This is our eighth installment in a series of as-told-to stories from Angelenos who witnessed the first 48 hours of the 1992 riots. Rapper Myka 9, an artist known for combining hip-hop and jazz as a member of Freestyle Fellowship and the legendary open-mic at the Good Life Cafe, was about 21 when the L.A. Riots hit Baldwin Village (aka “The Jungle”), where he lived at the time. He tells us what he saw.
I get to the studio [to mix Freestyle Fellowship’s second album, Innercity Griots]. There was a Radio Shack right across the street. This studio was right on Fairfax, right on Melrose. I see Koreans posted up with guns in their hands. There’s like a standoff.
Then I go to the studio. They’re boarding up the windows. There’s white folks who own the studio. They’re perched on top of the roof with like AKs on fucking tripods and shit.
The engineer was there mixing the record. It was just me, because everyone else [besides the engineer] was gone. I checked on my mom, rest in peace, she’s white. She lived in the 'hood, so of course I called to see if she’s OK.
Eventually some of the homies came to the studio real quick to check in. I remember Peace [of Freestyle Fellowship] coming in, and he had like two bandannas on. He had a red bandanna and a blue bandanna tied together. He was like, “It finally happened! The revolution is on!” And I’m like, man, they’re just out there looting. But I felt his energy. And everybody went back out except for me. I kept mixing the album.
I eventually made my way back home, checked on my mom. Then I went to where I had some homegirls. … They were thinking the same thing I was thinking. They were concerned about how the elderly people are going to get their food, their water, their supplies, their medicine.
So we went to the nearby councilwoman and I think at the time, it was Maxine Waters. [Ed. note: Waters was actually a U.S. Representative at the time, having just been elected in 1990.] We had this warehouse set up at her campaign spot. There was a lot of food being delivered. But we needed transportation for the food and they had to check the food to make sure it was OK, with expiration dates and stuff.
I remember talking to Maxine Waters: “Hey, you got this youth, this body of youth right here that is driving and we’re not interested in looting or anything. We’re interested in doing something good and trying to help people.”
I remember saying, “Hey, don’t burn it down because they’re not going to build it back.” We’re burning our own shit. I remember Crenshaw being a wall of fire. But they didn’t want to go out the 'hood. They wanted to stay in the 'hood and fuck up their own shit.
My mom was running low [on food] by the second or third day. So I think I went to the grocery store. Basically everything was kind of a free-for-all with the looting. I think I might have grabbed some beer, grabbed some fucking supplies. I think I might have grabbed a video camera or something. I didn’t do much looting. But there were people trying to break into safes in banks. I remember a tow truck trying to pull an ATM off of a bank.
These are just poor people looting. So you’re going to shoot at them from a rooftop? Really?
I was very confused. It was like anger, but at the same time, I’m trying to stay focused. This is the final mixing day or two before our record goes out [to be mastered]. They were not giving us any more days to mix the record before it would go out to the mastering process. I was just trying to get snares replaced and stuff taken care of. I was trying to get through it but started to get overwhelmed. So they canceled the session. They canceled the other two sessions.
I was a little offended that the people at the studio we were working with had guns on top of the roof. These are just poor people looting. So you’re going to shoot at them from a rooftop? Really? You’re talking about lives.
So finally, Maxine Waters lets us take some groceries to the people we knew. We had a database from Meals on Wheels. We started dropping off meals to older people. They were scared because they thought we were going to do something to them. No, no, no, we’ll just leave the food in front of the house.
It’s not just revolutionary shit. It was just regular folk. You see women with their kids pushing stuff they looted in their strollers.
It all started with the other brother, Rodney King. … I know I experienced being beat up by the police many times. They might start off with telling you to keep your hands on your head. But boom, they’re hitting you with a PR-24, a little billy club. They hit your arms, your arms go down. Then they hit you again, and tell you to put your hands back up. You put your hands up, boom, they hit you again. Just a whole variety of humiliation. Putting your face on the hood of their car right in front of your family and everybody, in front of your building. Emasculating you like that.
Sometimes I would see other kinds of police [from departments] that were designed to stop the gangs. You see them actually driving by and shooting at you. There was very, very corrupt police at the time. Not the whole department, but there were a lot more bad apples that spoiled the better of the bunch.
I would walk down the street and they’re fucking with you because you’re walking down the street. So that music, and that vibration, especially when it culminated with “We Will Not Tolerate” [an anti-racism song by Freestyle Fellowship, released in 1991]. That was the main statement. And we would open up every show with that to set a tone. It was powerful speech. Powerful work.
My reflection on the L.A. Riots is that it was born from a lot of frustration across the board and a lack of leadership. And it ended with martial law basically, and curfews. Unless people want to live like that on a more permanent basis, I suggest they choose different ways to react, which is recycling our dollars [back into the community] and actually going out there and protesting … actually having a working knowledge that certain aspects of the system are broken.