Professor Viator: N.W.A.'s Anti-Racist Protest Understood Vulgarity, Controversy Were Necessary to Draw Attention to Police Brutality

Monday, June 22, 2020
Photo of five members of N.W.A. standing in front of an industrial building
N.W.A., from left: MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy E

THE WASHINGTON POST/SF GATE -- Felicia Angeja Viator is assistant professor of History at San Francisco State University, a former Bay Area DJ and the author of the recently published book, “To Live and Defy in LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America.” She wrote this op-ed piece for The Washington Post.

“‘F--k tha Police’ was once considered the most outrageous line in hip-hop. It was both the title and chorus of a track on ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ the explosive 1988 debut album from Los Angeles rap group N.W.A.,” Viator wrote. “By the summer of 1989, the Parents’ Music Resource Center and an official in the FBI condemned the group’s ‘cop killer’ record for inciting violence. Meanwhile, with the help of a national ‘fax campaign,’ a predecessor to today’s viral hashtags, the Fraternal Order of Police galvanized local communities from Philadelphia to Shreveport, Louisiana, to boycott N.W.A.’s music and its concerts.

“Rapper Ice Cube called the record his ‘revenge fantasy.’ His lyrical diatribe was an imagined courtroom drama in which the Los Angeles Police Department stood on trial for abuse of power, and young Black men filled the positions of judge, jury, witness and prosecuting attorney. The track was an expression of defiance against a racist system of policing that terrorized Los Angeles’ Black residents and endured despite local and national attention to it.”