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had it up to here/ It’s getting harder, and harder, and harder, and harder each and every year.” Those lyrics sum up Los Angeles in 1992. Tensions were rising in the communities, and it took one incident to release the rage of LA. Bradley Nowell and Sublime wrote the song “April 29, 1992,” to demonstrate the struggle of Los Angeles as a whole, rather than all of the riots being attributed to race related issues. When you think of civil rights being broken, the name Rodney King should come to mind. The night of March 3, 1991, King was being pursued by the Los Angeles Police in a high-speed car chase. Once the police caught up to King, four LAPD officers brutally beat him: Timothy Wind, Laurence Powell, Theodore Brinseno, and Stacey Koon. What made this encounter with excessive police force different than any other is that it was captured on video by an amateur videographer. The officers justified the beating saying, “He was under the influence of PCP and was very aggressive and violent.” The officers were soon indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, and excessive use of force. The trial went on until April 29, 1992. The jury acquitted three of the four officers on the evidence that the video showing the beating was edited. The verdict was announced at 3:15
pm; protestors surrounded the courthouse within 30 minutes. By nightfall, the citizens of LA were rioting, looting, and committing arson. Buildings cooked for six days, while violence and terror prepped the table for the feast. Eventually military was brought to the streets, halting the riots. Kings famous words united LA; “can’t we all just get along?” Numbers: more than 50 deaths, 2000 injured, and 9,500 arrested for looting, rioting, and arson. Due to the outrage of the Rodney King verdict, the United States Department of Justice reinstated the investigation. It now seems like the tables have turned; Powell and Koon were found guilty and sentenced to 32 months in prison. Wind and Briseno were acquitted of all charges. This new verdict seemed to set ease to the LA population. Late in the 80’s, 1988 to be exact, three misfits from Long Beach, California came together to create the greatest ska band to ever roam this earth; Sublime. The members consisted of Bradley Nowell (vocals and guitar), Eric Wilson (bass), and Bud Gaugh (drums). Sublime wasn’t well known in the early nineties. Under Bradley’s label, Skunk Records, Sublime released two albums: “40oz to Freedom” and “Robbin’ in the Hood”. These albums could only be acquired at their live shows, where they established their unique blend of reggae, punk, ska, and hip-hop. Soon thereafter Bradley and his mates had a following in the California area. In June of 1994, they went commercial and signed with MCA Records. May 26, 1996, two months before the release of their self-titled album under MCA Records, Bradley was found dead from a heroine overdose (a battle he had been fighting for years). “Sublime” ended up being a home run; with “What I Got” stealing the No.1 track for Modern Rock Chart, as well as the album went five-times platinum. Bradley had a
knack for turning stories into lyrics. “April, 29, 1992” is the fifth track on “Sublime” and tells the side of the LA riots that was not shown by the media. Not only was Bradley a storyteller, there was no restriction to what he would project onto the page. His songs ranged from smoking two joints in the morning, and two joints at night, to a date rape where the assailant gets what he deserves in jail, as vocalized in the hit “Date Rape”. “April 29, 1992” resonated with the California population because it explains the underlying factors of the Rodney King riots. “April 29, 1992” opens with a recording of a concerned citizen calling 911, describing a store being looted. There are several LAPD recordings throughout the track: “Call fire and tell them respond local station out to meet us at Anaheim. It’s uh, flaming up good” as well as “Units, units be advised of an attempted 211 to arrest now at 938 Temple, 9-3-8 Temple, thirty subjects with bats trying to get inside the CP’s house… he thinks that they are trying to kill him”. The recordings makes you feel like you are in the middle of the riot. Sublime used samples from Doug E. Fresh, MC Ricky D, Just Ice, and Mobb Deep to set the tone of the track. The first lyric that Bradley throws down is “April 26, 1992”, obviously this is the wrong date; when Bradley was recording the song, he messed up. He was so happy how the track came out, that he disregarded it. Allegedly the members of Sublime took part in the looting and rioting, proclaiming it in the lyrics: “There was a riot on streets/ tell me where were you?/ you were sitting at home watching your TV/ while I was participating in some anarchy” and goes on to talk about how they rob a liquor store, music shop, and a furniture store. Bradley takes a break for one line to show a lighter side of the looting when he states, “some kids went in a store with their
