WHAT: “#copsNrobbers,” a new track released via Soundcloud by Chicago rapper Rhymefest.
WHO: Rhymefest (feat. John the Author), produced by S1, Epikh Pro, Damon Ranger, and Xzibit.
WHY WE CARE: On Saturday morning, Rhymefest–the Grammy- and Oscar-winning rapper/songwriter partly responsible for Kanye’s “Jesus Walks,” Common and John Legend’s “Glory,” and his own underrated solo career–was robbed at gunpoint on the south side of Chicago. He survived the encounter and only had $3 in his wallet, but when he went to his neighborhood police station to report the crime, he found a police presence that was decidedly less interested in taking his report than he anticipated–the desk staff was hostile, and the supervisor asked him to leave. After he took out his phone and began filming, the encounter got more tense, until the rapper’s insistence that he wouldn’t turn off his camera got an officer on the scene to finally let him explain what happened. Rhymefest shared the video to Twitter, and after 2,000 retweets, the Chicago Police Department finally apologized.
An apology is good–it certainly beats most alternatives, anyway–but it doesn’t address the underlying issue of police being disrespectful to African-American crime victims, and it doesn’t change the treatment that Rhymefest received. Fortunately, Rhymefest has his own platform and means of expression, and within 36 hours of his encounter at the police station, he was in the studio–with friends Xzibit, S1, Epikh Pro, Damon Ranger behind the boards and fellow Chicago rapper John the Author on the mic. In the track, which he titled #copsNrobbers,” Fest succinctly tells the story of both the robbery and what happened in the police station–“The cop looking at me not giving a fuck / stuffing cookies in her mouth, playing Candy Crush / lost my respect and the public’s trust / it’s why I don’t really talk to police that much”–before turning the mic over to John the Author to talk about the wider issues of police relations in Chicago. The fact that a famous rapper can go from a few tweets about an incident to a full song that expresses both his own frustration and the context behind that frustration, and get it in the ears of fans, within 36 hours of the incident occurring is a fascinating thing about the way that music and hip-hop can be responsive creative forms in 2016.
The incident is certainly unfortunate, but it does come at a relevant time. Not only has the often-contentious relationship between police and the black citizens they’re tasked with serving and protecting been a hot topic of conversation in recent years, but the same weekend that Rhymefest was robbed, two separate conversations directly related to the issues he raises in “#copsNrobbers” were started: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, citing the way that black Americans are treated, which led critics to argue that his wealth and fame meant that he had little to complain about. The relatively wealthy and famous Rhymefest experiencing shameful treatment by Chicago PD when reporting a crime seems to speak to that point–and as Donald Trump cited the murder of a black woman and her baby in south Chicago as a reason why “African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP,” the candidate who has declared himself the “law and order” candidate. But as Rhymefest’s video–and the song he recorded afterward–make clear, the problems in Chicago aren’t restricted to just the people committing the crimes, and the “law and order” part of the equation can fail people in Chicago badly enough that the Chicago Police publicly apologized to the rapper. All of these issues are complicated, messy, and disappointing–all the things that make for good art, and as unfortunate as Rhymefest’s Saturday morning was, the fact that it happened to someone who knew how to turn it into art is some sort of consolation for the rest of us.