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Though artists like Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Baby Huey spoke on police corruption, it wasn’t until the dawn of the rap era that the message in the music began to convey the anger and frustration of people who had been systematically disenfranchised and brutalized since the United States was founded. In honor of the spotlight on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy—which has particularly affected men of color ages 18 to 24—SOTC decided to compile a playlist. Get your bail money together and let your lawyer know a riot charge is on the horizon—here are 15 songs that address abuses by police departments actross the country.
1. Brand Nubian, “Claimin’ I’m A Criminal”
Lord Jamar and Sadat X speak on the crimilization of an entire community. On this, soulful lament that samples Luther Ingram’s “I’m Trying To Sing A Message To You,” Jamar takes listeners through his arrest for speaking out while X talks about those already in the system.
2. NWA, “Fuck Tha Police”
Capturing the mind-set of a generation tired of police brutality and corruption in just three words, this song was the soundtrack to the LA riots and probably every uprising since.
3. KRS-One, “Sound Of The Police”
Before KRS became a pompous windbag, he made thought-provoking music. On SOTP he addresses the usual misconduct the police engage in regularly, but he really gets ill when he compares a police officer to a slave overseer. Need a little clarity? Check the similarities!
4. OC, “Constables”
This song was made after OC was chilling on his stoop in Bushwick, house shoes and all, and talking on a cordless house phone when he was assaulted by police. He was dragged off the stoop, cuffed and kicked. After the aforementioned incident, OC felt a song condemning such police brutality was due.
5. Geto Boys, “G Code”
The hook has really good advice—don’t talk to the cops. Ask any defense lawyer worth his weight in court papers. And everything you say can and will be used against you, so the less you say the better.
6. Tupac, “Where Do We Go From Here?”
More of an interlude than an actual song, Pac adds a haunting reverb to his voice while advising his listeners “to continue to outthink and outsmart” the cops.
7. Jeru Da Damaja, “Invasion”
The intro to the song sounds so real, I still wonder if it is. In Jeru’s East New York neighborhood, 90% of residents were stopped and frisked by police in 2011. He probably has plenty of personal experience to draw from regarding overzealous policing.
8. dead prez, “Cop Shot”
I’m sure lots of people would have a problem with this song if it wasn’t just a white label back in the day. Though you may not agree with it, you can’t deny the fact that it voices the sentiment of people tired of seeing innocent people not just harassed by, but killed by police. “Keep shooting my people and we’ll shoot back…”
9. Public Enemy, “911 Is A Joke”
The first thing clueless people ask when something occurs in the hood is “Well, why didn’t you call the police?” That’s rarely a good idea, as it usually just aggravates situations. That is, of course, if the police show up at all—response time in Bed-Stuy hovered around 37 minutes the year this song was released.
10. Ice Cube, “Who Got The Camera?”
Released right after the LA Riots on his The Predator album this song starts off as just another Ice Cube adventure when he looks in the rearview and sees the hogs. With his classic cadence in tow Cube details the beatdown all the time asking the crowd watching if someone has a camera. By the end of the song though? Cube is asking for his 9mm.
11. J. Dilla, “Fuck The Police”
Flipping a Rene Costy sample to recreate a ’70s cop-show vibe, Dilla verbalizes what the cops are like in Detroit when he asks, “Now tell me who protects me from you? I got people who buy techs and weed from you. And all a nigga see in the news is cop corruption…”
12. Big L, “The Enemy”
Listen, Columbo, don’t be mad at L because he makes your yearly salary with one show. And get that flashlight out of Fat Joe’s face. They’re both hard-working young men who just happen to drive nicer cars than you.
13. LL Cool J, “Illegal Search”
Before Kanye asked if a young man can make money anymore on “Theraflu,” LL was asking abusive, spiteful cops the same question as they searched his whip for guns and drugs on the side of the road. Unfortunately since LL says he “drinks champagne, the hell with Coors” and “never sold coke in my life, I do tours… ” he has to endure harassment.
14. Main Source, “Friendly Game Of Baseball”
Large Pro uses baseball as an analogy for the way cops treat young men and women in his community. “To the cops shooting brothers is like playing baseball, and they’re never in a slump…” P goes on to make more baseball-related observations including my personal fave, “RBI, real bad Injury.”
15. Chamillionaire, “Ridin’ Dirty”
This almost didn’t make the list because it was a chart-topping ringtone rap. Nevertheless, Chamillionaire wasn’t attempting to make a commercial song—it just worked out that way, and the song is still poignant.