[Editor's note: All this week West Coast Sound is speaking with rappers and writers whose work has been influenced by the L.A. riots, to coincide with their 20th anniversary on April 29.]
Murs is one of the most important and uniquely Los Angeles rappers working, even though he now lives in Arizona. Having made it a point to critique violence in hip-hop throughout his career, he naturally has very strong feelings about the subject of the riots. He spoke to us about the impact they've had on his music and his life.
Where were you when you found about about the riots?
I was living in Glendora, California at the time. It was just on television. I just remember getting home from school and I was like “Holy shit.” I remember being extremely angry, and of course asking my mother to take me down to go be a part of everything. I was just very anti-establishment as a child. I found myself, when I was like 13, really into the Black Panthers and stuff like that.
Did you witness the riots first hand?
Oh, heck no. But our family has had a dry cleaning business on Central and Adams in the neighborhood for 60, almost 65 years now. So we've been though the L.A. riots and the Watts riots. Everyone in the community knows my family and we weren't extremely in danger.
A lot of Asian American-owned business and white-owned businesses were writing “black-owned” just to be safe. My family — whether it was me, my little bother, my uncle, or my grandfather — we always worked the counter. We did this so people knew we were a black business and involved in the community heavily, I hope. So I think that's why we were able to go without any damage through two riots.
You use the word “community.” Whom are you referring to?
The South Los Angeles community is made up predominantly of Latinos and Blacks. As far as the police and the business owners that exploit and are only in the community for financial gain, I don't think they are part of the community. That was one of the main reasons for the uprising.
My mom got a divorce and moved back to mid-city. She went back to work at the cleaners. So she was always taking pride in serving the community…She quit her corporate job and moved back into the family business because she takes pride. And there's not many people, post riot or pre-riot, that take pride in doing business in South L.A. or in the black community.
You've talked extensively about the problem of violence in hip-hop.
Yeah, I'm definitely against violence in hip-hop. I'm generally against violence as a whole, unless when necessary in extreme circumstances. But I'm an angry person as well. Sometimes I want to get violent. I completely understand why the riots happened. And if I had been of age and in the community, there was nothing my mother could have done to stop me from being out there.
Do you think the riots accomplished much?
It didn't really accomplish much for the black community. The money that was set aside to rebuild Los Angeles was just released in 2010 for them to rebuild the block. And that's 18 years. My mother sits on the head of this board. She had to petition the city time after time and it took 18 years to get any of the funds that were set aside for us to rebuild our community in 1992. She had to fight and fight. The community had been without a grocery store. She helped Fresh & Easy come into the community.
As far as the war – -the government against black America on the whole — I think it gave them an advantage because they know how we are going to react and how to contain us in the future. As far as if the LAPD is getting any better, I'd say “Fuck no.”