image: Bangin on Wax by B+ for Mochilla
"PROFILING": IN THE EARLY 1980s, the street definition of the word was something like "looking fresh and clean." Most often — as in that party song from the Connecticut crew the Skinny Boyz — "profiling" rhymed with "styling." It celebrated that moment before the first morning bell after summer break when the schoolyard became a fashion runway, the memory of the weekends when the boulevards thrummed sensually, streets filling with tricked-out cars, youths spilling off the sidewalks flirting or trying to get their mack on.
But by 1989, N.W.A.'s "Fuck Tha Police" essayed a new definition of "profiling," one associated with force, authority, the pathologies of the powerful. That shotgun blast of a song captured all manner of shifts that had taken place: from East Coast to West, revelry to rage, abandonment to containment.
L.A. hip hop, like the punk and skateboarding subcultures of the 1970s, had sprouted from the imaginations of forgotten kids in depopulated urban spaces. They built codes, rules, and vocabularies for themselves to compensate for scarcity and lack. Their play was the organized chaos of the unseen and the unheard.
But with the advent of LAPD Chief Daryl Gates' Operation Hammer in 1988 those invisible kids moved into the crosshairs, appearing now as dangerous surplus bodies. "Anti-loitering" was the name of the new discourse. Crenshaw and Westwood Boulevard were shut down. Curfews were imposed. Injunctions were prepared. The CRASH units and battering rams occupied the streets.
By 1991, L.A. rap was all tension and little release. On Cypress Hill's "Pigs," corrupt cops flooded B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs's imaginary Latino real estate (anticipating the Rampart scandal by seven years), as blues guitars oscillated like sirens. On WC & The MAAD Circle's "Dress Code," producer Sir Jinx pitched Duck Dunn's bass and Al Jackson's drums down to a brooding pace, then added Jimmy Nolen's telling guitar squall from — what else? — James Brown's "The Payback." From restaurant to school to nightclub, WC rapped, "Seems like everywhere I turn I'm assuming the position." The logic of "profiling" — in the police's sense — had now penetrated every aspect of daily life in inner-city neighborhoods. The prison was everywhere. Even the apple-for-the-teacher kids of the Pharcyde were begging, "Please don't pull me over, Mr. Officer, please."
The year culminated with Billboard's unusual call for an industry-wide boycott of Ice Cube's album, Death Certificate. Cube had described it as something close to a mental jailbreak. It was received as an act of s...read more