Hack #5: Ghetto Bird by Ice-Cube

ice sube

[VERSE 1] Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin
Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause every time that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher
“So fly like an eagle.”
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

“Ghetto Bird” (1993) – Ice Cube

The song Ghetto Bird (1993) by Ice Cube is about racial tension and discrimination between the police and ghetto neighborhoods. Ice Cube makes it apparent that cops play on black stereotypes, and how these ideas affect the treatment of minorities or how these minorities view police under these circumstances. More importantly, Ice Cube offers the perspective of someone who is discriminated by the police while narrating a police chase, illustrating the aggression that both sides—law enforcement and constituents of LA ghettos—have toward each other, building awareness for the roots of anger that occur from constant surveillance due to race.

la's most annoying icon

To begin, Dr. Gwendolyn mentions author Arthur J. Gladley’s connection of Hip-Hop to the youth culture, acknowledging that the content early rappers offered were “artistic and designed to cope with urban frustrations and conditions” (Gwendolyn). Often times, various Black Panther parties set the precedence for this type of expression against law enforcement, creating bold and passionate lyrics that would eventually inspire groups like NWA to create songs like Fuck the Police (1988) (Gwendolyn). The beauty of Hip Hop and inspirations like the actions of Black Panther parties with rap created the foundation by which rap groups found it acceptable to begin voicing out against established institutions. In this case, the aggressions begin with ghetto stereotypes, and are quickly followed by discriminatory actions by the police; Ice Cube begins with blatantly calling out the police for thinking that there is nothing in the hood except for crime and sexual delinquents.

“Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin”

In response to a fault that Cube acknowledges for its existence in the hood—partially denouncing the fact that this is not a good representation as to what good the hood has to offer—he accuses the police for their foolish arrogance.

Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

He essentially tells the police, directly, that entering a ghetto neighborhood does not give police the right to think that they are above-all, since they look equally as ridiculous in the sky, searching for trouble that may or may not exist (searching for/expecting trouble instead of responding accordingly to it). The police, through these unnecessary actions, are discriminating against entire communities of people, creating the racial tensions and aggressions that the Black Power Movement began to express.

Tupac Shakur’s cultural-political activism causes this song by Ice-Cube to be a direct reflection of the reality of police relations in the ghetto; at the same time as showing the discriminatory actions of the police, Ice-Cube presents the perspective of urban youth and explains where the aggression comes from. Tupac utilized Hip Hop music as both a rallying source as well as a nuanced way of calling attention to the way old social interactions are affecting the urban youth of America (Stanford).

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause everytime that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher”

Cube’s song is not meant to be a rallying source but answers the complaint that white-America tends to have in dealing with the growing attitude of urban youth. The Black Power Era was notorious for using terms like “pigs” toward law enforcement and incurred militant actions from people who already stood above them from a racial standpoint; as a result, groups like the one that involved Tupac Shakur’s mom found the bravery to act militantly as well (Stanford). Ice-Cube uses the word “Nazi” to emphasize the depth of police brutality—police seemed to target only a certain race of people (African Americans) and white-privilege kept them concentrated in areas in which they were to be constantly monitored and harassed (in ghettos). He says “flying Nazi” to explain the watchful discrimination that the police impose upon ghetto communities from a noisy helicopter.

Like Tupac, Ice-Cube brazenly states:

“‘So fly like an eagle.’
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

Ice-Cube expresses the request of the ghetto youth toward the police: Stop following (us) like we’re always doing something wrong. Coupled with a later set of lyrics, Ice Cube further emphasizes the frustration he has with police monitoring him as if he’s a criminal due to the color of his skin and his location.

“Now, my homey’s here to lick on a trick for a Rolex
And let me try the fo’ next
Now the fo’ I was driving was hotter than July
Looked up and didn’t see a ribbon in the sky
Saw a chopper with numbers on the bottom
‘Calling all cars, I think we’ve got em.’”

Here, Ice-Cube shows the scenario in which his friend in a richer neighborhood allowed him to borrow his car for fun, in which police saw him and attempt to arrest him for driving something so nice. With such heavy prejudice and discrimination, it is obvious that Ice-Cube was aiming to provide realistic scenarios in ghetto communities that illustrated the reasons for African-American irritation/attitude toward police. Unlike NWA, he does not just create an “us versus them” argument, but rather an explanation for the rage and anger that minorities have in similar situations.

