by Fanuel Abiy
N.W.A.’s song, Fuck tha Police, is an emotionally charged song with lyrics that caused society to stir and become aware of the discrepancies between the treatment of blacks and other races by police officers. The song received extreme reactions from powerful groups such as the FBI, white politicians, conservatives, and police officers upon release which resulted in several actions taking place to stop people from listening to the song: placing the parental advisory label on the album cover, banning radio stations from playing the song, the FBI pressuring the record company, and prohibiting N.W.A. from performing the song at any concerts. Although all these efforts were made to discourage people from listening to the song, plenty of people remained that enjoyed and supported N.W.A.’ s bold lyrics that shed light on how brutal police officers are towards blacks.
The most influential members of the rap group were Eazy-E and Ice Cube because, compared to the other members, they had the most fearless and daring personalities that led the rap group to being known nation-wide for their raw, edgy musicthat shocked society. Eazy-E had run ins with the police the most out of the group because of his drug business he had before he became a hip-hop artist. This only fueled his desire to expose the cops for what their nature was like when dealing with African-Americans. Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Dr. Dre came together to be known as the “World’s Most Dangerous Group” for their aggressive gangsta-rap that revealed to society how blacks were being poorly treated in the late 20th century.
N.W.A. originated from Compton, California where the police officers were infamous for being especially violent towards people of color.
The song’s lyrics were inspired by the strife that the people of Southern California and the members of N.W.A. went through on a regular basis. Many people vehemently opposed the creation of this song because they wanted to cover up the fact that blacks still faced injustice, even after slavery and segregation ended. N.W.A. was also the first group to use their platform as musicians to rip the veil off, and expose the injustice that still occurred. University of Virginia’s professor of hip-hop, A.D. Carson, agrees with how N.W.A. utilized the power they had to convey an important message. “It was almost like a sensory overload, with all of these events and information coming from all directions. The only thing I knew to do was write rhymes about it” (Newman). Newman expresses that Carson’s lyrics do not shy away from or disguise the issues and events weighing on his mind which add more emphasis to the issues alluded to by the lyrics. Newman does so to emphasize the importance of music and how effective it can be to convey a message.
People of color and police officers were constantly at odds during that time and the black community felt that their safety was jeopardized when near a police officer due to fear of being targeted. The song relates to the broader theme of police brutality and inequality between whites and blacks that has existed since blacks were brought to America on slave ships. In Kappeler’s article, “A Brief History”, he expounds on how the law enforcement system in place today stems from the slave catchers and the different variations that existed during the slave era (Kappeler). The constant targeting of African-Americans by cops isn’t unusual because the ancestors of the police system were always watching for slaves, to avoid the risk of losing them. I think that the relationship is more than a coincidence and that police officers during the time had a difficult time viewing blacks as equals. Police officers have to be able to progress and mend the strains slavery and segregation left on society by treating everyone equally. In “Normalising police militarisation, living in denial” another one of Kappeler’s articles, he states “policing has moved considerably in the direction of militarism and that PPUs and their activities have become normalised in the USA – i.e. that they have taken on the appearance of being ‘natural’, ‘evolutionary’ or ‘inevitable’” (Kappeler). This supports N.W.A.’s claim of police officers interacting aggressive, especially towards people of color.
Themes and Style
The first thing I noted as I listened to Fuck tha Police is the introduction of the song is a court hearing where the members of N.W.A. act as the prosecutor attorneys and the judge while the Los Angeles Police department is on trial. I thought it was interesting that the introduction of the song served as a “role swap” in the sense that blacks are typically convicted of crimes after constant targeting by police officers (Genius). The entirety of the song is filled with allusions to crime scenes and police officers violating blacks, physically and socially. The lyrics depict the strong emotions that N.W.A. has towards these issues and that they want these issues to addressed by the public immediately. The verses that stood out to me the most were the ones rapped by Ice Cube, “Fuckin’ with me ‘cause I’m a teenager, With a little bit of gold and a pager, Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product”, and “A young n**** got it bad ‘cause I’m brown, And not the other color, so police think ,They have the authority to kill a minority” because the verses simulate what interaction with a police officer is like for a person of color and their emotions going through their mind(s). Those lyrics resonated with me the most because they emphasize the racial profiling and injustice the black community experiences and how they are at a disadvantage in society because of their skin pigmentation. N.W.A. expressed their frustration and anger from the black youth constantly being targeted by police officers.
