I am thinking deeply this morning about the death of Rodney King. Indeed as this article indicates, King’s caught on camera ordeal and the riots that ensued months later in LA served as a catalyst for reform in police procedures in LA and around the country.
I am also thinking how King has inadvertently touched my life with his life and struggles. I was 14 and just still transitioning from New Kids on the Block to more aggressive forms of music when the tape of Rodney King’s beating made its way into my family’s living room.
A little over a year later, officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were acquitted of assault charges. It was April 29, 1992. That day the LA Riots began in protest to the verdict. For six days the city burned. There were 53 casualties of the riots and thousands of injuries.
In November of that year Ice Cube released The Predator. It was a brilliant, violent and frightening summery of the American Zeitgeist. The album references, King the trial and the riots repeatedly. Somewhere in the course of that year between the video and the verdict, I had begun listening to Hip Hop, in particular the omnipresent gangster rap of the early 90’s. I am sure that teenage rebellion, allegorical identification with the angst young urban youth, MTV and the 15 inch subwoofers in the car of my childhood best friend all had an impact on my burgeoning taste in music.
But none of that can sufficiently account for what happened when I heard Ice Cube’s “Predator” album. It was the first hip hop album – the first album in any genre really – that I thoroughly devoured. I listened to it day and night. On my headphones into the wee hours of the night it was playing. I fell asleep listening to it:
I have often said that I discovered God under the lilac tree just outside our bedroom window listening to Ice Cube. While there is a lot more to my story than that. The statement is only partially hyperbolic.
I am not kidding whatsoever when I say that listening to this album fostered the birth of my awareness and my concern for, racism, economic disparity, abuse of power and injustice. It is at least part of the reason I ended up in seminary. It is definitely directly related to why I found myself taking electives in the Hebrew Prophets when I could in undergrad and seminary.
Like the prophet Isaiah, Ice cube was part of a larger collective, a tradition of voices that pronounced judgment and yes provided comfort for people suffering from many afflictions. Both men wrote to warn and also empower a people who had been dragged away from their homeland enslaved and impoverished. There are of course ways in which the historical context and message are dissimilar. But both Ice Cube and Isaiah surveyed their land and saw “a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!” And certainly Ice Cube, like the prophet Isaiah, was a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, whose eyes had seen the disparity between the Holy and the way we live. As Ice Cube was fond of saying and would later put into a song on a subsequent album, “They wont call me N!**er when I get to Heaven.”
In the end it is Isaiah who has provided me with what I have come to believe is God’s answer, God’s eschatological or ultimate vision for a world torn apart by racism, classism, ageism, sexism, religious bigotry and persecution and a seemingly endless list of other injustices. God’s vision for a day when badges and batons will cease to be wield as weapons. A day when by God’s grace we will all do one better than just getting along. Isaiah provides nothing short of God’s vision for Heaven on earth:
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2-4).
The Rodney King beating at the hands of LAPD officers was 20 years ago this night.
A little over a year later, officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were acquitted of assault charges.
That was on was April 29, 1992. That day the LA Riots began in protest to the verdict. For six days the city burned. There were 53 casualties of the riots and thousands of injuries.
In November of that year Ice Cube released The Predator. It was a brilliant, violent and frightening summery of the American Zeitgeist. The album references, King the trial and the riots repeatedly.
It was the first hip hop album I really devoured. I listened to it on my headphones into the wee hours of the night. I fell asleep listening to it.
I once told my brother that I discovered God under the lilac tree just outside our bedroom window listening to Ice Cube. While there is a lot more to my story than that. The statement is only partially hyperbolic.
I am not kidding whatsoever when I say this was the birth for my awareness and concern for justice, equality and race relations. It is at least part of the reason I ended up in seminary. It is definitely directly related to why I found myself taking electives in the Hebrew Prophets when I could in undergrad and seminary.
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
They are old enough to serve in the military. But they are not quite old enough to drink (not legally anyway). Of course that probably wouldn’t stop a lot of them. Get ready to celebrate with some post-teen spirit. That’s right, I’m talking about albums that turn 20 this year.
1991. I was a wee 14 years old (20 years ago today in fact). The Cold War ended. The reign of George Bush Sr. was half over. The Persian Gulf War had just begun. That spring the world watched with shock and horror as Rodney King took 56 baton blows and a few kicks. News outlets around the world played the video tape shot by a bystander of an LAPD drunk driving arrest.
MC Hammer and Vanilla ice still lingered on the album and singles charts with the pop-cross over material most of America celebrated the previous year and derided by the following year. Meanwhile Gangsta rap took over. Ice cube made his debut on the silver screen and continued to make violent and sexist yet intelligent, eye-opening and important music without NWA. Dr. Dre and the boys put together one of the most nihilistic, misogynistic and lyrically empty rap albums ever. But the lyrics were laid over a sonic tapestry of soul samples and production that made the album sound like it was from the past and the future all at once. Ice-T released his last great album before becoming a heavy-metal cop killer, succumbing to the Dre blueprint for all of his subsequent hip hop releases and eventually becoming a self parody. In a time when the West Coast was taking over, Naughty By Nature brought some rough and rugged East Coast heat. However, it was a newcomer raised on the east coast but representing Oakland that made the most important hip hop record that year.
Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world; but not for too much longer. Along with bands like skid row, they offered albums that year that provided an updated, darker, harder sound than their glam-rock predecessors a few years earlier. But it was not updated enough. One week after G N’ R released Use Your Illusion I & II a little band from Seattle released an Album called Nevermind that changed everything in rock in many ways – some of them good and some of them bad – for years to come.
It was the year that R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers went mainstream. Smashing Pumpkins were still underground. U2 had their first (and perhaps best) of several major sound and image makeovers. And in addition to that breakthrough sophomore effort from Nirvana, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam and Sound Garden saw to it that every other headline in music publications included the words alternative, grunge or Seattle.
It was the year that brought us Lollapalooza. Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center were in full force and “Parental Advisory” stickers became formalized and were slapped on more albums than ever before thought imaginable.
It was the year that Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain were introduced to the world. Over the next few years they would each become household names while courting controversy and fame. Each artist provided a unique soundtrack for those who were fatherless, or at least felt they were. Before the decade was over, the world would lose both artists to violent deaths, each shrouded in conspiracy theories.
Do you remember in Back to the Future II when Marty tells Doc Brown that they need to go back to November 12, 1955? That was the last and most hectic day of Marty’s stay in 1955 in the first movie. The Doc responds to Marty saying, “It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.”
I truly believe that 1991 was one of the years in music. Like a few pivotal years in the 50′s and 60′s, it contains some sort of cosmic significance, at least for the world of music. Neither the pop charts nor “underground” music have been the same since.
Throughout 2011, I will be taking you back to 1991. I have about 25 albums and at least one movie on the list to blog about throughout the year. I will try my best to post on or near the anniversary of the original release date. Most of these albums were at least pretty good. Some of them were Masterpieces. And I would be less than honest if I didn’t include a couple that in retrospect are quite embarrassing. The majority are rock of one sub-genre or another, or hip hop. A couple are pop albums. There will be at least one R&B and one Country album. Most of them I discovered upon their release or shortly there after. A couple of them it took me a considerable amount of time to catch on to. I will note that as I go along. But all of them came from that important and game changing year. 1991 I solute you.