The movie, Straight Outta Compton, is putting N.W.A. on the map for a lot of people who have never been exposed to them. People who think Ice Cube was always an actor and who thought Dr. Dre’s claim-to-fame was Beats by Dre will all be in attendance. And that’s great. I’m excited that more people will be introduced to this element of Black culture.
With that said, something I heard the other day disturbed me. I was listening to one of the two “Black-music” radio stations in Boston. The hosts, all of whom are white, were talking about the movie, Straight Outta Compton. They raved about how great the movie was and how much they learned about N.W.A. At the end of their review, one of the hosts said, “Well I loved it all except for the song, F the Police.” The others agreed with her, all saying they supported Boston PD and as a result, could not support that song.
And that’s when I had to turn off the radio.
They were demonstrating a perfect example of where racism, privilege, and cultural appropriation meet. They chose to like certain elements of N.W.A. but rejected the parts which made them uncomfortable. What’s troubling, is that the parts they chose to reject were central to who N.W.A. was and why they were so prolific. It’s as if someone came over to your house to eat, told you your meal was nasty, indigestible and rank, and then asked for dessert.
“Fuck Tha Police” is a song of protest. Its controversy, both in 1988 and now, is evidence of a larger systemic issue of police brutality and the unjust policing of Black bodies and Black communities. N.W.A. was talking about police brutality before the murder of Mike Brown, before the public beating of Rodney King, and way before it became a “cool” thing for liberals to write Facebook posts on.
To write the song off as “violent” or “disrespectful” robs it of its nuanced social critique:
“But don’t let it be a black and a white one
Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showing out for the white cop”
Here, Ice Cube not only talks about simply being discriminated against. He talks about a toxic culture within the criminal justice system. By failing to observe the nuance, white audiences disempower N.W.A., robbing them of their intellect and reducing them to violent, misogynistic, gangsters.
Black culture’s poetic critique of systemic racism and oppression isn’t just limited to N.W.A. and hip-hop. Social commentary exists all throughout Black culture. From Nina Simon to Boyz n the Hood to Janelle Monae and everywhere in between, Black culture has always spoken up and out, and you cannot enjoy part of it without accepting all of it.
In condemning the song, the radio host claimed to identify with the music of the oppressed but ignored the actual conditions and causes of their oppression. Rather than dealing with the uncomfortable song, she ignored it. She felt more comfortable “knowing” that N.W.A. fit into the stereotype of the “rapper gangbanger” than to acknowledge they were complex human beings.
In wearing the clothes and using the slang of Black culture without grappling with the horrific and troubling elements of the Black experience, you are enabling and reinforcing that oppression.
Like Ice Cube said, “You better check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self”
Check out the lyrics to “Fuck Tha Police” here.