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Getting “a message through to the red, white, and blue”: Ice-T in the age of Obama

Abstract

© Josephine Metcalf and Will Turner and the contributors 2014. The title of this chapter is taken from a verse in Ice-T’s 1992 track “Body Count” on the infamous debut album by his all-black rock band of the same name. The verse reads, “Goddamn what a brother gotta do to get a message through to the red, white and blue? / What I gotta die before you realize I was a brother with open eyes? / The world’s insane while you drink champagne and I’m livin’ in black rain.”1 These lyrics quintessentially represent what Robin D.G. Kelley calls “the first-person autobiographical accounts” of gangsta rap street journalism that positions the political within the personal lived experience of the urban inner city black male.2 This verse not only signals Ice-T’s street roots in the Crips territory of South Central Los Angeles (LA), but also his innate political awareness of his plight as a black male in urban America. As evidenced by lines such as “You try to ban the A.K., I got ten of ‘em stashed / With a case of hand grenades,” it also dramatizes his flair for hyperbolic “revenge fantasies” that initiated the then fledgling genre of gangsta rap, allowing urban black males to rhetorically inflict their retribution on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for its infamous police brutality.3 Within just a few months, the LAPD’s disrepute was about to become world news with the 1992 Rodney King beating and the subsequent urban rebellion that followed the acquittal of the police officers involved.

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