MIAMI VICE… After the Miami Herald revealed that Miami cops keep hip-hop artists and their entourages under surveillance at hotels, video shoots, and night clubs, local police claimed to be simply keeping an eye on things. But reporters at the Herald and Village Voice discovered links going back to at least 2001 between Miami's finest and a "hip-hop intelligence unit" in the New York City Police Department. The Associated Press reported that in May 2003, "Miami officers were sent to New York for a three-day training session, along with police from Los Angeles, Atlanta, and other cities." Attendees were given six-inch thick binders with information on rap artists, lyrics, and radio stations.
"We have to keep an eye on these rivalries," said Miami Beach assistant police chief Charles Press. But Russell Simmons pointed out that despite the proliferation of music industry surveillance by police, the murders of Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and Jam Master Jay remain unsolved. Indeed, New York detectives were in Los Angeles surveilling Biggie when he was killed and, despite being only a few yards away, made no attempt to apprehend the shooter. On the other hand, there was heavy surveillance of political rappers dead prez at the ACLU College Freedom Tour show in New York on September 27 and the next day the members of the group were arrested for refusing to show ID--which is not a crime--during a photo shoot in Brooklyn.
As RRC has reported for over fifteen years, police hip-hop activity has more in common with the FBI's COINTELPRO program of the 1960s than it does with "violence prevention." It began when California cops who used the "training manuals" provided by the lunatic Back In Control Center were ushered into the warm spotlight of uncritical media attention by Tipper Gore. Police nationwide threatened to put Time Warner's cable operations out of business by towing all their trucks if rap music wasn't censored (the pretext was Ice-T's criticism of cops). It wasn't long before every major label had an in-house lyric censorship committee, which then Sire Records president Howie Klein described as "like being Jewish in the Nazi days and pointing out which people are going to the gas chambers." Rappers who criticized the police were dropped by most labels and that once staple attitude of hip-hop-"Fuck tha police"-has all but disappeared.
In the late 1980s, the annual national police chiefs convention began to feature workshops on the dangers of hip-hop. Police across the country disrupted or even prevented tours by N.W.A., Snoop, and Tupac.
The police are being prepared for the day when they will have to move beyond mere harassment of artists and fans and enforce the draconian provisions of the 1988 Child Protection and Enforcement Act, the 1996 Telecom Bill, and the recently-enacted Rave Act. All of these bills passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, often with Democrats as sponsors. Each gives the government broad powers to arrest and imprison people for vaguely-defined culture crimes.
Despite nearly two decades of harassment and censorship by the police and their allies in Congress and the music industry, despite the rise of bling bling as a dominant element of hip-hop culture, the music still contains revolutionary ideas. Such thoughts don't just come from a narrow spectrum of "political" rappers, either.
They range from the social utopia Nelly imagines on "Nellyville" to the work of little-known Miami rapper Pitbull. A Miami-born Cuban, Pitbull has collaborated with Kurse on "Across the Waters," a song of solidarity with Haitian immigrants who, unlike Cubans, were turned around at sea and sent back toward home. Even more revealing is Pitbull's new mixtape, Unleashed Vol. 3. After tracks such as "Like a Pimp" and "That's Nasty" comes "Imagine." It's a full rip of the John Lennon classic, with new lyrics added by Nas and Pitbull that are savage indictments of poverty and moving prophecies of worldwide unity.
Pitbull's debut album on TVT, M.I.A.M.I. (Money is a Major Issue), drops on June 1. Do you think the cops in Miami are watching him?
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