"When talking about music that really defines and captures that moment," says Sheena Lester, former editor in chief for XXL and Rap Pages magazines, "the only one that matters is Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic.' Not only did it capture the essence of pre-riot, during-the-riots and post-riot energy in the neighborhoods, it actually featured excerpts from filmmaker Matthew McDaniel, who captured [the reactions of] people outside of First AME Church right after the verdicts were announced. Those excerpts are what give 'The Chronic' its resonance."
"I don't know what kind of album 'The Chronic' would have been without the riots," said Kurupt, who rapped on the record when he was 19. He recently appeared in the VH-1 documentary "Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots."
"It was coming from the middle of it all, saying this is what happened. Not only did the streets feel it, America felt it. It was a blueprint and a map through the emotions and situations that transpired over those three days," he said.
Major record labels began to cash in on this new twist on the rap narrative, and that gave rise to a new breed of superstar MC in the form of Snoop and Tupac. But like most music co-opted by the mainstream, the style dubbed "gangsta rap" quickly devolved into very profitable self-parody while claiming to "keep it real." Enter MTV's"Cribs," "Pimp My Ride" and Ja Rule's gold-toothed grill.
It also paved the way for a far more commercial style of hip-hop that largely dropped the subject of social ills in favor of bragging about bling. Still, that early West Coast rap alerted the mainstream — and a post-civil rights generation — that all was not well in America.
But today a younger generation of rappers outraged by the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the ways in which socioeconomic conditions for minorities remain much the same as they did 20 years ago, are still harnessing the potential power of rap.
Lamar, who performed with Snoop and Dr. Dre at the Coachella festival and is on Dre's forthcoming album, recently began talking about the resonance of the track "Batterram" in interviews. He recalls living in Compton when the riots erupted.
"That was just us in the community giving a cry for help, letting the world know that we weren't gonna take no more, even if we gotta do some off-the-wall … for people to understand it," said Lamar, who's working on his own album.
"Looking back, it just taught me the responsibility of doing something I actually believed in. People believed that situation wasn't right, so they took a stand for it, you know?"
Hardy is a Los Angeles-based writer.
One in a series of stories about the 1992 riots and how they reshaped Southern California.