The news out this week that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been specifically watching the Hip-Hop community should come as no surprise to those of you who are regular readers of our “Hip-Hop Fridays” columns. For nearly a year now, we have been writing about the documented relationship between the FBI, local law enforcement and the media in the 1960s and 1970s and comparing that relationship with its real and potential counterpart today, in reference to the Hip-Hop industry. Any skepticism for what we have been arguing should have been swept away by Jay-Z’s arrest two weeks ago, by the NYPD street crime unit, and by this week’s admission from the NYPD, that its gang intelligence unit has been monitoring Hip-Hop artists and the nightspots that they and their fans frequent.
Having said that we hope that no one is really so naïve as to believe the NYPD’s explanation of their activities, that they are doing what they are, to protect Hip-Hop artists. We argue to the contrary and believe that their explained efforts to “serve and protect” the Hip Hop industry is a cover story, or a front to really arrest Hip-Hop artists on gang, drug and racketeering charges. This has been their aim for some time now.
To be sure, there are certainly a few who may be guilty of crimes. But a full-scale monitoring of an entire industry, in its biggest city, is evidence of more than good police work. After all, if drugs and gangs are what they are after, the police would be better staking out raves, heavy metal concerts and the homes of Rock artists in search of heroin, cocaine and ecstasy drug use, as well as ties to organized crime.
Far from an effort to save rap artists, the effort is an indication of a return to the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program – a program that was aimed at organizations like the Nation Of Islam, the 5% Nation Of Islam, the Black Panthers, SCLC and SNCC. Interestingly, two of the biggest files that the FBI kept during COINTELPRO, were its files on the NOI and the 5 Percenters – the two communities that arguably have had more impact on Hip-Hop than any other.
So now, an entire music industry joins that rarified air, previously the domain of activist and progressive organizations and those concerned with political consciousness, social change and community development. Now, that we have established this fact, we hope that the Hip-Hop community in general, and Hip-Hop artists in particular, are prepared for what awaits them and what has already been happening to them. We hope that they are prepared for their telephone lines to be tapped; their vehicles and homes to be bugged; agents to be placed within their organizations; their friends turned into government informants; letters and communications attributed to them, and even their forged signatures attached to such, without their knowledge; conflicts started between rivals and competitors; lies and half-truths about them planted in various media outlets, and yes, even violent action taken against them.
Every one of these acts, and much, much more were performed in COINTELPRO, with the help of the FBI and local police departments. In order to get an idea of how extensive the FBI’s efforts were, and for evidence of what we have described above, one should visit the FBI’s reading room, in person or online. foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex.htm .
You maybe surprised at some of the names the FBI has in its file index as part of COINTELPRO or other surveillance programs. The list includes several celebrities www.fbi-files.com/celebrities/index.html who the Bureau feared could move the public in ways counter to the desired direction of the status quo. Many of the most famous were White actors. The same fear exists today for Hip-hop artists who may have the most loyal fans in all of the entertainment industry.
The NYPD’s program is already being described as illegal and unconstitutional. Many believe that the program represents “profiling” – a practice that is increasingly coming under fire. It will be interesting to see if civil libertarians or the liberals and progressives which dominate the industry will come to the aid of the Hip-Hop community and defend them from what at the very least, is a massive invasion of privacy and at the most, an act of war.
We advise that Hip-hop artists should not be surprised to find little support from the labels that employ their services. For years, several record executives have been handing over marketing plans and providing information on a variety of artists to federal law enforcement officials. And on the local level, we know of at least two record label executives who have silent alarm buttons in their offices that connect them to the NYPD, in the case of an emergency or violent altercation. Of course these record label execs have their own artists in mind as the likely perpetrators of aggression.
Which leads us to a final point. If the Hip-Hop community is going to avoid the mistakes that the targets of COINTELPRO previously made, they will have to 1) begin to question their “friendships” with record label executives, lawyers and business managers who seem to have no problem providing privileged information to law enforcement officers 2) compare notes with one another 3) discontinue their recently increased leaning toward public disputes, 4) End any activities that can be construed as illegal and 5) they must seek ways to peacefully resolve conflicts and unite.
That is a tall order for rappers with enormous egos, and a disrespect for history, but if lives are to be saved today, a major change in the thinking of Hip-Hop artists and some of their fans must take place, in a hurry.
In light of the NYPD’s new program, if anybody can’t see what is happening by now, we don’t know what else will get their attention, before it is too late.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Hip-Hop…meet COINTELPRO.
Friday, April 27, 2001