BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS / “Bo! Bo! Bo!”
Over the years, police and rappers have had a contentious relationship, to say the least. Even before N.W.A. launched their FBI-baiting fireball at the law enforcement community, rappers weren’t feeling cops, although they may have been a bit shy about getting on wax to say so. I grew up in a neighborhood where the cops showing up usually meant someone you knew was about to have bigger problems than they already had. As such, I can’t honestly say it ever occurred to me to think of cops as ‘Officer Friendlies’ or ‘Protect & Servers.’ Rappers on the other hand, were my heroes. So, predictably, when it came to the whole ‘rappers v. cops’ thing, I sided with rappers. The thing is, the older I get, the more I realize that the cops whose job it is to patrol economically disadvantaged neighborhoods (to euphemize) are in a difficult, thankless and often untenable position. Not unlike the residents of said neighborhoods, come to think of it. There’s an irony for you. One of the reasons people like ‘cop hating’ songs so much is because—let’s be honest—it’s fun to hate cops. I can’t speak for people who might have a legitimate reason to feel antagonistic towards police officers, so I won’t try. But just speaking for myself, I like anti-cop songs because they make me feel like I’m subversive and anti-establishment. This, as I cruise the freeway in my late-model Volkswagen Passat on my way to and from my cushy union job in sunny San Diego. As I said, I was born and raised in a pretty fucked up neighborhood but I can honestly say I’ve never had what Mos Def might call ‘a bad experience’ with a cop. Which isn’t to say I’ve never been pulled over. I’ve been pulled over plenty. It’s not even to say I’ve never been pulled over illegitimately. That’s happened too. But rather than ‘a bad experience,’ I think I’d term my run-ins with law enforcement as ‘aggravating and borderline transgressive experiences.’ (Which rolls right off the tongue. Somebody’s going to name a song after that phrase.) The worst was once back in New Orleans. I was driving my piece-of-junk Ford EXP Hatchback (remember those?) down a dark industrial road, on the way back home from my girlfriend’s house. To make a long story short, I ended up behind the car with my hands behind my head, fingers locked as per unambiguous instruction, facing a canal while Mr. Cop called for back up. Things didn’t seem to be going well for me at all until he asked me for identification. All I had was my school ID—I had forgotten my driver’s license at home. I know. Bad move, right? Actually, not. The cop took one look at the ID, which read “Benjamin Franklin” (an elite high school for ‘smart’ kids…and not coincidentally, the whitest public high school in New Orleans), and my situation changed immediately. “Ben Franklin,” he said. “You’re one of the good ones, huh?” I said, “Yes, sir,” which was the right thing to say, instead of, “Fuck you, bitch-ass cop,” which is what I was thinking. He handed me my stuff back and told me to drive safely. That was it. Oh, did I mention that the cop was black? Another time, right here in San Diego, I was cruising down University Avenue at about two in the afternoon. I was off of work and had no particular place to go. I know I wasn’t speeding and I didn’t run any lights. Suddenly, there it was—blue lights, siren, the whole thing. Mr. Cop walked up to my window and said, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” I said, “No.” He said, “License, registration and proof of insurance, please.” I gave him everything, then sat and waited while he ran my plates and checked my license. A few minutes later he walked back up to my car, handed me all my shit and said, “Have a nice day.” Then he headed back to his cruiser. I couldn’t believe it. I almost wanted something to be wrong. “Hey!” I yelled at him. “What did you stop me for?” He just called back, “Try to be more careful,” and kept walking. “More careful of what?” I said. “What did I do?” He just got back in his black-and-white and off he went. Nice. That cop, by the way, was Mexican. Or, less precisely, Latino. I didn’t ask him for his country of origin. There’s a line in “Fuck Tha Police” (N.W.A.’s) where Ice Cube says, “Don’t let it be a black and a white one / ‘Cause they’ll slam you down to the street top / Black police showing out for the white cop.” It’s a great line but it leaves a lot unsaid. The little ‘showing out’ problem to which Cube refers isn’t specific to cops. I’d bet most black people in the workplace are both victims and perpetrators of that injustice on a fairly consistent basis. The difference is, most of us don’t carry a gun or arrest people. I can remember more than one occasion in my capacity as ‘Record Sales Manager’ at Tower Records where I found myself ‘showing out’ (i.e., doing some bullshit at the expense of another black employee in order to look like ‘one of the good ones’ in front of my white boss and co-workers). Every time I did it, it disgusted me to my core and made me feel like shit for days after…if not longer. But, as the saying goes, we do what we must. Or at least, we do what we do. Quite often, after a long, hard day of being one of the good ones, I’d go home and drop the needle on something like “Bo! Bo! Bo!” or “Fuck Tha Police” and while listening to those songs never made me feel better, they did make me feel aggressive, hostile and capable of extreme violence against authority figures, which is almost as good. That’s one of the reasons I drive a truck now. I intentionally stopped working at jobs where ‘comportment’ is important. For a black male in corporate America—or retail America or service-sector America or maybe I should just say America, period—I’ve found that ‘behaving appropriately in the workplace’ is a synonym for ‘be an ass-kissing sellout’ and I just plain got tired of it. And while I now realize that the day-to-day reality of police work is considerably more difficult, ambiguous and stressful than I ever could’ve imagined when I was younger, I still haven’t got tired of hearing rappers yell “fuck the police” and I don’t think I ever will. The tracks: Boogie Down Productions - “Bo! Bo! Bo!” from Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop (Jive, 1989) This is one of a pair of K.R.S.’ anti-cop songs from the third Boogie Down Productions album, Ghetto Music. (The other is “Who Protects Us From You?” but that one is both coherent and rational. Not our theme.) I like “Bo! Bo! Bo!” because the somewhat bouncy, reggae-inflected beat conflicts so dramatically with the extreme nature of the revenge-fantasy lyrics. Favorite line: “On the ground was a bottle of Snapple / I broke the bottle in his fucking Adam’s apple.” Nobody merged ‘violent sociopath’ with ‘erudite intellectual’ like K.R.S.