Many people compartmentalize the music they listen to; evaluate it on a strictly sonic level. If it’s pleasing to the ears, or they can dance to it, they’ll download it on itunes and throw it on their “party” playlist. For me, music really comes to life when considered within the context it was created. When I listen to early Rolling Stones records, I hear six young Brits (don’t forget Ian Stewart, people!) swapping American Soul and Blues imports. When I listen to Black Flag, I hear a bunch of angry teens living in abandoned churches, dumpy rehearsal rooms, or the back of a van in Hermosa Beach.
I was probably in 4th or 5th grade when I began to take a more active interest in popular culture in general, and the sounds on the radio in particular. In my life, those years fell during the early 90s, and coincided with the nationwide explosion of West Coast Gangster Rap. NWA had hit the scene years earlier, but when that group splintered into a half dozen solo careers, Gangster Rap really reached a new plateau and hit its stride. Any time the radio was tuned to Power 106, you’d hear the latest ultra-violent, ultra-amazing hit from Dre, Snoop, Cube, Eazy, Pac, the DOC, or DJ Quik, amongst others.
Some parents protested, some kids posed the style, most people partied to the new sounds coming from America’s most marginalized demographic. I never found any interest in emulating the style of these frightening figures strutting about on MTV, but I have always been interested in the world they inhabited. It’s hard to believe now, as a distant memory, but the tension of the 1992 riots were certainly felt even down in the beach community where I grew up. So when only a few months later, these violent and suggestive songs started springing from the same neighborhoods, I was very intrigued and immediately associated the two.
Several motion pictures would be released over the next few years with gang violence as the subject, and any time I see “Blood” or “Crip” or “Gang” in a headline, it certainly grabs my attention. I can’t deny my own fascination in the tremendously violent lifestyle that exists a stones throw from this very office. Probably the most violent neighborhood in the country (and at times, even the world) is less than twenty minutes drive from my desk. No one is talking about this?! Out of sight out of mind indeed!
Oddly, for a subject that has been endlessly exploited for its entertainment value, there is not a definitive or history of the Bloods and Crips. The aforementioned records are the only real cultural documents of this history of violence (and even their authenticity is questionable) still being written to this day.
…That is, until now. Opening today, for one week only at the Laemmle Theater in Hollywood, there is a limited engagement of a new documentary by Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys, Riding Giants) entitled “Crips and Bloods: Made In America” And if the trailer and reviews are any indication, it’s just what this armchair anthropologist has been waiting 16 years to see.
I know what I’m doing this weekend!