BROOKLYN CENTER, Minnesota — I was standing beside a crowd of protesters outside the police precinct Tuesday night when a white Lexus skidded up behind me.
Three young guys hopped out. Two jumped on top of the car. One raised a photo of Daunte Wright and stuck his middle finger out at the line of Minnesota state troopers firing flash-bang grenades into the crowd. The other threw up his fist in the Black Power sign.
The kid who wasn’t on the car cranked up the stereo, blasting N.W.A.’s “F*** tha Police” down the street. All three belted out the song’s chorus, and probably not for the first time since the George Floyd protests last year shot it back up in the charts. Reporters and other protesters swarmed them like the paparazzi do movie stars on the red carpet.
I stood on the sidelines, confused. I had run into these three guys earlier in the night while they were hotboxing their car. Nice dudes — they waved at me — but a little dense. Anyway, why does anyone still listen to N.W.A.?
That question still dogged me an hour later as I, along with these three dissident buds, fled the hundreds of Minnesota National Guard arresting the people protesting the latest high-profile police shooting. It still bugged me as I drove home in my own car, shuffling through N.W.A.’s breakout 1988 album Straight Outta Compton. I couldn’t help but feel that “F*** tha Police,” the song that ensconced Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E into the rap pantheon, is a fake anthem — and doesn’t do much for the racial justice cause.
On a purely aesthetic level, the beat kills the track. Dre made it several years before he pioneered the G-Funk genre, and it shows. It’s just a few samples strung together by some percussive noises that, when played over crappy car speakers, sounds like a garbage can collection.
The verses aren’t that great either. Ice Cube starts off strong, I guess, but goes on a few bars too long. MC Ren phones in his gripes. Eazy-E sounds too self-assured to be convincing. And the skit with the screaming white cop at the end? It’s so lame — even the Insane Clown Posse did better riffs on redneck culture.
The only thing that has kept the song around for the past 33 years is its chorus. And it’s not as if N.W.A. came up with that phrase or even delivered it in a particularly memorable way. They just got lucky because the slogan happens to capture how many people feel when they run afoul of the cops.
Except in N.W.A.’s case, “F*** tha Police” isn’t really about being the victim of bad policing. Sure, that’s all there, and there’s no doubt that the Los Angeles police didn’t always respect these guys’ human dignity. But the track at its core is a wannabe gangsta’s revenge fantasy. Dre admitted as much several years ago, when he said that the group wrote the song in response to the cops busting him and Eazy-E for shooting paintballs at people waiting for a bus.
And yet, earnest protesters — people who have actual concerns about police reform — play it at almost every rally I’ve been to in the last year. But it’s hard to take seriously anyone who relies on some half-assed rhymes from aging boomers for his racial justice credo.
It doesn’t help that the two top N.W.A. guys have massively sold out. Ice Cube now frequently plays cops in movies. And Dre rolls around with his billions, still pretending to be a gangsta rapper. “F*** tha Police” may still be a protest anthem, but its creators quickly became creatures of the system they originally spoke out against, so pathetic that only Rolling Stone still takes them seriously.
“I’m protesting in spirit. I’m protesting with my song, ‘F*** tha Police,’ ” Ren told the magazine after a reporter asked if he had gone to any of the George Floyd protests last year. Always good to see a guy put his money where his mouth is.
When I returned to Brooklyn Center on Wednesday, I found a group of people blasting an entire playlist of variants on “F*** tha Police” out of a white van. They were dancing and having fun. Not like the protesters down the block getting tear-gassed by the National Guard.
I wasn’t surprised. More often than not, the loudest voices are the ones who mean it the least.