It is an art form. It is the hauntingly beautiful tension of people who crave lightheartedness and fun but have been handed circumstances that are anything but. As a Chicago Tribute author wrote, “The N.W.A’s rhymes were obscene. But so were the conditions that gave rise to the songs.”
It shouts the stories of people we usually choose to ignore. It doesn’t condone violence, it just tells us where it already exists, and that can be uncomfortable to hear for someone from a white suburb.
The genre of “gangster rap,” truly created by NWA, tells a story that we may not want to hear. It’s upsetting, embarrassing, thorny, angering, shameful (I’ll deal with hip hop and rap’s misogyny another day). Listening to someone talk about things that you’ve never experienced or even seen on t.v. is hard. Sympathy is useless. Empathy is near impossible. How can I possibly understand what it’s like to be pushed down by the police or have a gun held to my head if I’ve never even seen a gun being held in real life at all. I have never feared law enforcement.
It physically hurts to watch innocent people being killed in the same way this country has witnessed on t.v. every decade since the 50s.
1991, Los Angeles.
The film Straight Outta Compton could have used footage from any of the past year’s riots instead of 1991 news clips. The parallels are terrifying.
I am afraid of where this is going, but more so, I fear that this will stop. I’m petrified that current racial justice activists’ momentum will slow and we’ll get tired of watching the news. What happens when the smoke clears and we realize that, yet again, nothing has changed?