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Sunday Song Lyric:
Believe it or not, gangster rap pioneers N.W.A. (aka "N***az With Attitude") formed twenty years ago, in 1987. Their first album, N.W.A. and the Posse, did not do so well, but their second, Straight Outta Compton, caused quite a stir. Featuring exceedingly violent and misogynist lyrics, harsh criticism of the police, and a stark portrayal of life in the inner city, Straight Outta Compton went triple platinum despite relatively little radio airplay. The album catapulted N.W.A. to fame, and launched the career of the groups individual members, most notably Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.


By far the most inflammatory and controversial track on Straight Outta Compton was "F**k Tha Police," an angry response to racial profiling and police brutality. The song begins:

Comin' straight from the underground
Young n***a got it bad cuz I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority

F**k that shit, cuz I ain't tha one
For a punk muthaf**ka with a badge and a gun
To be beatin on, and throwin in jail
We could go toe to toe in the middle of a cell

F**kin' with me cuz I'm a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin' my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin' every n***a is sellin' narcotics.
Allegedly inspired by a run in some group members had with the policy due to their drive-by paintball shootings, the song provoked FBI scrutiny of the band and their record label for seeming to endorse violence against police officers.


Also on the album was "Express Yourself," the one song to showcase Dr. Dre, who initially DJ'd for the group. (The video is here.) Perhaps ironically, Dre disparages smoking marijuana on the track, "cause its known to give a brother brain damage." Years later, however, Dre would celebrate drug use, and marijuana in particular, as a solo artist and record producer. His first solo album was titled The Chronic, and one follow-up, 2001 has a marijuana leaf emblazoned on the album cover.

While N.W.A. was relatively short-lived, it launched several highly successful rap careers. Not only did Dre record successful rap albums of his own, he co-founded Death Row records and discovered rap phenoms Snoop Dogg and Eminem, among others. Eazy-E, who is generally credited with bringing the group together, did not fare so well. His solo efforts exuded jealousy of his former colleagues' success, and he eventually died of AIDS in 1995.

Perhaps the most interesting post-N.W.A. career is that of Ice Cube, author or rapper of some of the group's most inflammatory and politically charged lyrics (including those from "F**k The Police"). He was the first to leave the group over a financial dispute. He then released controversial solo albums of his own, including AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. Ice Cube subsequently went on to a successful acting career, starring in a wide range of films, including "Barbershop" and "Three Kings," as well as family-oriented fare, such as "Are We There Yet?" and "Are We Done Yet?" Its an interesting outcome for the man who recorded "F**k Tha Police" nearly twenty years ago.

U.Va. 3L:
Dr. Dre on marijuana isn't the only N.W.A. drug contradiction. They manage to contradict themselves in the space of one track on N.W.A. and the Posse. One verse of "Dope Man" excoriates crack cocaine addicts, while another glorifies the lifestyle of the dope man himself.

The lyrics are here, they're NSFW enough that even redacting them like Professor Adler does in the OP can't make them clean enough for this site. (But it's an awesome song.)
12.16.2007 11:23pm
AtlantaLawyer:
Wow. I've read this blog for nearly a year, and I never thought I'd see anything related to NWA.

I remember this song/album as a middle school student in Virginia. This album is still considered (by me and my friends) one of the greatest rap albums of all time, and the album that exposed us (and, I'm sure, most of the East Coast / South) to west coast rap.
12.16.2007 11:28pm
A n o n:
Aah, the sweet irony of a (little "l") libertarian blog censoring song lyrics.
12.16.2007 11:36pm
OrinKerr:
Ah, the even sweeter irony of describing Jonathan's exercise of free choice in how he describes song lyrics as somehow inconsistent with libertarianism.
12.16.2007 11:42pm
Oren:

Aah, the sweet irony of a (little "l") libertarian blog censoring song lyrics.


Yeah. I wasn't aware that clinical or quoted uses of the word 'nigger' (or 'nigga' for that matter) was considered distasteful.
12.17.2007 12:09am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
the even sweeter irony of describing Jonathan's exercise of free choice in how he describes song lyrics as somehow inconsistent with libertarianism.


I can see the inaccuracy of that description, but I miss the irony.
12.17.2007 12:11am
Arvin (mail) (www):
the even sweeter irony of describing Jonathan's exercise of free choice in how he describes song lyrics as somehow inconsistent with libertarianism.

I can see the inaccuracy of that description, but I miss the irony.

Well, it's like rain on your wedding day.

More seriously, it's ironic that someone is criticizing Professor Adler for not being libertarian enough when the point of being libertarian is to choose for yourself how you want to do something, as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others. IMO, anyway.
12.17.2007 12:31am
Jason F:
Anon, don't make Professor Adler act the motherfucking fool.

I'm generally not a fan of rap, but you can't deny the power of this album. That opening track in particular belongs on anybody's short list of best opening tracks in popular music.

I can't think of the group, though, without thinking of a joke told by Brian Posehn, which I will paraphrase:

I think it's funny that Northwest Airlines calls themself NWA. I always think of the rap group. Whenever I'm sitting on one of their planes, I always expect to see Eazy-E kick down the door and burst into the cabin: "Straight Outta Cockpit!"
12.17.2007 12:59am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):

More seriously, it's ironic that someone is criticizing Professor Adler for not being libertarian enough when the point of being libertarian is to choose for yourself how you want to do something


So criticism of libertarians' behavior is generally ironic. It still doesn't feel quite right to me. Not a big deal.

