Where were you in 1994? Me, I was a 13 yr old hard head who loved hip hop. At that time my tape collection consisted of hardcore rap like Bone Thugs, Thug Life, Gangstarr (Hard to Earn) and early in the school year a girl named Shannon let me borrow and dub her Nas Ilmatic tape, from which at that point i had only heard of. I eventually washed dishes every night to that tape. Nodding so hard that my mama probably thought i was crazy. Those Nas lyrics introduced me to the Queens, New York lifestyle and slang. Subsequently they also put my mind onto thinking about the coming ills facing young black men in America. Ills such as street violence, police violence, drugs and murder. Nas then used his talents to paint landscapes of the times. On “NY State of Mind” Nas raps “Cops could just arrest me, blamin’ us, we’re held like hostages”. A line which provided vivid insight to life on his block, as well as the future to come for many more black youths in America
Illmatic was released in 94, but the tales from the images most likely were seen from a young Nasir from about 89-93. Which to me would seem accurate knowing that violent street crime and crack cocaine use peaked in 1991. One of the main frustrations expressed by Nas on Ilmatic was receiving foul treatment from crooked NY Cops.
In 1994, three years after violent crime peaked in America Democratic President Bill Clinton along with the vocal support of Senator Joe Biden passed the 1994 Crime Bill. A bill that encouraged states to build more prisons if necessary and if not to build more beds. The 1994 crime bill also had provisions for states to ramp up there police force as well as hire thousands more police to tackle “violent crime” in America. For “violent crime” insert “black and brown people”. Bill Clinton states that “violent crime and the fear it provokes is crippling our society”. He also states that “the bill gave congress the chance to be tough and smart”. I presume he meant smart about the future because that bill would kick off decades of harassment and mass incarceration for black and brown individuals all across America’s inner cities.
As a matter of fact in 1994 at the age of 13 was the first time i had ever been beat up by police. A gang of police at that. After the incident my mom picked me up from the precinct where i was being held and we drove home quietly. When i got home i tended my wounds, put on my headphones and listened to Nas Illmatic.
Just my thoughts.