Rodney King’s Impact on Hip Hop Music Can’t Be ForgottenJune 18th, 2012
By Dan Reagans
We’ve all heard the phrase seeing is believing, but the police beating of Rodney King in 1991 bought unfortunate truths and validation to the term as far as hip hop goes. As the world mourns the passing of King, who died of an apparent drowning on Sunday, and remembers the trial that changed race relations in America, be sure not to forget its impact on rap.
There’s no doubt that West Coast rap pioneers N.W.A. were on the path to becoming stars in the early ’90s but it was the brutal assault of King by LAPD officers, which was caught on videotape, that put new meaning behind their music. In fact some might argue that the group’s impact on hip hop may have not had a lasting effect if not for King’s ordeal. To all the naysayers that disagree try to imagine rap music or life in the hood if these two things did not transpire simultaneously.
In addition to giving a face to the group’s music and tales of police brutality, the infamous trial and not guilty verdict gave the world insight to the racial tensions in L.A. While days of looting and rioting followed the verdict one thing was certain: N.W.A.’s music had become the unofficial backdrop to the 1992 L.A. riots.
It humanized the lyrics and messages many demonized, and forced a change in ethics in law enforcement. In rap we’re all compelled by artists who can tell our story, and in life we’re all compelled by situations in which we can relate. The Rodney King beating and ensuing riots are forever intertwined with the rise of West Coast gangsta music. There is no denying that these events opened a new chapter in hip hop music.
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