On Tuesday (July 16), leaked reports said that the LAPD had secretly been monitoring Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store for gang activity. The news shocked some fans, who still remember LAPD officials hailing the late Crenshaw native as a hero in the wake of his tragic assassination in March.
“Our goal is to work with the department to help improve communication, relationships and work towards changing the culture and dialog between the LAPD and the inner city,” wrote Hussle and Roc Nation in a letter sent to LAPD officials the month before his murder. “We want to hear about your new programs, and your goals for the department, as well as how we can help stop gang violence and help you help kids.”
Despite new reports alleging the investigation of Hussle’s Marathon store didn’t target the rapper individually, fans remain skeptical of the department’s contradicting statements and actions.
“There is a history of police monitoring and antagonizing hip-hop artists and fans, similar to COINTELPRO of the Civil Rights era,” said Lawrence Cosby, ESQ, an intellectual property lawyer and Howard University School of Law alum.
“Hip-hop lets artists legitimize their experiences and where they’re from, and make it art,” Cosby said. “Then, police will try to use that as evidence to take them to trial. But they’re not investigating or arresting Stephen King for the content of his novels.”
Keep reading, as Cosby leads BET through the complex history between hip-hop and law enforcement.
When X-rated party pioneers 2 Live Crew resisted federal censors by citing their freedom of speech, they set a new standard for keeping it raw on the record.
“A big part of these legal issues in hip-hop arise from the First Amendment rights and intellectual property laws,” Cosby said. “They try to censor this material, but also use it as evidence.”
Despite every effort of the Feds and former second lady of the United States, Tipper Gore, Luther Campbell and the Crew were victorious in court, forcing retailers to start selling X-rated content with parental advisory stickers because it was not legal to censor their freedom of speech.
While Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew fought for their right to be as nasty as they wanted in Miami, N.W.A. was standing up to corrupt police and impoverished conditions in Los Angeles.
The FBI sent a cease and desist letter to the group in response to their hit “Fuck the Police,” and officers took every opportunity to harasses them while they toured and promoted the song across the country.
When Public Enemy declared that “911 Is a Joke,” they weren’t playing. Flavor Flav and Chuck D used strong satire in the song’s music video to emphasize just how ineffective the police are in the eyes of many citizens.
“You could easily use your hip-hop task forces to collaborate with artists and make safe fun events,” said Cosby. “But instead, you’re locking people up for marijuana and the like. A great way to get close to the community is to work with these spokesman from the communities. But you delegitimize everything you’ve done by investigating them.”
Years before he played a detective on Law & Order SVU, Ice-T was targeted by then president George H. W. Bush and multiple law enforcement agencies for his song “Cop Killer.” Despite their best efforts, they failed to block the release of the track, which they claimed posed a legitimate risk to officers everywhere.
“Remember what KRS-One said on 'Sound of da Police?' ‘Overseer, Officer.’ Basically, it’s the same thing. We already know there’s a difference in the way white people are policed and the way Black people are policed. So when we see our shining stars being treated this way too, that’s just how you feel about police and that’s how they present themselves,” said Cosby.
In 2012, unsealed files on the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard revealed that during the '90s and early '00s, the FBI targeted Wu-Tang as a criminal enterprise. Feds claimed that “the WTC Organization” was “heavily involved in the sale of drugs, illegal guns, weapons possession, murder, carjackings, and other types of violent crimes,” seeking “federal charges and a RICO prosecution.”
“With the creation of RICO charges, (law enforcement) have been able to create the idea that hip-hop organizations and crews are gangs and that they can charge rappers based on affiliations,” Cosby said.
“Gang culture is neighborhood culture,” Cosby added. “So they can arrest you for your neighbor’s behavior. I believe that’s problematic, because it criminalizes who you are and where you’re from. Nipsey can’t go back to the neighborhood to see his mom or open a business? This is how Wu-Tang Clan can go from being investigated by the FBI to having a street named after them.”
At the height of its popularity, record label Murder Inc. was raided, and its founders, Irv and Christopher Gotti, were charged with using the label to launder money on behalf of former drug kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff. Almost three years later, the brothers shocked the world by beating steep odds after a federal jury acquitted them on all charges in late 2005.
In 2014, Bobby Shmurda had his meteoric rise to stardom cut short by conspiracy charges against him and his GS9 crew. Investigators used his breakout hit, “Hot N*gga,” as primary evidence, with NYPD officials saying the lyrics served “almost like a real-life document of what they were doing on the street."
“I’ve had conversations with artists about music videos depicting guns, money, drug paraphernalia — even who is there,” said Cosby. “If you know your boy is on the run, don’t have him in a music video. If you have a gun, make a note in the video that says it’s fake. These can all be used as evidence.”
Cosby added, “When you ask what was the reason for a warrant, they will say you filmed a video in your apartment with guns. Bobby Scmurda is a prime example. The lyrics were used to convict him. And it wasn’t just lyrics, it was the truth of the lyrics. With RICO charges, everyone can get charged for what parts of the group were doing.”
As if there weren’t enough conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of Nipsey Hussle, the revelation of the LAPD’s Marathon store investigation caused even more speculation.
“Nipsey already talked about police harassing him in his raps,” said Cosby. “He already knew they were monitoring him. It’s one of the reasons he bought that store space is because he was tired of the harassment.
“I believe there has been and was an agenda to harass and delegitimize Nipsey Hussle. However, there was also a relationship within the same organization that seemed amicable and was willing to work with him to improve the community. This is why we don’t trust y’all. This shows a fraction and a fissure in departments. There are people who are anti hip-hop and anti-Black in law enforcement who use their power to do harm. One bad apple spoils the bunch, and one bad officer can kill.”
After multiple artists were arrested at the Rolling Loud festival this spring, the conversation about police oversight remains a hot topic for artists and fans.
The “largest hip-hop festival in the world” made headlines for all the wrong reasons after Young Thug and NBA Youngboy were shot at, AAB Hellabandz was murdered and Kodak Black was arrested on federal weapons charges.
“I do think that there is a powder keg of problems for people in hip-hop who are engaging in certain behavior,” said Cosby. “But there are also officers antagonizing them at the same time, but not protecting them. You can’t have a lack of security at some events, where there are concentrations of accessible wealth in un-wealthy areas.”
Cosby added, “A lot of that is a problem with how hip-hop artists choose to present themselves because they want to be accessible. But that accessibility is what’s dangerous and creates these situations. Then the police come in at the end and just arrest everyone involved instead of proactively trying to help.”
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)