By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“What, no AK?” somebody asks. Eazy looks disappointed. “Shit, man, this is my mother’s house. All that stuff is at my place.” He straightens from his crouch and goes inside. A minute later he reappears with a heavy-canvas duffel bag and empties weaponry onto the grass like a Little League coach pouring out bats and balls — 9-millimeter repeating pistols and 12-gauge shotguns and a couple of small-bore rifles and a .38 and a mean-looking sawed-off, clips, sights, scopes and boxes of ammunition, an arsenal bigger than Sergeant Samuel K. Doe needed to overthrow Liberia. But no AKs. Not at Mom’s house.
N.W.A swarms over the guns: “Give me the revolver, man .?.?. Put in the gunpowder, boom. Give me the scope, man .?.?. No, man, that’s a BB gun, ain’t nothing in that one .?.?. That one is an ugly motherfucker right here, man, you got to hide that, yeah .?.?. John F. Kennedy. John Fuckin’ Kennedy — that scope is def.”
“You look like an orange, like something up at the range .?.?. Those scopes with the little red dot is hard .?.?. What’s that got? .?.?. One of those Public Enemy things in there, the crosshairs .?.?. Give me the nine, off with this motherfucker .?.?. What you mean, man, that’s a magnum, that shit look kind of crazy .?.?. I be like comin’ from the hidden, still be comin’, pop you off right in the ditch .?.?. Pow! This shit is kickin’. Roll over and die, motherfucker.”
Click. Click-click. Click. Click.
“Hey, Eazy, your momma give you this Daisy-ass shit? .?.?. I can really shoot you, right? .?.?. Crispus Attucks .?.?. No, man, never hold it where you can only see the scope — that’s a long-ass shotgun. Get it right, soldier. I want your ass .?.?. I need that ass .?.?. I want your radio. Ten guns, sheriff guns, chrome guns, shotguns, old black movies .?.?. You see the smoke and the bullet.”
Click. Click-click. Click. (The photographer shoots back.)
“Public Enemy uses plastic guns, you know,” Ice Cube says.
A black person in leather with a gun is considered bad, crazy hard. But I’m not saying so much “Fuck the police” as “Let’s grow up more.”
—KRS-One, June ’88
Fuck tha Police!
Public Enemy is hard. Too Short is hard. Eric B. and Rakim are hard: raw, noisy, uncommercial. Hard beats are what you hear pounding from Oldsmobiles, boomboxes, skateparks and hardly ever from the radio; spare, percussive backing tracks composed with cheap-sounding drum machines and short snatches bitten from old soul singles.
L.L. Cool J used to be hard until he recorded a love song, which no self-respecting rapper will ever let him forget. Run-DMC were hard until they jammed with Aerosmith. KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions, whose first album included an ode to his 9mm repeater pistol, wanted to stay hard so bad that he posed with an Uzi on the cover of his last album — an album whose hit single was “Stop the Violence.” The brutal calculus of hardness forgives lapses in taste, but never in form. “There’s a principle involved,” Ice Cube says. “The Weekly wouldn’t run a picture of a baby getting its head cut off; N.W.A wouldn’t do a pop song.”
Hardness arose as a rap aesthetic at about the same time much of the music became essentially suburban. While artists from Harlem and the Bronx were still producing good-time party jams, middle-class kids from Queens and Long Island began to form the contemporary image of the rapper as an articulate gangster with a chip on his shoulder, a young black man hard by choice. (Every rapper suburban middle-class Def Jam mogul Rick Rubin ever had a hand in producing is hard: Run, L.L., PE, Slick Rick, even the Beastie Boys.) Hard rap, like punk, brought together a self-selected community of kids by becoming an image of what their parents feared most.
L.A. hip-hop had been the Next Big Thing for years, but the proto-hi-energy sound — bass-heavy, fast tempo, ticky-ticky-ticky synthesizer clicks, heavy breathing and moans straight out of the Barry White songbook — was the opposite of hard. It meant more for the flygirl in the disco than the homeboy on the street corner. Ice-T, a Crenshaw High grad who still billed himself as a transported New Yorker in the mid-’80s, was the first to realize that if pretend gangsters went over so well, a niche existed for the sort of real gangster he’d been in his early teens. He performed with one fist wrapped around an Uzi, released a 12-inch (“Killers”) he knew was too hard for the radio, and spent a lot of time getting his picture taken near picturesque, graffiti-spattered walls in South-Central L.A.
If Ice-T’s pose was a little calculated, his approach to rhyme closer to pastiche than innovation, he still developed a national reputation as the hardest rapper in the business. He moved hundreds of thousands of records while such overhyped local electro-hoppers as the Dream Team and the World Class Wrecking Kru floundered. The members of Uncle Jam’s Army, who had regularly thrown hip-hop parties at venues as large as the Sports Arena, had long since dispersed. Gangster style quickly replaced slick surface as the hallmark of the L.A. sound. And as Ice-T grew avuncular with age, up came younger, harder and more street-wise rappers to nudge him to the side of the stage: Tone-Loc (whose hardness didn’t last all that long); King T and DJ Pooh; and especially Easy E and N.W.A, who came across as active gangsters, not world-weary alumni.