Grand Master Flash ect,ect…It used to be about telling stories and playing the dozens.

    The stuff you speak of from the West coast
    “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,” all that did was create perpetuate a problem that is killing and imprisoning young Black Men everywhere.

    • collapse expand

      I appreciate where your comment’s coming from, Gregory, but I have to disagree. I don’t at all think it’s “perpetuating” anything for the victims of systemic abuse to cry foul or document their experiences and feelings. On the contrary, I think bringing attention to the problem is vital to correcting the corruption in the system. The onus is on the power structure to live up to the ideals it was founded upon. The people who are being hurt don’t need to worry about hurting the poor wittle fee-fees of the people oppressing them.

      Now if you want to blame the decline of hip-hop on commercialization, I’m going to agree. But that’s a whole separate discussion. :)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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