Lastly, what I found the most interesting about Ice-Cube’s choice to illustrate the life of urban communities, is that this specific song almost mimics that of Tupac’s incident with shooting cops in Atlanta, GA. The helicopter that constantly ruins people’s nights in Ice-Cube’s neighborhood exists because the cops are expecting trouble and are outright searching for it to happen. The drunk cops created that type of trouble, and they chose to take it out on a ghetto neighborhood and on a minority, most likely due to the premonition that the person and location were quite insignificant in comparison to the power they held. Ghetto Bird provides a concise explanation for the anger and annoyance that minority groups have in regard to police activity; it artfully and effectively shows the way police abuse their rank and power, using it to outright oppress and harass ghetto communities and play on the stereotypes of the people who live there.

tupac yuh

Sources:

Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”

Stanford, Karin L. “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22., doi:10.1177/0021934709355122.

Advertisements

Rock and the Vietnam War

radio

Soldiers during the Vietnam war looked up to rock symbols such as Jimi Hendrix and rock music in general to better understand their situation and express their feelings.  There was a strong dichotomy between the home front and the war, but it cosisted of as many similarities as there were differences.  Just like back at home, soldiers were often divided by cultural and racial differences.  This was made fun of in the Underground Rock radio station coming out of Saigon, Radio First Termer, which had as its host a man by the name of “Dave Rabbit.”  Leaving the air one night he said “There is no black power.  There is no White power.  Only rabbit power,” mocking the racial divides back at home.  It was this station and others at the war front that mocked many aspects of the war, often the reasons for the war itself.  This gave the soldiers something to cling to as they stood in a country they weren’t familiar with, having to fight an enemy they didn’t understand.  Jimi Hendrix in particular was important to the GI’s in Vietnam because the younger soldiers identified with him.  He was in the air force briefly before the war and emphasized the values of progression and rebellion, which many soldiers clung to.  By following him they felt that they could bring back part of home with them.  Through this and other avenues soldiers felt like they could still take place in the counter culture that was appearing back at home.  Another example of this is the “helmet graffiti” that occurred during the war.  Soldiers would illegally modify their helmets with quotes and phrases like the word “Peace” in order to identify with the counter culture and demonstrate their reluctance to participate in the war.

 

Source:

Kramer, Michael J. The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Vietnam: A Soundtrack for the Entire Process

The Vietnam War was one of the most complicated conflicts in history. Public confusion about the motives behind American involvement led to the development of a somewhat extreme counterculture that advocated for the removal of American troops from Vietnam. Much of the rebellious nature of this counterculture was expressed through music, specifically rock music. American consumerism began to shift towards a new “hip” capitalism, which sought to incorporate contemporary individualistic ideals into traditional structures. The 1960’s was a time of unparalleled contradictions. One of the most prominent of these was American soldiers’ lives in Vietnam. Although rock music was sanctioned on the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN), the lyrics and sounds that the soldiers listened to were decidedly anti-war. As Michael J. Kramer posits in his book ” The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture,” the shift towards rock meant that “the US military appropriated rock music even though the music seemed associated with the antiwar movement, the counterculture, and a general sense of rebellion on the home front” (137). It was meant to bring a piece of home to the “theater of war,” and ultimately became a defining characteristic of the Vietnam war.  GIs in Vietnam could “occupy ambiguous positions between their roles as American soldiers in the midst of battle and civilians enjoying the latest domestic consumer culture” (139). Exposure to the counter-cultural ideas that encouraged citizens to question authority resonated with these men on the front lines. Many wrote lyrics or phrases on their helmets, a sign of rebellion in itself. Most of these sayings captured the irony of their situation: “PEACE,” “HIPPIE,” etc. Rock music complicated the traditional dichotomous relationships within the military because it “intensified experiences of Vietnam as a place of disarray and confusion, of blurred lines between official and unofficial knowledge, and of questioning the role of citizen-soldier” (137). The overall effect of rock music in Vietnam, besides boosting morale, was to inspire an acute self-awareness, which led to soldiers necessarily redefining themselves.

