The hip hop culture has always been heavily influenced by current events. Music has always been utilized to respond to the goings on in the world around it. The Rodney King assault trial and the subsequent LA Riots all are the groundwork for 90s mainstream hip hop. Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots chronicles the feeling and emotion which overtook Los Angeles in 1992 and eventually found its way into hip hop culture.
Hip Hop post-Rodney King was how the new black-power movement took shape. It aimed at discussing the emotions and the anger from the African-American’s point of view. When the riots died down, the emotions still hadn’t. Those emotions took the form of protest lyrics which describe the anger toward the racial divide. When the officers accused of using overtly-excessive force in the arrest of King after running from a traffic stop, and were subsequently found not-guilty, that anger and emotion exploded. Six days of violence ensued and eventually subsided, with most of that lingering anger taking the shape of cultural-politically charged hip hop music.
The lyrics largely formed an us-against-them mentality and discussed in depth the racial divide between blacks and whites, blacks and Asians, etc. Dr. Dre’s debut album Chronic is known for being the best example of music from that era. The song from Chronic, “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” features a soundbite from the riots in the opening of the track before describing the riots. That album also brought hip hop into the mainstream—with music surrounding racial tensions being at the forefront of that transition.
KRS-One, as part of the documentary, explained that the utilization of hip hop in the post-riot era was to bring not necessarily peace but understanding to the national community. Hip hop’s influence in the pop market brought African-American culture and viewpoint to the younger generations. The concept of “fighting back” went from physical violence to gain attention and prove determination to reshaping the culture in order to bring racial integration in the future communities.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin, committed nearly 20 years after the Rodney King assault trial, the United States once again saw a largely considered racially charged assault (and in this case murder) of a defenseless African American man (in this case merely a teenager). In this instance, however, the national community appeared to sympathize more with the victim (Trayvon Martin) and did not leave the African American community to cope in isolation as during the Rodney King episode.
After the Zimmerman verdict, riots did erupt in several US cities, including Los Angeles. Not nearly on the scale of the 1992 riots, they were nonetheless an example of those emotions which still reverberate from the days of Rodney King.
“How Should Hip Hop Respond” from Dead End Hip Hop discusses what could be or should be done in response to Trayvon. Having been two years since the murder of Trayvon, hip hop has evolved from a tool of black culture into part of mainstream culture. The comment, “this has nothing to do with hip hop,” is mentioned a few times in this documentary. In hindsight, the LA Riots had nothing to do with hip hop either. Rather, hip hop was used as a tool to convey to the masses the thoughts and emotions of the African American community in a still racially-charged society. Hip hop’s use as a tool of black expression seems to have been lost in the last 20 years. Not having hip hop respond is a direct change from the role it had in the 1990s.
The documentary Uprising seems to be skewed in a direction making the reaction of the African-American community seem unjust and over the top. This way of looking at the riots seems to be the only viewpoint discussed. The documentary utilizes the retelling of one of the rioters and several times in the documentary showcases him not being able to show remorse or regret in the violence and assaults he was a part of during the riots. The fueling of the riots as a whole was essentially the concept of, “no justice, no peace,” whereas the failure to hold those responsible for crimes (especially crimes of a racial basis) proves peace does not exist in the community. The riots were a tangible example of such.
Those who do not study history are bound to repeat it. The LA Riots were not in vain. They show that the African American community does not sit idly by and witness injustice when the country has been working to eliminate racially driven crime since the 1950s. The end result of the riots is that the discussion of racial tensions had made it to pop culture by way of hip hop. This was absorbed by the younger generations which began to listen to, accept, and even understand what they meant. Which is why when Trayvon Martin was murdered, and George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges, the general mentality of the national community was that an injustice had occurred.