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To understand the rage, listen to rappers

Published May 3, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

Ice-T, a founder of the "gangsta" style of rap music, rode through the Los Angeles battle zone talking to a reporter on his car phone.

"I'm not saying I told you so, but rappers have been reporting from the front for years," said the rapper, whose songs carry such titles as Squeeze the Trigger and Prepared to Die.

"(Rappers) Public Enemy . . . Ice Cube . . . we were all saying that you have a potentially explosive situation (in the inner cities.)" Ice-T, who refuses to reveal his real name, was born in New Jersey, but grew up in South Los Angeles. He now lives in the hills above Sunset Strip, yet he says he keeps close ties with the old neighborhood.

Like other rap stars long accused of promoting violence through their explicit lyrics of urban anger, Ice-T declared that the week's rioting in Los Angeles confirmed the inner-city rage reflected in the music.

"Black people look at the cops as the Gestapo. People thought it might come to an end (with the Rodney King trial) and they might get some justice," he said. "That was a false hope. People saw (that) justice is a myth if you're black. Of course people will riot."

His remarks were echoed by other rappers, both in California and in New York _ the two centers of the tough, street-oriented music that has had a strong hold on urban youth since the late '80s.

"The only language the oppressors in this nation seem to understand is violence," said Paris, a 24-year-old San Francisco rapper.

However, Q-Tip, a 22-year-old member of New York's Tribe Called Quest, is hoping for a peaceful alternative. He's planning to march with other rappers, including Public Enemy's Chuck D, next week in New York to protest the Rodney King verdict.

"I'm like most every other young black male in New York or South-Central (Los Angeles)," he said. "I never cared about politics before. I've never even registered to vote, but this verdict really woke me up. I'm going to register next week at the end of our march. I'm going to show the 80,000 people who listen to my music that I'm serious about changing things. We need new leaders.

"I think rappers have more of a voice than Tom Bradley or Daryl Gates. And we plan to make ourselves heard at this march. Destroying our community ain't helping nobody but the white contractors who will make a fortune rebuilding these areas. The main thing the Black Panthers taught us was to vote. We need to vote these guys out of office. You know what I'm saying?"

When parts of Washington went up in flames in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., soul singer James Brown, at the request of Lyndon B. Johnson's White House, went on black radio and persuaded the rioters to stop.

But President Bush, confronted by the most violent domestic unrest of his presidency, turned instead to the civil rights establishment, the men and women who have tried for nearly a quarter of a century to fill the void left after King's assassination.

No one questions the sincerity and commitment of the "establishment" leaders Bush consulted, men like Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, and Joseph Lowery, director of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and women like Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women.

But it is questionable whether these figures have a clear understanding of the generation of blacks that has now come of age under the civil rights policies of the Reagan and Bush presidencies.

In some black communities, such establishment figures are viewed as part of the political system, and young blacks have never been more alienated from that system since passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

"They feel that no one represents them," Chester Hartman of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, a privately funded research group in Washington, said in an interview.

"They have no role models, their schools are war zones, their communities have died," said Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, editor and principal author of the 1988 book, Young, Black and Male in America: An Endangered Species.

Eazy E, the leader of N.W.A., the most controversial of the "gangsta rap" groups, said he doesn't think rappers can stop the action in the streets.

"Nobody wants to hear us lecture them. What they want is to see something done to those four officers," said the rapper, whose real name is Eric Wright. "They want justice. They want to see something done to that grocer who shot that little girl. They want the government to make an example of those four officers the way they made an example of Mike Tyson. What this boils down to is a matter of respect."

Ice Cube released a statement through his New York publicist regarding the King verdict: "No justice . . . no peace."

_ Information from Cox News Service was used in this report.

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