You’ll have noticed, perhaps, that in the past week, we’ve been reporting from Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed black resident, Michael Brown, 18, was gunned down by local police officer Darren Wilson last week, sparking days (and nights) of protest after police left Brown dead in the street for several hours following the shooting. Beyond Ferguson, the ongoing clashes between local protesters and the brutal, commando-style police have captivated a nation, inspiring equal parts sympathy and rage. It's been a rough couple of weeks in America.
While the murder of Michael Brown hasn’t yet touched hip-hop’s conscience with the same immediacy and force as the Rodney King beating in 1991, rappers are gradually speaking out in remembrance of Michael Brown. J. Cole released a protest song, “Be Free,” last Friday, and this past weekend he met with daytime crowds in Ferguson to encourage Missouri’s youth in revolt.
Despite idealistic theorizing of a post-racial America ever since President Obama’s election in 2008, black Americans in cities and towns live in general fear (at best, skepticism) of the police. Hip-hop, since its improvised inception, has always sucked its teeth and had a few choice words for the police, such that hip-hop’s most definitive cultural penetration has often come in the form of a threat, an arrest, a trial, or some broader call to protest. From the revolutionary anthems of KRS-One, Public Enemy, and 2Pac, to the wry warnings of Main Source, LL Cool J, and T.I., to straight-up death threats from N.W.A and Killer Mike, we present a history of rappers versus police brutality. A proud, rebellious history, indeed.