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New American Songbook

If Tupac couldn’t fix it, how can Joey? | NAS


When Los Angeles erupted in violence in 1992, I was thirteen and in eighth-grade in Wichita. I don’t remember teachers talking much about it, but other students did.

Where they came down on the issue, whether a student sympathized with the rioters or Rodney King or whether they stood with the courts or police, depended almost entirely on race.

It’s the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots this year, and it’s also the 25th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s movie ‘Malcolm X’. It seems almost concurrent with the appearance of shirts and hats bearing the ‘X’ that was the brand of the movie, shirts and hats appeared featuring the confederate flag, and the proclamation that ‘you wear your ‘x’, and I’ll wear mine’. Lines were drawn in the halls of my middle school.

In 1993, Tupac’s ‘Holler If You Hear Me’ was released, as much a manifesto on protecting the neighborhood against police violence as it is a song. The intervening years since have seen variations on the same theme, someone in hip hop is always talking about it. This year, the New York emcee Joey Bada$$ released ‘Y U Don’t Love Me (Miss Amerikkka)’:

Just the other day, I saw one of those same confederate flag t-shirts, and I wondered how I might explain that to my daughter, who’s going into fourth grade. What lines are still being drawn, even in elementary school? If Tupac couldn’t fix it, how can Joey? What is to be done?