Today in Hip-Hop: N.W.A Arrested in Detroit for Performing “F*!k tha Police”
On this day, June 19, in hip-hop history...
1989: Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella and MC Ren pay the price for their defiance and N.W.A gain a new layer to a growing outlaw mythology.
Nearly a year removed from the release of their incendiary debut album, Straight Outta Compton. N.W.A were pretty far along on their journey into rap stardom before an ill-fated performance at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on June 19, 1989. With in your face, aggressive songs that marked some of the very first pieces to explore the perils of life on the streets of Compton, Calif., the group had become living emblems of gangsta rap. N.W.A also made time to comment on police brutality on a tune by the name of "Fuck tha Police."
Upon its release, "Fuck tha Police" drew plenty of criticism for using confrontational lyrics that accused law enforcement officials of racism. "Fuck the police! Coming straight from the underground/A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I'm brown," raps Ice Cube in the opening bars from the song.
With "Fuck tha Police" becoming a rallying cry for both champions of the First Amendment and folks who felt oppressed by law enforcement, N.W.A had seen their national profile continue to rise in the summer of 1989. This was the backdrop of the group's performance at Joe Louis Arena. Speaking with The Detroit Free Press around the time N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton film hit theaters in 2015, retired Detroit police Sergeant Larry Courts remembered telling the controversial group that they wouldn't be able to perform "Fuck tha Police" at the Detroit venue because they believed the song could incite violence.
"I remember years ago when N.W.A came to Detroit," he began. "I was working the gang squad at the time. Those types of venues, we were always there. We had contact with (N.W.A) in advance that there was one song that they had out at the time. I'm sure some of you remember- well maybe not the young kids, but the old kids—'F the Police.' It wasn't going to happen in the city of Detroit. And we told them that before they came. That particular night, all our personnel were working that venue. There were close to 200 of us. We were strategically placed throughout ... Joe Louis Arena."
Despite warnings from the police, N.W.A ended up performing their polarizing tune by the end of the night, and Courts and company ended up taking out the amplifiers while the song was being played. Members of the audience didn't take that well, and some of them began rioting outside of the venue. A total of 18 people—nine adults and nine juveniles—were arrested for misdemeanor that night.
Despite the fact that Straight Outta Compton indicated that N.W.A had been arrested outside of Joe Louis Arena after their concert, they were actually arrested in their hotel lobby later that night.
You can see a dramatized version of N.W.A's arrest in a clip from Straight Outta Compton just below.
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