The movie Straight Outta Compton, which opens this weekend, dramatizes the emergence of southern California hip-hop rap group N.W.A. In 1988, the group’s album of the same name popularized gangsta rap music with lyrics detailing the realities of life in gang-ridden South Central L.A.
N.W.A. members Dr. Dre (Andre Romelle Young) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) went on to become rap superstars in their own right after writing songs like “Fuck tha Police,” and “Gangsta Gangsta,” with lyrics like “takin’ out a police will make my day” and “beat a police outta shape.”
Law enforcement agencies took those lines quite literally.
In 1989, N.W.A.’s record label received a warning letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) expressing displeasure with the lyrics of “Fuck tha Police” because the song encouraged “violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer.”
First Amendment activists jumped to the N.W.A.’s defense and the unforeseen publicity only added to the band’s street-cred. Eventually, Straight Outta Compton was selected as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time. But decades later, as aspiring gangsta rap artists try to emulate N.W.A.’s success, law enforcement still has rap in its cross-hairs.
When a person is accused of committing a crime “sometimes what they say will end up being used against them” despite the First Ammendment, Contra Costa County District Attorney Satish Jallepalli told Reason TV in 2014. Jallepalli presented evidence in 2012 to a grand jury supporting the idea that Bay Area rapper Laz Tha Boy (Deandre Mitchell)…