Hack 4: Saigon Bride

1saigon

On October 21st, 1967 a mass of protestors marched up to the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam war.  A song written in this same time frame surrounding the same subject is “Saigon Bride” written and performed by Joan Baez.  The song covers the atrocities of the war and how it was decimating the youth of America at the time, or at least those who were drafted into the war.  Following are some select lyrics and an adjoining explanation:

“I’m going out to stem the tide” -The enemy of the Vietnam war was difficult to pin down because of the guerrilla tactics used in the war.  The Viet Cong army flowed across the country and popped up everywhere just like the currents of the ocean.

“How many dead men will it take /To build a dike that will not break?”- The Vietnam War was killing off great numbers of America’s youth and the Viet Cong was not slowing down at all.

“How many children must we kill”- How many young men must we sacrifice for this war to end? In 1967 America’s populace was running out of patience with the increasing deaths and lack of any definitive victories.

“It will not matter when we’re dead”- This war is not as important as the government makes it out to be, it won’t matter way off in the future and we shouldn’t be wasting our resources and lives fighting in it.

These protesters are protesting against the injustice of taking young men from their homes and families, against their will, and forcing them to fight for a country they didn’t choose to be born in.  In the 1960’s the draft was a very real and very frightening possibility for young men.  Many thought, and often accurately, that it would result in their death.  To add to this, many people saw the Vietnam War as unnecessary and horrible–they didn’t want anything to do with it.  All of this combined to form some very tense protests, like the one shown above.

Youtube clip of “Saigon Bride:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m20Glis_wWE

Sources:

“Saigon Bride,” Joan Baez and Nina Dusheck, 1967.

Image: Mettler, Katie. “The Day Anti-Vietnam War Protesters Tried to Levitate the Pentagon.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Oct. 2017, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/10/19/the-day-anti-vietnam-war-protesters-tried-to-levitate-the-pentagon/?utm_term=.bd884574b01b.

Uniquely Chicano: Unlike Anything Else

Lens: Push for Racial and Generational Identity

pachucopachuca

In both Catherine Ramirez and Elizabeth Escobedo’s articles, there is a clear focus on intergenerational and racial differences that are perpetuated through the behavior and dress of Mexican-Americans in the twentieth century. Regarding assimilation, the zoot suit and pachuco(a) style are the epitome of a culture evolving to adapt to life in another country–the Americanization of traditional Mexican culture from the 1920s to the 1950s results in a new breed of people who do not fall under specifically Mexican nor American standards. This is both progressive and isolating, but most importantly, revolutionary. By dressing so flamboyantly and creating a lifestyle unique to first and second-generation Mexican-American citizens at the time, the zoot suits and pachuco(a) participants push a new minority group into the public eye, breaking down societal constructs of gender, sexuality, femininity, and accepted fashion styles.

To begin, zoot suits and pachuco(a) styles share a unique fashion. The male ensemble consisted of long finger-tip coats, plumed hats, thick-soled shoes, and thick watch chains, while women sported similar wear or “dresses [and skirts] so short they almost bared [her] garters,” shiny slacks, excessive makeup, and high pompadours (Ramirez). This type of dress, especially for women, was considered scandalous, flamboyant, and sexual by both the Mexican and American community as it did not follow what was typically thought to be as traditional as Mexican outfits nor as lax but conservative as American fashion at the time. The zoot suit style was uniquely Chicano, and enhanced by the different and defiant attitudes that grew out of such a sartorial fad. Zoot suiters had a specific “swagger” or sway, inventing a new set of slang within the subculture as well as cultivating youthful defiance and rebellious nature (Ramirez).

