In late 1992, Ice Cube would release his third solo album, The Predator. The Priority Records release would become Cube’s first (and lone) #1 LP, yielding his highest-charting solo hit, “It Was A Good Day.” Keeping the corps of Sir Jinx and DJ Pooh in tact, Cube would also call upon Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs to supply some funky sounds on one of his most revered LPs.
Outside of the memorable singles, O’Shea Jackson had a lot more to say in ’92. In the year and a half prior, Rodney King had been brutally beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano. The March 1991 incident was filmed on camera, prompting not only a high-profile trial, but heightened awareness to many around the nation of the brutality law enforcement (across many departments) was using against its citizens of color. Camcorder footage brought to life what N.W.A. had said (especially its member Ice Cube) almost five years prior on “Fuck Tha Police.” Following no subsequent convictions against those officers, the City of Angels erupted in riots—showing the rest of the world its anger towards a one-sided justice system. Like his South Central peers, Ice Cube was angry.
Suddenly, Ice Cube’s profanity would be viewed as prophecy. With N.W.A. no longer existing, the Los Angeles, California lyricist vented his ongoing frustrations on “Who Got The Camera?” Produced by Jinx, the song maintained Cube’s sample-soaked style, calling upon Funkadelic, Richard Pryor, Main Source, and even elements of Bruce Willis’ Die Hard to make his point. However, it’s the verses and chorus that make the song enduring.
Quite different than “It Was A Good Day,” “Who Got The Camera” traces a day in the life of Cube pursuing a particular woman. However, long before Fat Burger or the NBA late game, the platinum rapper finds himself on the highway, tailed by the L.A.P.D. The police cruiser pulls over Cube’s car, with weapons drawn. The lyrics go on to say that the driver fits the description of a bank-robber. When the stop leads to no license or registration, the exchange escalates to an angered driver stepping out of the car—only to be “slammed” to the ground.
As the battery worsens, Cube details the racism in the line of questioning, the name-calling, and the blows to the face. Throughout, Cube asks who has the Panasonic camera, with the hopes that video footage will bring justice against the abusive cops. While yelling “Fuck Tha Police” was the only perceived recourse in the late ’80s, this early ’90s song cleverly suggests that videotape technology may curtail the regularity of Rodney King-like incidents happening. As expected, the song ends without hope—or heroism—only hardship.
Nearly 24 years later, the song title’s question remains. Over the last several years, video footage of several incidents involving excessive and/or lethal force by the police against citizens has surfaced, often resulting in no prosecution for the officers involved. Just last week, video technology was taken to a completely different level, with the live broadcast by Diamond Reynolds of the killing of her boyfriend Philando Castile by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Whether or not that video evidence results in the prosecution of Yanez remains to be seen.
Recently, some of Ice Cube’s past collaborators (including Killer Mike, Jay Z, and B-Real & The D.O.C.) have made songs and statements about police beating and killing people of colors in 2016—just as they were in 1992. As the LAPD (and other agencies) are being held accountable by the community in new ways, Cube’s album-cut remains relevant in the minds and sensibilities of many—even if they haven’t heard it.