mother/ I saw her when she came out she was gettin’ some pampers.” That line explains how bad the economy was in LA at the time, mothers could not afford diapers for her kids, and so she resulted to looting while she could. The next lyric suggests that the riots were not about the color of your skin, but instead the rage that had been building up in every Los Angolan. “They said it was for the black man/ they said it was for the Mexican/ and not for the white man/ but if you look at the streets, it wasn’t about Rodney King/ in this fucked-up situation, and these fuckedup police/ it’s about comin’ up and stayin’ on top/ and screaming 1-8-7 on a mother fuckin’ cop”; this is the most powerful string of words in the whole composition. Bradley is explaining that if you were only watching what the media was sending out, you would assume that the riots were because of race related issues (i.e. white v. black, Hispanic v. black, black v. Korean). However, as Bradley states, every color came together to fight against police brutality. 1-8-7 is the code that police use for “homicide.” The significance of the code is that the LA citizens are sick of the excessive abuse from the police. In the last verse, Bradley lists U.S. cities and yells, “LET IT BURN!” The first city that is named is Miami. It may seem like Bradley made a mistake once again, however, like in Jim Morrison’s “Peace Frog,” the cities he names are actually places that the band (Sublime) had run-ins with the law. The last verse slams the last nail into the coffin, in regards to Sublime’s relationship with the law. As Bradley stated, the media was broadcasting across the U.S. scenes of the riots, and attributing the cause to race wars. Blacks were portrayed as only being enraged about the verdict of the Rodney King trial. What most don’t know, is that
there were underlying factors to the riots that did include race issues, but was not limited to. These factors included: white v. black, black and Hispanic v. police, black v. Koreans, poor v. rich, and the economy. Los Angeles was a ticking time bomb; the Rodney King verdict detonated it. The riots started in South Central, where there had been racial and economic problems for years. The LA riots of 1992 shadowed the infamous 1965-Watts riots. Los Angeles has numerous sub cities and communities; that made it difficult for the city to come together as one. The LA riots were the first time the whole city came together for a cause. The demographics of each area depicted different problems and reasons to riot. South Central has a high percentage of minorities, and a low percentage of whites, making racial issues more apparent. 30% of the inhabitants in South Central lived below the poverty line according to a study in 1990. Problems ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on the demographic of the community. On the forth day of the riots, military was deployed to bring a stop to the violence. That afternoon, 30,000 Los Angolans attended a peace rally; the rally was followed by the announcement that the U.S Justice Department would reinvestigate the Rodney King beatings. This was a victory in the eyes of political and civil activists. The media in the United States seem to always be drawn to conflicts of race. Whether it is the Rodney King beatings or the Trayvon Martin shooting, the media plays off the ignorance of the United States population. When Sublime wrote “April 29, 1992,” they were intending to show the real factors of the riots. There was no “race wars”; the riots were simply citizens, who were unhappy with their
government, coming together to make a difference. In the end, were the riots justified? That is for you to deicide.
Works Cited "1992 Los Angeles Riots." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. "1992: The LA Riots." Libcom.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. "20 Years Later: Legacies of the Los Angeles Riots." 20 Years Later: Los Angeles After the 1992 Riots: Places: Design Observer. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. "Los Angeles, April 29 – May 4, 1992." The Awl. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. Norwell, Bradley. "April 29, 1992 Lyrics." A-Z LYRICS. N.p., n.d. Web. "Rodney King Trial Verdict Announced." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. "Rodney King." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. "Starpulse.com." Starpulse. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.
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