The Rodney King verdict was the spark that ignited the flame but there were simmering tensions long before then.
FEVER 333 frontman Jason Aalon Butler, who grew up in Inglewood in in southwestern Los Angeles County told French website Rock Ur Life: “This man gets beaten on a camera and people get acquitted for that. It’s fucked up, no question. But below the surface there was frustration, relegation, subjugation, racism. All these different structural disadvantages that Black culture was feeling for so long. It was only a matter of time before it was gonna boil open. The moment just snaps it. Like in France, the oil price went up, but it wasn’t just the oil price... It was all the frustration French people were having and oil was just a spark. Rodney King was like that for me.”
Body Count, the LA rap-metal outfit fronted by Ice-T, had written the now notorious Cop Killer the year before as a response to police brutality.
Ice-T told Kerrang! earlier this year: “When we wrote Cop Killer, I was in rehearsals singing Psycho Killer by Talking Heads, and my drummer Beatmaster V, rest in peace, said we need a cop killer. He’s like, ‘Cops are out there killing people, doing their bullshit, and getting away with it.’ And this is before Rodney King, but it was happening in the hood – we knew it and we felt it.”
Released a month and a half before the verdict and subsequent riots, Cop Killer name-checked Rodney King and was adopted by many as an anthem of revolt. It was also targeted by the powers that be in the aftermath, in an attempt – many believed - to deflect attention from issues such as police brutality and the root causes of the rioting.
“At the end of the day, Cop Killer was basically authority killer,” Ice told us. “People don’t like authority, that’s really what it is. And that’s the core of rock‘n’roll.”
Indeed, the ’92 riots had a galvanising effect on the more revolutionary end of the musical spectrum. Hip-hop luminaries including Ice Cube and Dr. Dre addressed the riots directly but so did the likes of UK rap-metallers One Minute Silence on Stuck Between A Rock And A White Face, and political LA punks Bad Religion, most notably on Don’t Pray On Me from their classic 1993 album Recipe For Hate. Fellow Los Angeles residents and rapcore pioneers Downset took aim on the track Anger, which also referenced the death of frontman Rey Oropeza's father at the hands of the LAPD: ‘I hate L.A. swine with a passion gee / 'Cuz my pops was killed by the fucking LAPD / Yes they killed my daddy, yup they killed my daddy / And if I don't blast 'em back / You know they gonna fucking kill me.’