I never imagined in my wildest dreams that wielding a microphone, cutting records on the wheels of steel, just being involved in hip hop culture would warrant (no pun intended) the so-called “Rap Unit” within the New York Police Department to target a plethora of hip hop individuals. I am watching this documentary on Showtime called "Black And Blue: Legends Of The Hip Hop Cop". The more I think about it, I’m not really THAT surprised, because I’ve been hearing about this “alleged” task force within NYPD ever since the Notorious B.I.G. murder in ‘97. Even though hip hop has not folded under pressure and scrutiny, like many predicted in the 1980’s, it’s somewhat telling that there is very solid evidence about the hip hop profiling that occurred (and still occurring) in the largest metropolis in these “United States”.
As I watched the documentary, I noticed a common theme: young black and Latino men being targeted. Much like COINTELPRO in the late 1960’s and early portion of the 1970’s, there was a secret intelligence lurking in the dark to curtail musical cats of a darker hue. It’s quite a shame, because you never, NEVER hear about rock profiling, country profiling, any other musical culture profiling. Hip hop, rap, urban music, whatever you name it, has been subject to scrutiny, fair and otherwise, since its inception. Most of the media’s coverage has been of a negative standpoint, and there is no way you can tell a brother like myself that this is fair. On the contrary, looking at the documentary sheds even more negative light on how society views a culture that was designed because of societal conditions. Hip hop is a by-product of urban living immediately after the civil rights struggle reached a head. I am an immediate by-product of the civil rights struggle, being born at the beginning of the 1970’s on January 3rd. I’ve been in the midst of this larger conversation from the very beginning, so when I say that “I am hip hop”, I’m not just spouting rhetoric. Hip hop developed after King’s “I Have A Dream” almost became an afterthought. The dream is being realized now because of President Obama and our cultural assimilation, but it seems that this task force sees hip hop as “a nightmare” more than a culture.
Name after name within New York’s hip hop landscape flashed across the screen. P Diddy. Jay-Z. Busta Rhymes. Nas. Li’l Kim. Missy Elliott. Missy Elliott? Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott? Was she on this list because her nickname when she first hit the urban landscape was “Misdemeanor”? Other names that don’t put fear in Middle America’s heart also were a part of the documentary, including the former Rap City host Big Tigger, who I don’t recall being a career criminal threat. What does this REALLY mean? You tell me.
According to accounts within Black And Blue: Legends Of The Hip Hop Cop, the individual who was responsible for compiling and profiling was a Derrick Parker, a former NYPD officer who had his finger on the pulse of hip hop music. Derrick Parker put together a listing of targeted artists, and within a three year timeframe an actual task force was put together. What amazed me was a “hip hop binder”, a very thick one I may add, was shown to many artists during the documentary. Some of the artists were surprised (see former Rocafella co-CEO Dame Dash), while others saw much humor with their pics and bios (Noreaga and Capone from Queens duo C-N-N). The irony in all of this is quite a few artists almost revel in this scrutiny with their continued actions or even hip hop personas. This doesn’t bode well, because it’s just adding fuel to an already growing fire. From Tupac to Biggie to Jam Master Jay, there are quite a few unsolved (or unrevealed) crimes that involve an ever evolving art form.
The “Rap Intelligence Unit”, in my view, could be compared in nature, if not scope, to COINTELPRO, known as Counter Intelligence Program. COINTELPRO was aimed at infiltrating and disrupting various organizations, most closely associated with the Black Panthers, NAACP, and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). The parallel you can draw with COINTELPRO and the dubbed Rap Intelligence Unit was government involvement. To me, this reeks of civil liberties violations because the current crop of individuals being unfairly targeted is being unfairly scrutinized. I say unfairly because no matter if your name is a Shawn Carter, Sean Combs, Curtis Jackson, Calvin Broadus, or many many others, having emcee as your profession shouldn’t be the calling card for FBI or government harassment. Harassment, to some, may be a strong term, but it is fitting, because from what I surmised from the documentary, individuals were followed from destination to destination. It makes for good entertainment, to say the least. On the other hand, it is sad that entertainers (because like it or not hip hop artists are entertainers) are viewed as “negative entertainment”. Negative entertainment is loosely stated in this context when a whole slew of artists have a bulls-eye planted on their chests for Rap Intelligence Unit to have hip hop target practice.
Delving further into "Black And Blue: Legends Of The Hip Hop Cop", that rap binder that was kept housed criminal histories, mug shots, and other information deemed vital to this so-called tactical unit. What tactics were used are questionable and unethical at best. Again, I ask the question, is there a unit such as this for other art forms? I can safely say N-O! If there is, I will be shocked beyond belief. It’s 2010, and not only do we have a Black president leading our nation out of a dark financial period, but there is a Tea Party hiding behind neo-racial undertones. From my keen observations through two eyes and eyeglasses, I’m seeing a turn for the worst when it comes to racial issues. Because President Obama is responsible for reversing years of financial neglect and fiscal misuse, there are those right wing enthusiasts trying to “put us in our place”. I don’t want to go off on my socio-political rant, but I sense that race is still a very tender and sensitive subject that hasn’t been fully embraced. The Rap Intelligence Unit, even though it was never stated on the surface, is another manner in which to observe the actions of a darker faction (Blacks and Latinos specifically). Towards the end of the documentary, individuals that were interviewed like Reverand Al Sharpton alluded to this notion. In essence, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Living in an urban environment that has a majority African-Amercan population, it makes me wonder if our wonderful Baltimore City Police Department has something similar going on within the walls of Central District. Who knows, considering that Central District is no more than a few hundred feet from our infamous red light district known as The Block. I’m pretty sure there is a tactical unit here in Harm City that is assigned to gang activity. Since many outside the culture view those traveling in hip hop circles as an organized (or even unorganized) gang, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to have some semblance of intelligence devoted to hip hop artists here in Baltimore. From Comp, to Backland, to Mullyman, to Bossman, to Jade Fox, there are many artists representing hip hop culture in the Baltimore metropolitan area. I hope they are not being targeted by BCPD, because that would be unfair and a travesty. As a strong proponent of hip hop culture, I want to see anyone and everyone involved, either directly or indirectly, band together and take a stand. I also want these same artists to take responsibility for his or her actions so there wouldn’t be any reason to be targeted in the first place. I can’t even lie, quite a few may have “dirty laundry” that could be used as fodder for those in authority. Don’t give those in true power a reason to scrutinize. Be responsible in your art and your life. Don’t be a follower, be a leader. Our generation, and those coming right behind us, need to step up and take the lead and do what is right, not what is cool. Show the powers that be what a “Rap Intelligence Unit” really should be…you and I!