Hip-hop has been on this.
Long before DaBaby did a Black Lives Matter remix of “Rockstar” or LL Cool J freestyled about George Floyd or J. Cole devoted his “Crooked Smile” video to 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, rappers were telling audiences about lives who mattered.
Since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, social justice shout-outs have been commonplace. The ever-socially focused Dead Prez and Yasiin Bey cut “Made You Die,” a tribute to Trayvon – as well as Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen, Kevin Cedeno and others – weeks after Trayvon was killed. The teen’s name has been on rhymesmiths’ lips ever since.
Yet even before that, as early as the 1980s, artists such as Public Enemy, NWA and KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions were tapping their influence to put the plights of African Americans in the spotlight.
Here are 10 times some of those rappers called out victims of violence in America.
Jay-Z on “Murder to Excellence”:
“This is to the memory of Danroy Henry, too much enemy fire to catch a friendly/Strays from the same shade, n***a, we on the same team, giving you respect, I expect the same thing.”
October 17, 2010: Henry, 20, a Pace University football player, was killed outside a restaurant in Thornwood, New York, after he allegedly hit Pleasantville police officer Aaron Hess with his vehicle, an accusation Henry’s family disputes. No one was indicted (Hess received an officer of the year award), but a lawsuit targeting Hess and the Village of Pleasantville was settled for $6 million in 2016.
Yusef Hawkins, Eleanor Bumpurs and Gavin Cato
X Clan on “FTP”:
“‘Cause we the people that are strong and able, remember Yusef onto Gavin Cato/Eleanor Bumpurs, Steven Biko, Huey P, murderers of Malcolm and death of brother King.”
August 23, 1989: Hawkins, 16, was killed when a group of white youths attacked him and his friends in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. Hawkins was fatally shot. Several members of the mob were sentenced to prison.
October 29, 1984: Bumpurs was killed during an eviction. A New York police officer shot the 87-year-old twice with a shotgun during a struggle. No one was convicted, but the city settled with her family for $200,000, the New York Post reported.
August 19, 1991: Cato, 7, was working on his bicycle when a driver fatally hit and dragged him. Cato’s death sparked the four-day Crown Heights riot. No one was indicted.
Ice Cube on “Predator”:
“Check your head for the new style, f**k Laurence Powell and Briseño, Wind and Koon pretty soon/We’ll f**k them like they f**ked us and won’t kiss ‘em; riots ain’t nothin but diets for the system.”
March 3, 1991: Police officers were videotaped striking unarmed motorist Rodney King more than 50 times with batons. Though more than 20 officers were present, only four – Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseño, Timothy Wind and Stacey Koon – were indicted. The four white officers were acquitted the following year, setting off the Los Angeles riots.
Maino on “My Hood”:
“And it don’t help seeing all my men get buried, we should’ve riot when them pigs killed Timothy Stansbury/Everybody’s on parole or probation or on the run or just caught court cases.”
January 24, 2004: Timothy Stansbury was killed on a rooftop in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood when a New York police officer opened a door and, startled by encountering Stansbury, fired his weapon, killing the 19-year-old. No one was indicted, but the city paid his family $2 million in 2007, The New York Times reported.
Killer Mike on “Don’t Die”:
“Wanna leave me dead on a mattress, Hampton/I’m a public enemy because I’m cold lampin’/And I don’t give a f**k about a party in the Hamptons.”
December 4, 1969: A leader in the Black Panther Party, the 21-year-old Hampton was in his bed when he was killed during an early morning police raid. Fellow Panther Mark Clark was killed as well. No one was charged. The city of Chicago, Cook County and the federal government settled with Hampton’s and Clark’s families for $1.8 million in 1982, CNN affiliate WLS reported.
Pharoahe Monch on “One Four Love Pt. 1”
“Cops they transport me from Long Island to Medina with they f**ked up demeanor/Dreamin’ of stickin’ it to me like Abner Louima.”
August 9, 1997: Louima was arrested after a fight outside a club in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. Officers beat him on the way to the station, and, continuing the beating at the station, New York officer Justin Volpe sexually assaulted Louima with a broken broomstick. Volpe pleaded guilty to beating and sodomizing Louima and received a 30-year sentence. Other officers were acquitted or saw their convictions overturned. One pleaded guilty to perjury. The city of New York and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association paid Louima $8.75 million in a settlement.
Papoose on “Change Gon’ Come (50 Shots)”:
“Say you shot at the man cause you though he was strapped, but you killed a man cause you thought he was shooting back/Black America, what type of garbage is that? The police academy arming these fools with gats/If your reason was you thought he carry a gun, that mean you killed him for nothing, cause he ain’t have one.”
November 25, 2006: Bell, 23, and his friends were at a bachelor party at a Queens strip club on the morning of his wedding. Two friends, who testified they saw armed men and didn’t realize they were police, got in Bell’s car, and as Bell tried to drive away, the plainclothes officers opened fire, shooting 50 times, killing Bell and injuring his friends. The officers were acquitted. New York settled a lawsuit filed by Bell’s family and his two friends for more than $7 million.
The Game on “The Kill”:
“I put on for my city like Jeezy say, iron out my red flag for Free Weezy Day/And since they did Oscar Grant like Emmett Till, crack the Patron seal.”
January 1, 2009: A Bay Area Rapid Transit officer fatally shot the unarmed Grant, 22, as he lay face down on a platform at Oakland’s Fruitvale station. Officer Johannes Mehserle said he meant to fire his Taser, not his gun, and he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He got two years in prison and served 11 months. BART paid settlements of $2.8 million to Grant’s mother and daughter, CNN affiliate KPIX reported.
Wyclef Jean on “Diallo”:
“Enemy on the borderline, who’ll be the next to fire 41 shots by Diallo’s side?/You said he reached, sir, but he didn’t have no piece, sir/But now he rest in peace, sir, in the belly of the beast, sir.”
February 4, 1999: Diallo, 22, was confronted outside his Bronx home by four NYPD officers who were searching for a rapist. Diallo reached for his wallet, and the officers, who later said they thought he had a gun, fired 41 shots, hitting the Guinean street vendor 19 times and killing him. The officers were acquitted, but the city settled a wrongful death suit for $3 million.
Heems on “New York City Cops”:
“Y2K grand wizard Giuliani wasn’t done, bad boys, bad boys took Patrick Dorismond/Plainclothes asking him where to cop tree, shot him one time and didn’t have to flee/Well, yo, it was an accident, see? And once again the boys in blue got off Scot free.”
March 16, 2000: An undercover New York police officer approached Dorismond looking to buy weed. According to police, Dorismond became incensed, a scuffle ensued and a detective fired a fatal shot to Dorismond’s chest. No one was indicted. The city later settled with Dorismond’s family for $2.25 million, The New York Times reported.