zoot suit riots

It was with this rebellious nature that often lead to racial and inter-generational tension. Firstly, for the general representation of the pachuco(a) subculture, it was arguably just a working-class outfit. Of the dominant race at the time, no one who was rich really wore this style nor anyone who was poor could afford to wear these types of clothes. The flamboyant outfit blurred the lines between feminine and masculine wear as well, as women who sported these outfits looked less feminine but not quite male-like, and males were not exactly following the typical masculine look (Ramirez). Regarding race, this style became distinctly Chicano; to Americans, these people still looked Mexican while to Mexicans, these nontraditional clothes and attitudes were too American to be traditional (Ramirez). Secondly, especially for pachucas, the rebellious attitudes adopted into the subculture tended to consist of gang-like behaviours, juvenile delinquency, and slight promiscuity (Escobedo). In the positive, these attitudes were actually to break social and racialized norms, such that Mexican women would be able to reject one common culture and accept their own identities as Mexican-Americans (ones who were not too traditional, but not too lax). The women strived for independence and adventure, and simply wanted to experience more than domestic life. In the negative sense, the emergence of this empowered “female patriot” was during World War II, a time in which scarcity was a necessity and media coverage was sensitive. Americans viewed zoot-suiters as unpatriotic because they often chose to spend their money on intricate dress instead of saving money or spending it frugally to maintain/save materials for wartime purposes (Ramirez). This Chicano subculture, causing a fear of institutional, gender, class and race categories, would be easily politicized and criticized, which helped build up to the events of the Sleepy Lagoon and Zoot Suit Riots. Zoot suiters were often seen by the media as acting solely upon self-interest (Escobedo). Along with the rebellious attitude, this isolated group was thought to have ties to the Sinarquistas, a pro-Axis group, which then likened their public favor to that of the Japanese-American citizens at the time (which was not very high) (Escobedo). Thirdly, there was a clear need to separate from the traditional norms of Mexican culture for the sake of assimilation, which caused fear in the parent generations for Mexicans. For women/daughters especially, their portion of the style and attitude was sexualized so much that their reputation of promiscuity lead to rumors of having venereal diseases and being “hyper-sexed degenerates.” These issues caused familial conflicts, and even cases of youthful adolescent pachucas running away from home to regain physical separation from an already established culture. In essence, both pachucos and pachucas displayed less-than-respectable displays of propriety in the average American’s eyes, and shame to Mexican propriety to immigrant Mexican families.

Coming from a traditional Filipino household, I first viewed the actions of pachuco(a) participants as a bit extreme and unnecessary. However, as stubborn as I am myself, I understood why the need to be rebellious was necessary to the creation of the Mexican-American identity. Pure assimilation, regardless of minority race, would not have saved these people from oppression or segregation in America. Even as the model minority race, there have been many instances of Asian-Americans still being discriminated against for their blatant appearance of difference (i.e. the Vincent Chin Case). The emergence of pachuco(a) style and attitudes are so unique so well well-embraced, that the spirit and pride that comes with with subculture creates a pervasive environment for the development of new definitions of beauty, femininity, social propriety, and sexuality (Ramirez). Especially with the women who wore zoot suits, the distinction of an emerging dyke culture would be able to help create the foregrounds for the acceptance of cross-dressers and LGBTQ communities that exist in American, Mexican, and Mexican-American cultures. This was definitely a larger step away from the conservatism and traditionalism at the time. The flashiness of the outfits and the bold behaviours challenged mainstream American politics, fashion, and social relations, forcing the Chicano subculture to be noticed and acknowledged in any way by media of all types, mostly in fashion magazines.

The unique and bold subculture of pachucos(as) directly inserts the Chicano culture into America, progressing the way Mexican-Americans develop and thrive from within American society while only partially retaining parts of the Mexican culture. Constructs of accepted sexuality, gender norms, female and male propriety, and fashion standards are pressed for change, challenging the interrelationships of families, generations, and between the dominant white and Mexican minority races.

Iconic Pachuca Looks

Zoot Suit Riots

Article Sources:

Escobedo, Elizabeth R. “The Pachuca Panic: Sexual and Cultural Backgrounds in World War II Los Angeles.” Oxford University Press. 2007.

Ramirez, Catherine S. “Crimes of Fashion: The Pachuca and Chicana Style Politics.” Indiana University Press. 2002.

Links to Image Sources:

http://zootsuitriots.lainventionofacity.com/2016/05/09/sleepy-lagoon-trial/

https://www.picasta.com/post/57199865/that-classic-kind-of-love-pachucos-in-love-pachucos-pachucas-pachucolove-repost-joseinlaphotography-with-repostapp-the-spirit-of-chavez-ravi

http://research.pomona.edu/zootsuit/en/zoot-suit-la/

http://statesofincarceration.org/story/la-pachuca-women-zoot-suits