Two weeks ago, Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, pushed his knee down on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd and killed him, with three other cops aiding and abetting him. Despite Floyd declaring he couldn’t breathe numerous times, Chauvin’s knee remained on him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, with 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that occurring after Floyd became unresponsive.
The video was chilling, to say the least. It was a modern day lynching, and a severe reminder that the U.S. has much work to do in addressing its racism.
As a result of the video and centuries of injustice inflicted on Black America, millions decided to take action. It started in Minneapolis, with activists flooding the streets in protest. Then, massive protests broke out in cities all over the country, with people refusing to back down to police and other authoritative figures. And now, we’re seeing levels of mass organization that are unprecedented in the history of our country. We are on the verge of a revolution.
For many people, a revolution may sound incredibly intimidating. After all, our country was founded on a bloody, violent revolutionary war. However, for today’s age, it will require something different. To put an end to all racism and oppression, there must be a revolution of the mind.
In essence, this was the dream laid out by a group of six young Black rappers from southern California in 1988.
N.W.A. was a rap group that formed in Compton, California in 1987 and embodied an emerging style of music called gangsta rap. Their raps reflected their local realities including gangs, drugs, and police brutality. They started off low-key, producing a couple of songs together. Then in 1988, they created their first album, “Straight Outta Compton.” And little did they know, they would capture the attention of the entire world while simultaneously drawing attention to police brutality and structural racism.
Plenty of gangsta rap music had been made before them, however, N.W.A. thrust the genre onto the national stage and made it a force to be reckoned with. The group made their roots known right from the start of their album, with the opening song beginning with the following words: “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”
The album is muddled with powerful songs that reveal critical flaws in the American system. For instance, “Express Yourself” is a song that captures how American society makes people conform to a material culture, but that it’s much more natural and appealing for people to truly just be themselves. Also, “Gangsta Gangsta” is a song that explains how the group raps to tell the truth about what’s really going on in their neighborhood.
However, no song is more powerful and iconic than the song, “Fuck Tha Police.” The song protests police brutality and racial profiling in an unapolgetic tone and is a direct shot at the government’s racist criminal justice system. N.W.A.’s main point was that “police think they have the authority to kill a minority.” In fact, the song became a major rallying cry for many after they had witnessed a video of white police officers ruthlessly beating unarmed Black motorist Rodney King in 1991.
As a result of N.W.A. producing “Fuck Tha Police” along with their activism in general, the government went after the group hard. The FBI, LAPD, and Secret Service harassed them, their music got banned from countless public libraries, radio stations, and retail chains, and politicians refused to acknowledge their success. Nonetheless, the damage was done: N.W.A.’s revolutionary swagger had fully permeated American culture.
“Straight Outta Compton” provided a voice for Black Americans, as it publicized the problems and concerns they faced to a global audience; Black teens and young people who were immersed in street life flocked to the album, and even white, middle-class teens, who knew nothing about street life or the “hood”, gravitated towards the album since it offered them an outlet for rebellion. N.W.A. turned into one of the most popular music groups in America, and their lyrics publicized the concerns the Black community face on a national scale.
Today, their revolutionary legacy continues. More and more white Americans and powerful individuals are waking up to the oppression of people of color, and pop culture is leading the way. Athletes, artists, entertainers, journalists, and other popular agents of change are refusing to remain silent in the face of racism and white supremacy in the U.S.
In particular, most Americans are now speaking out against the detrimental prevalence of police brutality. There are videos from around the country of peaceful protests being violently broken up by cops, who are using lethal weapons like rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray that harm unarmed and majorly peaceful protestors. Millions of people are taking a stand against the institution of the police, as it’s clear that they’re causing more harm than good — just as N.W.A. knew back in 1988.
Ultimately, what makes N.W.A. so special is their understanding that in order to get the majority of Americans to care about the issues of the Black community, it would take a cultural movement to get everyone on board. It would involve demonstrating the unparalleled awesomeness of refusing to back down to authority and standing up for values of truth, equity, and mutual respect. That way, everyone would want to join in and be included.
And today, the movement N.W.A. imagined decades ago could finally be coming to fruition.