The central themes of Fuck tha Police are police brutality and injustice in society. In “Racial Profiling and Criminal Justice”, Ryberg discusses how police officers admit to considering skin color as a factor for deciding who to pull over for surprise checks. The police officers’ negligence to check people other than blacks allows more people to get away with crimes. This directly correlates to what N.W.A. rap about, how the black community is tired of being repeatedly harassed by the police. The theme of police brutality is evident throughout the song through various verses: “I don’t know if they f**s or what, Search a n**** down, and grabbing his nuts” and “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” are the most apparent examples of police brutality (Genius). The lyrics suggest that regardless of what race police officers are, they are not hesitant to be rough with black youth even if they themselves are African-American. This prevents African-Americans from being able to trust police officers, even those of the same race, because they have no morality and are violent. Injustice is a major theme in the song as well because the song is meant to serve as an ode to the suffering and the constant targeting the African-American youth go through.
When Ruthless Records, the label record of N.W.A., released Straight Outta Compton, there was a distinct divide between the people who supported and opposed the song. Many people felt that the song was a direct attack towards police officers. The FBI was one of the groups that disapproved of the song and approached the record label but quickly detached themselves from the situation once news began to spread that the FBI tried to hinder N.W.A.’s freedom of speech. The F.B.I. did play a role in the administering of the “Parental Advisory” stickers on N.W.A.’s album, Straight Outta Compton, to hinder the controversial music from spreading. Ironically, the addition of the sticker on the album increased album sales and N.W.A. gained a larger audience (Laurence). Others who opposed what the song stood for argued that N.W.A. released the song Fuck tha Police with the intentions to attack police officers and disrespect them. They based this assumption by the explicit meaning the song suggested but that isn’t necessarily true because music is a form of art, filled with implicit messages and symbols, which is free for interpretation.
Michael Eric Dyson argues that the rap group’s contribution to both rap and African-American culture is “invaluable” because of how brutally truthful the members of N.W.A are in their lyrics (Forman & Neal). He feels that the members of N.W.A. need to consider other means of relaying the message to completely encapsulate what urban life was like during that period, utilizing vocabulary that is more advanced than the lyrics they used so the song is clearly represented as an expression of the struggles and hardships the black community faces when dealing with police officers. Dyson makes a valid claim however the song would not have received as much attention as it did if it didn’t have such explicit lyrics. At the time, I believe N.W.A. made the right decision to not filter their emotions and release Fuck tha Police in its raw state because of the influence they had in society from their music. Most hip-hop artists today still rap about the typical topics – money, sex, and drugs. Evidently, that is what the majority of people enjoy listening to based on their ratings on the music charts. Yet, there are artists that continue to rap about inequality and the struggles of growing up in a poverty-stricken community, like Kendrick Lamar. That is solely because he experienced the struggles of growing up in Compton during a similar time, unlike many other hip-hop artists (Greene). I say this to highlight how outgoing N.W.A. was to discuss controversial topics in a non-gentle manner and show how successful they were for doing so, which is not necessarily true today.
Neal, Mark Anthony, and Murray Forman. That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. Routledge, 2004.
Ryberg, Jesperg “Racial Profiling and Criminal Justice.” The Journal of Ethics, Vol.15(1), 2011, pp.79-88.
“N.W.A – Fuck Tha Police.” Genius, 9 Aug. 1988, www.genius.com/Nwa-fuck-tha-police-lyrics
“Meet A.D. Carson, UVA’s Professor of Hip-Hop.” Edited by Caroline Newman, UVA Today, 26 June 2017, www.news.virginia.edu/content/meet-ad-carson-uvas-professor-hip-hop
Kappeler, Victor “A Brief History.” Police Studies Online, 7 Jan. 2014, plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing
“Straight Outta Compton and the Social Burdens of Hip-Hop.” Edited by Adrienne Green, The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Aug. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/08/straight-outta-compton-nwa/401279/
Laurence, Rebecca. “Culture – NWA: ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Group’?” BBC, BBC, 13 Aug. 2015, www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150813-nwa-the-worlds-most-dangerous-group
Kappeler, Victor “Normalising police militarisation, living in denial.” An International Journal of Research and Policy, 9 Dec. 2013, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10439463.2013.864655?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Straight Outta Compton. F. Gary Gray, Universal Pictures, 2015. Film
“”Fuck Tha Police”: N.W. A’s Most Courageous Song Is Still as Relevant as Ever.” Mass Appeal, 1 Sept. 2015, www.massappeal.com/fuck-tha-police-nwa-most-courageous-song-is-still-as-relevant-as-ever/
The World’s Most Dangerous Group. The Sun. Image. October 4,2017
Chaney, Cassandra; Robertson, Ray “Racism and Police Brutality in America.” Journal of African American Studies, Vol.17(14), 2013, pp.480-505
Wilson, George; Dunham, Roger; Alpert, Geoffrey “Prejudice in Police Profiling.” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 47(7), 2004, pp.896-9
- Fuck tha Police
- Straight Outta Compton
- Police Brutality
- “Music impacts society”
- Racial Profiling