In 1992, Rodney King famously said, “People... can we all get along?” He made that earnest statement after enduring one of the worst incidents of police brutality ever caught on film. The four LAPD officers involved in the beating, which was allegedly racially motivated, were all acquitted, sparking the L.A. riots, during which King called for calm and unity.
Last week, rapper Jay-Z signed a surprising deal with the NFL as an “entertainment strategist.” The partnership came just a few years after he turned down the opportunity to play the NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. At the time, he criticized the organization's treatment of Colin Kaepernick and other players who kneeled during the National Anthem in silent protest. The rapper has been criticized for striking the lucrative deal rumored to give him a stake in an undisclosed NFL team.
The deal and the Rodney King quote might seem to have little in common, but they’re both parts of one long narrative. For many, Jay-Z signing those papers while laughing and bromancing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was seen as a betrayal of all the activism and protests that have taken place to raise awareness about the type of police brutality King endured two decades ago and that so many African-Americans have faced since.
Reactions were mixed, ranging from critics calling Jay-Z a sellout, to supporters lauding him for infiltrating the mostly white corporate world to make a change from the inside.
One of his most outspoken critics was Miami Dolphins player Kenny Stills. The wide receiver has been kneeling in solidarity with Kaepernick, who has been blackballed from the NFL for almost three years. Stills also recently took his boss, team owner Stephen Ross, to task for his hypocrisy in supporting Donald Trump — a well-documented bigot and racist — while running the anti-racism initiative RISE.
This past Monday, Stills responded to reporters' questions about the Jay-Z deal by saying that “it didn’t sit right" with him and that he wished the hip-hop mogul had reached out to either himself or Kaepernick to get on the same page. He was especially bothered by Jay’s comment, "I think we’ve moved past kneeling, and I think it’s time to go into actionable items."
New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores appears to have taken issue with Stills' comments, and he expressed his displeasure in the most passive-aggressive way Tuesday: He played eight Jay-Z songs in a row during the team's practice. According to the Sun Sentinel, Stills blasted Nas in the locker room afterward.
It got us thinking: What else could Kenny Stills include on his clapback mixtape? Here are five songs he should play for Flores:
“Cops Shot the Kid,” Nas and Kanye West
Our gut reaction was to place the Stillmatic cut "Ether" at the top of this playlist. However, though it would be cathartic to hear that distorted “Fuck Jay-Z” that kicks off the track, that’s also the problem with the entire Jay-Z/NFL debacle. What’s lost in the sniping is why players were kneeling in the first place. "Cops Shot the Kid,” from 2018’s Nasir, opens with the legendary comedian Richard Pryor doing a 1971 bit about police brutality. The song then samples his scream as well as Slick Rick’s epic “Children’s Story” and focuses on the hundreds of murders of unarmed black men at the hand of police. The entire debate around kneeling keeps getting derailed by public squabbles between NFL owners and players, Trump, and celebrities taking sides with or against Jay-Z. Ultimately, though, the issue always was and always should be the underlying reason for the protests. For that reason, an honorable mention goes to the classic “Sound of da Police,” by KRS-One and basically every song by Public Enemy.
“No Vaseline,” Ice Cube
We know what you’re thinking: "If you didn’t pick the obvious Nas song, how is Kenny gonna ether his coach?" Simple: with one of the most vicious dis tracks about people talking shit laid down by one of the hardest dudes of the gangsta-rap era. Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” doesn’t mince words about his feelings toward his former group, N.W.A., and its manager, Jerry Heller. Setting aside for a minute the song's anti-Semitic and homophobic insults, the song is ultimately about blacks being used by white people and the irony of a militant, proudly black group being managed by a white dude who ultimately undercuts its message of power and protest (such as the group's seminal song, “Fuck tha Police”).
“Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” Run the Jewels featuring Zach De La Rocha
There may not have been anyone more disappointed by the election of Donald Trump than Killer Mike of Run the Jewels. His candidate, Bernie Sanders, was chucked aside by the Democrats, essentially screwing over all of America's minority groups. On “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” Killer Mike, his RTJ partner El-P, and former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha comment on the long history of America's treatment of minorities. With lines like “We killin' them for freedom 'cause they tortured us for boredom/And even if some good ones die, fuck it, the Lord'll sort 'em,” they make direct references to institutionalized police brutality. Plus, the beat goes fucking hard.
“Hip Hop,” Dead Prez
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Perhaps no song better encapsulates the Jay-Z/Kenny Stills situation than the Dead Prez harmonizing, “It's bigger than hip-hop.” Clever rap lyrics, kneeling in protest before an NFL game, and social media posts are all good and well, but the reality of the situation that so many people — African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, Jewish people, the impoverished, women — find themselves in daily is bigger than any of that. On the hit song “Hip Hop,” Dead Prez calls for real-world action. Let’s see if Jay-Z’s “actionable items” respond to that call.
“Alright,” Kendrick Lamar
In the midst of all this beef and ugliness and violence, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” provides a glimmer of hope. It’s a faith-based, almost desperate plea for hope, with Pharrell repeating, “Nigga, we gon’ be alright,” like a mantra or perhaps much-needed reassurance. There’s a lot that Lamar asks Black America to shoulder — police brutality, lower wages, lower life expectancy — and still believe that everything will be “alright.”