Hive Five: Exploring Rap’s Response to the L.A. Riots
Riot police guard Hollywood Boulevard

Riot police guard Hollywood Boulevard, May 1, 1992. Photo: Dayna Smith/Getty Images

This Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, fueled by the acquittal of the L.A.P.D. officers involved in the Rodney King beatings. The incident was sad and certainly tragic and left a mark on the hip-hop community at large, inspiring anger-lined anthems over the years. Here’s a round-up of the five fieriest rap reactions to the events that transpired.

1. Ice Cube, “We Had To Tear This Motherfucka Up”

The shadow of the Rodney King rumpus is writ large throughout Ice Cube’s third most incendiary album, The Predator. Here sampled snippets of news reports prompt Cube to air out his frustration with the jury’s acquittal by taking things to the streets and, as he puts it, “tear this motherfucka up.” It’s a riotous reaction that also has him boasting about snagging “a laptop computer.”

2. Willie D, “Fuck Rodney King”

Not quite as controversial as its title suggests, Geto Boy Willie D’s furious rap is a decently-reasoned rant at perceived notions that King had sold out in calling for peace and siding with the establishment. At one point Willie rags on those who want to “hold hands and form rallies/ And down niggas for fighting back in Cali.” A potent reminder that conscious rap shouldn’t always have to toe the hippy party line.

3. Dr. Dre, “The Day The Niggaz Took Over”

The Death Row firm’s reaction to the Rodney King incident is as hostile and sinister as you’d expect, as Dre, Snoop, Daz and RBX drop pro-riot sentiments over an ominous production. Not quite as swanky as Cube’s swag bag, however, Dre ends up bagging only a VHS player from the Slauson Swap Meet.

4. Public Enemy, “Hazy Shade of Criminal”

Released in the wake of the 1992 riots on their half new material/half remix set Greatest Misses, “Hazy Shade of Criminal” doesn’t implicitly reference King and the riots, but with Chuck D constantly questioning “what’s criminal” and the video serving as a super-cut of riots, corrupt politicians and police shooting things, it’s hard not to read between the lines.

5. Cypress Hill, “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk”

The Los Angeles Latino linguists might usually be associated with the singular pursuit of getting high, but Muggs and company are also no fans of the cops. So on their slinky Cheech and Chong-referencing ode to enhanced strutting, B-Real also invokes King’s name as rap verb: “And any hour of the day you know I might be/ Harassed by a pig real fast/ They wanna Rodney King me/ Always trying to crown my ass.” It’s a subtle, yet telling nod in how King’s long association with brutality.

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