N.W.A: “Most Dangerous Group” or Just Feared By White America?

The notorious group N.W.A first came onto the scene with the album, Straight Outta Compton. It promoted a sub-genre in the hip hop world not widely known in the mainstream media yet, gangsta rap.  For over 20 years , this sub-genre took over youth culture. However, the late 80s were also a time of controversy; the debate over the lyrical content and it’s affect on youth culture as a whole. However, I would argue that it was more so white Americans being afraid of the affect N.W.A had on white youth because it forces America to see the issues in this nation with the injustices faced in minority neighborhoods.

One prime example of this is the song, Fuck Tha Police. The controversial song gave an uncensored view of life as young black men on the streets of LA. It talks about the ruthless police brutality  for simply being a person of color. It was the crossover into mainstream white American culture that provoked concern among parent groups and especially caught the attention of law-enforcement agencies. Kot suggested, “Gangsta rap forced America to confront the issues in its ghettos, and its realities were shocking when presented so explicitly on a recording that white suburban teenagers coveted” One tactic that was enforced was to try to censor this through using a Parent Advisory Label or PAL for short. It ultimately was in place due to the cultural and political debate over songs like this. A censored version of the album even omitted the song entirely.

This song “Fuck tha Police” is arguably one of their most controversial tracks ever released

By the summer of 1989, a right-wing retaliation took place. A newsletter called Focus on the Family Citizen ran the headline: “Rap Group NWA says ‘Kill Police’”. This prompted the FBI to send a letter to NWA’s record label, which stated, “Music plays a significant role in society”, and claimed the song “encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer.” From that point on, they were discouraged from performing the song on tour. It was banned on air, and in many stores. In one concert in Detroit, Ice Cube started the song, but the police rushed the stage. What happened to freedom of speech? Why was law enforcement so adamant about censoring them? “It was all kinds of forces against us—it didn’t crack us, break us, turn us into punks,” Ice Cube recently told Billboard. “It didn’t make us bite our tongue. It just made us stand up even more—and that’s powerful.” And it did make them a powerful influence: they went double platinum, the first album to do so without the support of mainstream radio.

The controversy over N.W.A’s music had opened the door for gangsta rap, exposing it to suburban America; I do not think they were prepared at all for that. N.W.A was in the dead center of a running debate over whether the rappers were inciting violence or merely describing the existing social conditions in urban neighborhood. I think that the issue isn’t whether or not N.W.A was taking it too far, but whether or not white America was able the handle the truth. Even today, the track remains relevant when the movie Straight Outta Compton came out. Fuck Tha Police has become the anthem of a new generation of activists fighting against police brutality and racism around the country. Like it or not, this song is around to stay for a long time.