-One. Dead Prez – “The Pistol” from Let’s Get Free (Relativity, 2000) I’ve never been a big fan of Dead Prez. For self-proclaimed disciples of Public Enemy, both their beats and rhyme cadences are frequently dull and uninspired. That said, I like this one because the bassline is hypnotic and the lyrics are hilariously, illogically, capitalistically violent. “I'm caught up, caught up in a mix of shit / And I ain't tryin to hear shit, ‘dun / My crew got cash to get / Blast you with the pistol if I have to / In my mind it’s all about cash in a fistful.” It’s all about cash? I thought these dudes were supposed to be revolutionaries? Jay Dee feat. Frank N Dank – “Fuck The Police” I guess the legal department at the late Jay Dee’s label was trying to avoid the drama—“Fuck The Police” begins with a disclaimer (“By no means do we encourage or condone violence against law officials”) but the moment that hyperactive beat drops, you know you’re about to hear something aggressive. I used to get upset when hip-hop-haters would say rap music ‘sounds violent,’ but honestly, this record does have that homicidal vibe going even before the MCs start rapping. “Y’all need to get shot for nothing / ‘Cause we don’t hold back, we just let go!” Young Buck “Don’t Need No Help” from Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ – Soundtrack (2005) Young Buck is comical. Back in ’88, Ice Cube and Ren came up with reasons—or at least justifications—for wanting to shoot cops. (I have to say, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to refer to N.W.A. as ‘reasonable.’) Meanwhile, in the way of reasons, Buck has this to say: “So if they try to lock me up for smoking my weed / The whole force of police is what they gon’ need.” Let me see if I understand your position, Mr. Buck. Rather than simply restrict your marijuana consumption to the privacy of your own home, you’d rather take on the entire New York City Police Department? Makes perfect sense. I do like the low-tech siren effects though. Those are good. N.W.A. – “Fuck Tha Police” from Straight Outta Compton (Priority, 1988) The classic. It’s almost twenty years later and I’m still having trouble believing that an FBI official actually took time out of his busy schedule of hunting for dangerous criminals in order to compose and mail a letter about a fricking record.* Me and my friends used to listen to this and “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Boyz N The Hood” ad infinitum. Those of us who were already criminally-inclined continued to be so. Those of us who weren’t already involved in criminal behavior continued to not be involved. It’s like my man Frank Zappa once said. There are more love songs than any other kind; if records could make people do anything, we’d all love each other. —Mtume ya Salaam * I've heard the letter referred to as 'scathing' and 'acerbic.' I'd say it's more like guarded and subtly threatening. To read the actual text, click here and scroll to the middle. STOP POLICE BRUTALITY Three things. 1. In the early Seventies, when Ernest “Dutch” Morial was elected the first black mayor of New Orleans, the infamous NOPD (New Orleans Police Department) went on a killing rampage. We were at the forefront in organizing to stop police brutality. Our efforts culminated in our taking of the mayor’s office. We were there for three or four days. It was a big issue at the time. 2. New Orleans post-Katrina is under heavy, heavy manners, i.e. the major black neighborhoods are militarized zones. We have NOPD, Louisiana State Troopers, and armed National Guard troops patrolling the streets. At Douglas High School, where I work, there was a fight a week or so ago. That evening, the authorities mounted a massive show of force. Military Humvees parked on the median in front of the school. At least fifteen armed security guards standing outside, along with NOPD and a contingent of armed National Guard. New Orleans is in the grips of a massive rise in murders. Yesterday (Friday, 15 December 2006) two bodies were found in the street: a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old. Need I add they were black? 3. I’m surprised you didn’t include Ice T’s “Cop Killer.” That may not be one of your favorites but it certainly was a major anti-police song. It’s a bad time right now. The military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about is in full effect. Full effect. Maybe we should have included the reggae song, “Police & Thieves” or Max Romeo’s “War In A Babylon”? —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. Back in November when I first moved back to the city, one night I was coming from a meeting in a sparsely lit area in the hood. As I turned onto a major street, a cop car came up behind me. A couple of blocks later, he flashed his lights. I pulled over. Same old shit. Driving while black coming from a black neighborhood. There is an anger that black men feel when we are accosted by the police for no reason other than “the same-old reason.” Back in the Sixties, there was a book by two black psychologists called “Black Rage.” I bet they could sell a ton of those books today. And then again, probably not…. We be too mad to read about it. Fuck the cops. Fuck the pushers. Fuck the thieves. Fuck the corporations. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. "Cop Killer" isn't rap music I didn't include "Cop Killer" because it isn't rap music. It's punk or speed metal or hardcore rock or whatever you want to call it, but one thing it most certainly isn't is rap or hip-hop. That was one of the biggest ironies of the whole ridiculous "Cop Killer" saga. Everyone was up in arms about the violent nature of these 'rap lyrics' when neither the song nor the album by Body Count (Ice T's band) had anything in common with rap music. I found it unlistenable, frankly. On that other subject, "Police & Thieves" and "War Ina Babylon." Yeah, sure. Bring it on. I was listening to "War Ina Babylon" earlier today. —Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 17th, 2006 at 12:33 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
3 Responses to “BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS / “Bo! Bo! Bo!””
Leave a Reply
| top |