Sorry About That Whole “Not Rioting” Thing
The George Zimmerman verdict came and went with a minimum of violence and a surfeit of peaceful demonstration, but that did not stop the concern trolls at The Drudge Report, Breitbart.com, and InfoWars from predicting riots and providing hysterical coverage of marginal incidents.
(There was a tendency to refer to the courtroom proceedings as the “Trayvon Martin trial,” which I hated because he was the dead child in the scenario and very much not on trial. You could be forgiven for getting the impression that he was.)
Problem is, the riots never happened.
There is a psychology to riots about which I am not knowledgeable, so I can’t say that they are completely irrational responses, but I am confident that they are a symptom of an unhealthy society distrustful of its institutions. I’m also certain that if wildly racist media outlets are looking forward to your riot with glee, then you probably shouldn’t start one.
It did get me thinking about the last major riot in American history and how the moment was captured musically. Dr. Dre stepped up first with the “The Day the N***** Took Over” (I have future job ambitions, sue me) in 1992 and the boys of Sublime offered up “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” 4 years later. Dre and Nowell both frame themselves as participants in the aftermath of the Rodney King decision (there we go again), but the paths that they took musically diverge there.
Dr. Dre’s beat invokes paranoia infused with a sense of real rage when backed up by samples from Birth of a Nation 4x29x92, a documentary assembled after the riot. The quotes that he pulls from the doc make it clear that this song is more than just gangster posturing. The bass line communicates a low-boiling menace and the loop that constitutes the main beat feels like it could spin out of control any minute. On The Chronic, “The Day the N***** Took Over” transitions smoothly into “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” because there was no other choice; the tension had to be relieved. If “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” is the breezy soundtrack to a summer BBQ, “Day” is the same suffocating 97 degree weather experienced from a room without air conditioning. Dre isn’t known for deep lyrics or the ease of his flow, but he kills it on this track. This is personal. This is something that happened next door. It is is chaos is made audible.
It is evident that Dr. Dre’s effort informed Sublime’s because the group also begins “April 29” with a sample (this time of a police radio broadcast) and because screaming 187 on a m************* cop is not a typical Sublime lyric. “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” features a meandering baseline and a mellow delivery from Nowell, but he does engage a little with the riot from a socioeconomic perspective. Even though he narrates the song from the first-person, it’s clear that his relationship to the riot is that of an outsider. It’s not a bad effort and the song is enjoyable, but it feels insubstantial when placed next to Dre’s.