Every generation gets the “fuck tha Police” it deserves. The 1988 title by NWA is a brilliant stomp. The production shares some anxious Public Enemy–style siren bleat, adds a Twilight Zone guitar figure and rollicking rhythm. It is crassly homophobic. It is celebratory in equal parts to its rage, putting the police on trial in a dream reversal. The late Eazy-E gilds the closing statement with a veritably Socratic gesture: “Without a gun and badge, what do ya got? A sucker in a uniform waiting to get shot.”
The moment of truth precedes this by seconds: “They put up my picture with silence cuz my identity by itself causes violence.” The cops don’t need just cause, much less anthems; they’re the militarized edge of white supremacy, after all. Against this, the song’s antagonistic spirit registers both bravado and slyness, a rip in the fabric of the dark blue night. It was a chance to roll around Los Angeles shouting “Fuck the police!” at volume and maybe get away with it. Three years later, the beating of Rodney King. A year after that, the verdict. And the riots.
In 2009, the year Baton Rouge rapper Lil Boosie was sentenced to jail, where he would spend time through 2014, he included a song with roughly the same title on a mixtape. In the interval, there had been no shortage of like offerings. Boosie’s “Fuck the Police,” featuring Webbie, is grim, sinister. It’s a conversation, mostly about the endless threats, humiliations and violations experienced at the hands of various cops. The chorus is roll call and response: “Cities, fuck ‘em! Narcotics, fuck ‘em! Feds, fuck ‘em! DAs, fuck ‘em!” It comes to a familiar conclusion, in familiarly uncivil language: “Without that badge, you a bitch and a half, nigga. Fuck the police!” The song is not defeated. But it is flattened, coiled, darkness audible: the steady-state sonics of a permanent disaster that has befallen a people.
There has been no dearth of complaints that contemporary struggles have not been met with anything like the vaunted protest music of the past. Tracks by Lauryn Hill and others notwithstanding, the complaint has been repackaged lately to note that Ferguson has yet to yield its “Ohio,” written just a couple of weeks after the Kent State shootings. Perhaps this is a sign of pop culture’s increasing fracture from lived politics. Or perhaps some songs have already been written. Sometimes, culture uses whatever it finds lying around. It is precisely the lack of novelty that underscores Michael Brown’s murder by Darren Wilson; how are you going to say you need something new? What better than “Fuck the Police” to narrate this nightmare repetition? It seems right, doubly right, no matter the times. The song’s atmospherics capture the long wave of anti-black repression, criminalization, harassment, now more than ever entangled with an economy heavy on sticks, light on carrots. And it gets the mysterious suspension of the present moment: an era seeming to have ended six or seven years ago with nothing new on the horizon, just this paused and hollow persistence. We are in a grim, unmoored moment, and it sounds like Boosie.