L.A. Originals Terrace Martin + Ill Camille Remember The 1992 Riots [Interview]
Photo of the L.A. ’92 riots courtesy of Getty.Apr. 29, 1992. 1:00 p.m. Judge Stanley Weisberg announced that the jury for the Rodney King assault charges would share its verdict. The world’s first viral video enraged the black-and-brown community in America, as King was savagely beaten in front of the nation over and over again. Revealing the truth that those oppressed and forced to live outside the gates of “opportunity” have been decrying for decades. The acquittals of the four accused LAPD officers would be announced by 3:15 p.m. local time, but by 4:20 p.m. the streets had already begun to amass on the corner of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles.
Anger, fury, disbelief in the American justice system, rage at a machine that chose again to honor the brutalizer and shame the victim had won again in public this time. The ghosts of our past (Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton and countless others) cried out in anguish, and throughout the veins of the country, it was heard loud and clear: America don’t give a shit about black people. Protests, disruption and violence began to wash the area in a wave, as black people who experienced another bout of PTSD had no way to cope with the pain.
Bricks, stones and rocks began to hit cars, people and store front windows. Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who tried to drive through Florence and Normandie, was decimated while news helicopters hovered above. The unrest was apparent, yet white America would only now consider the reasons behind the six-day period of rioting that followed the Rodney King verdict. Add to the mix the senseless death of Latasha Harlins, and you have the proverbial powder keg ready to explode within the house full of “milk and honey”. Fast forward to today, Apr. 29, the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots, and much has changed while remaining the same.
Rodney King is no longer amongst the living to share his story, the community who wanted justice for his beating has had to watch others in his wake suffer the same fate and worst (Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile to name a few) and white America still turns a blind eye to their part in the calamity.
To reflect on the pivotal moment in 1992, we got some words from two people who were there—alive and well—to speak on their memories of the riots. Ill Camille, a dedicated West Coast MC who consistently speaks truth to power in her rhymes, and Terrace Martin, the multiple-time Grammy Award winning producer who is loyal to the soil of California since birth — chatted it up with @Okayplayer about hip-hop being their for Rodney King, how the riots changed the direction of hip-hop and what moment from the L.A. riots still sticks with them to this day.
Okayplayer: Nowadays, when something happens to a black person there is a community that envelopes them to help them through the motions. Do you feel that the rap community was there for Rodney King? And if not, how would’ve King’s life been impacted if the hip-hop community was there for him?
Ill Camille: Due in part to me being a very young girl at the time of the Rodney King beatings / and riots thereafter, I can only tell you that it appeared as though the rap community was the most supportive and instrumental in bringing attention to the situation overall. Watching rappers on television and in the community speak publicly about it (2Pac, Ice Cube) had more of an impact media-wise and politically, than the media folks and politicians themselves. I remember rallies and local town-hall meetings my relatives would attend (and bring me with them) and seen so many rappers present, thinking to myself… this is real and this is serious for us.
Terrace Martin: At that time, yeah, I remember, it wasn’t that publicized as brutality is today. Those incidences from the L.A. riots helped to shape the sound of The Chronic. Nobody had seen a man get beat on TV before like that. There were no camera phones. This is the first time the hip-hop community on the West Coast was like whoa. This was so early in the brutality era, that’s why it was so prevalent. Even today we haven’t healed from Rodney King. Hip-hop was watching, but artists really noticed that they had to start doing something. Hip-hop raised a generation. This generation is now aware and the artists can jump on it and rally around injustices more today.
OKP: How did the L.A. riots change the dynamics of hip-hop in your opinion?
TM: At the time, the only people speaking on police brutality in their music on the West Coast were N.W.A., Ice-T, and Dr. Dre. Snoop [Dogg] would tell me stories about how this real life really affected and shaped the music they started making. Now with camera phones and awareness among the generation they were raising, hip-hop understands its power. These generations after are likened to kids who were exposed to domestic abuse in their household. The more we saw these things occur, the more we became sensitive to police beatings. It became a part of our life and we felt the responsibility in the music.
IC: I think rappers, artists in general, within the community started to become even more pro-active outside of the music. Hip-hop already had an aggressive element to it… I mean, I grew-up on gangster rap music. All of what we witnessed via the Rodney King incident was already being talked about, police brutality, classism, oppression… all of these things were highlighted in our songs. But post-L.A. riots, it seemed like there was a call to action for our artists to become more involved in the day-to-day socio-political and community issues that affected our people most.
OKP: Looking back at 25 years of the L.A. riots — what stands out to you as the most impactful moments that stick with you till this day?
IC: When Latasha Harlins got shot at Buddha Market, it messed me up for years. Me and my cousins always, always walked to Buddha Market so hearing that a kid got killed, me being a kid myself, put a different type of fear in me. A lot of my family lived in the Crenshaw District from the Avenues to Windsor-Hills / View Park… Leimert. I spent the majority of my life in the area so even though things were beautiful and crazy, violence-wise sometimes, it just was what is what it was. We all just moved on auto-pilot you know? Between the Buddha Market situation and what happened with Rodney King, back-to-back, I realized then that there was a hunt on black people for real, and on little black girls like me too.
TM: Leaving Orville Wright junior high school and seeing that black cloud of smoke covering Los Angeles. The city was burning and we had never seen anything like that. All the white parents were pulling their kids out of school because they were able to see what was happening on TV. Our parents never came to get us so we didn’t know what was going on until we got home. But we did know that something was very wrong. You could smell the smoke no matter what side of town you were on. I remember people were talking about we were burning our community down, but there was no community. Everything belongs to them. We were forced into the areas of town they designated for us.