If you told someone in 1990 that Ice Cube was going to be making the movies he's making...well, I bet they'd be surprised.
12.17.2007 1:19am
TonyRyan (mail):
What do Ice Cube's parents and Prof. Volokh have in common? All three are/were long-time UCLA employees. One of his parents worked for campus facilities and the other was an office worker in the administration. Eazy-E was also the only member of the group actually from Compton. Mr. Cube (f/k/a O'Shea Jackson) was not only not from Compton but got bused out to not-so-gangsta Taft High (Woodland Hills) from his home school of Fremont (South-Central/Athens).
12.17.2007 1:30am
Arvin (mail) (www):
So criticism of libertarians' behavior is generally ironic. It still doesn't feel quite right to me.

I wouldn't put it that strongly. If a libertarian was murdering people, say, criticism would be quite apt and not at all unlibertarian. But when a libertarian's behavior is exercising his freedom of speech in a non-infringing-on-others way, then criticism of that choice is unlibertarian. Sort of like criticizing someone for saying "what the heck" instead of "what the fuck" when the point of freedom of speech is to say what you want to say, even if what you want to say happens to be what's PC. Again, IMO.
12.17.2007 3:19am
Arvin (mail) (www):
Er. Make that: "criticism of that choice as unlibertarian is ironic." Otherwise, we'd perish in a recursion of irony.
12.17.2007 3:20am
ruddiger:

"The ironing is delicious."
12.17.2007 7:29am
JosephSlater (mail):
"Well, it's like rain on your wedding day." Excellent.

I was grading torts one year when I thought nobody was around my office, my MP3 program shuffling through songs on my computer. In the middle of "Straight Outta Compton," a student came by and said, "gee, I didn't think law profs listened to NWA." I have to admit, I felt a bit sheepish.
12.17.2007 10:06am
WHOI Jacket:
I didn't know we discussed classical music on the blog.
12.17.2007 10:30am
just great (mail):
I sincerely wonder how many policemen died because of young men who grew up on albums like this one. I'm not naive, and know that the police aren't perfect. But exactly what are they supposed to do? How are they supposed to do their jobs in high-crime, inner city neighborhoods without being treated contemptuously? Rap albums like this one turn the police into the enemy, even when they are doing their best to do their job at the risk of their own lives. It makes me sick to see songs and albums like this treated respectfully, and even worse idolized.
A policeman in a city near here pulled over a young black man who had an expired registration, and got a bullet in his head. When he was arrested the young man quoted a rap singer and boasted about what he had done.
I don't want to overgeneralize about the influence of music on behavior, but the whole youth rap culture strikes me as severely pathological.
12.17.2007 10:45am
Per Son:
just great:

Depending on where you live - the police are the enemy. Ever heard of Rampart Division?

Moreover, Fred Hampton and Rodney King were hardly the only victims of police violence.
12.17.2007 10:59am
just great (mail):
Rodney King was driving recklessly and sporadically, the police pulled him over, and he lunged for them. Again, what were the police supposed to do? They suspected he was on PCP. Have you ever tried to subdue someone on PCP?
Should the police just let people like Rodney King drive around dangerously? If they pull someone like him over, should they just lie low once he charges them and resists arrest? It's easy to judge on the basis of a videotape (which doesn't show the whole incident, only the part that makes the police look bad). But it's different when you patrol the "hood" and have to make split-second decisions.
12.17.2007 11:14am
Per Son:
Just great:

Ever been pulled over for DWB? Ever heard of Abner Louima? What is your excuse for cops raping a man?

Please do not act like the tough streets make cops do bad things.

Again, what is the excuse for the massive corruption of the LAPD Ramparts Division?

I am not saying all cops are bad - hardly, but in many places people grow up, with frankly no good reason to trust the police that apparently have it out for them before they hit the pavement.

As for rap music making police the enemy. Hardly! It represents what people feel (real or perceived) is going on in certain neighborhoods.

Oh, and for what it is worth, I defend law enforcement officers as part of my job.
12.17.2007 11:30am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Rodney King was driving recklessly and sporadically, the police pulled him over, and he lunged for them. Again, what were the police supposed to do? They suspected he was on PCP. Have you ever tried to subdue someone on PCP?

That was the police version of the story. There's plenty of evidence it wasn't true, and a federal jury didn't believe it after hearing that evidence. (In fairness, a mostly-white suburban state jury did believe it.)

I will tell you that I have lived in the LA area all my life, and it was well-known prior to the King incident that the police would ALWAYS administer a beating to any suspect who (they felt) endangered the public by leading officers on a dangerous chase. (This was before such chases made the evening news.)
12.17.2007 8:46pm
Big Bill (mail):
You want to know the reality of Compton, go read the LA Times homicide column, where kids say they have to dress like ignorant fool black thugs just to survive. If they don't adopt a nasty, threatening demeanor and goofy pants-hangin-all-off-yo-butt clothes they will be killed.

It's not "keeping it real", it's terrorism on a community level. The victims suffer from Stockholm syndrome, and the cops will always be blamed. Compton makes the Warsaw ghetto look like Disneyland.
12.18.2007 7:11am
Oren:

Compton makes the Warsaw ghetto look like Disneyland.


Wow.
12.18.2007 12:32pm
anonn:
Back to rap music, I think more striking than the "Fuck the Police" to "Are We Done Yet" transformation by Ice Cube is the "Cop Killa" to "Law &Order" transformation by Ice T. FWIW.
12.18.2007 1:55pm