Many people have long believed the first Hip Hop cop came out of New York City and recently arrived on the scene sometime after 9-11.Much of this is centered on the Hip Hop’s infamous Hip Hop task force whose existence was initially denied by law enforcement but later discovered to be run by former NYPD detective Derek Parker. Things really hit the fan so to speak when it was discovered that this NYPD task force had amassed a 500 page dossier that detailed the comings and goings and other sensitive detail of some of Hip Hop’s biggest stars. Parker and his task force have since been the subject of several high profile news stories, a documentary and a book he authored.
However, long before Parker and the Hip Hop Task Force came along I was aware of another Hip Hop cop whose name was shrouded in mystery but he was known among law enforcement as the go to guy when it came to dealing with gangster rap. His name is Ron Stallworth and he came straight outta Salt Lake City, Utah. In my mind he is Hip Hop’s first cop and he is the author of 4 books including; 1)Gangster Rap: Music, Culture & Politics, 2)Significant Developments in Gangster Rap Music Since the Rodney King Uprising, 3)Bringin’ The Noise–Gangster Rap/Reality Rap in the Dynamics of Black Revolution, and 4)Real Niggas: Gang Bangin’ To The Gangsta Boogie in AmeriKKKa.
If that’s not enough Stallworth has testified before Congress and the Senate Judiciary Committee where he submitted some very compelling papers. Currently he is retired but still lectures to law enforcement communities around the country about Hip Hop.
A Brief History of Blacks Being Surveilled
Now before we move on lets look at rappers being watched by the police and put things in some sort of historical perspective. This means that we have to go back to dates and times that predate Hip Hop.
Organized and institutionalized surveillance of the Black community, Black organizations and Black men in particular has been around ever since we were dragged here from the shores of Africa in chains and made slaves. Whether it was the threat and fear of revolting slaves on the plantation or freedom fighters like Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers or Malcolm X revolting against the system in more contemporary times, Black folks who chose to stand up and take on ‘the system’ have always been watched by those in power.
As KRS-One eloquently put it in his song ‘Sound of the Police‘, once upon a time we had overseers watching the Black slaves on the plantation. Today that overseer has turned into the officer who is now charged with watching over Black folks in the hood.
For those who think this is exaggeration, all you have to do is look to the ‘hey day’ of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in the 60s and 70s where you’ll find the enactment of the FBI concocted a program called COINTEL-Pro.Then FBI director J Edgar Hoover felt that many of the freedom fighting organizations like SNCC, The SCLC, the Black Muslims and the Black Panthers were a threat to national security and thus needed to be infiltrated and monitored In fact at one point some of these groups were labeled terrorists.
The leaders of these groups sparked a deep seeded fear in Hoover who stated that it was important that the US government contain militant groups and watch out for the rise of a Black messiah. The FBI used all sorts of tactics to disrupt the unity and organizing efforts these groups attempted to forge. The FBI became really concerned when these groups and leaders reached out and attempted to form bridges with urban street gangs or in the case of King and Malcolm X attempted to reach out and identify with freedom fighters on the international stage.
The Cointel-pro program was supposedly dismantled in the 70s as the Black Panthers and other Black Power organizations were dismantled, neutralized or outright destroyed but many believed surveillance of Black leaders and groups still continued in some form or fashion-under another name.
With respect to Hip Hop, law enforcement definitely had its scope locked on folks because Hip Hop emerged from gang culture. Under the guise of restoring ‘law and order’ and maintaining public safety many of the large street gangs coast to coast that came up in the aftermath of the Panthers demise found themselves at war with law enforcement. In New York City gangs like the Black Spades where a young Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa served as a war lord were definitely being watched.
Bam confirmed this in a recent interview when he noted that back in the pioneering days as gang culture was giving way to Hip Hop; the NYPD had a ruthless anti-gang squad called the Purple Hearts who would routinely come out and harass and shoot gang members. He noted things really got out of hand when some of those gangs including his Black Spades surrounded the police station and physically confronted police to protest the brutality. Bam also noted that although the gangs were essentially outlaws, they were still influenced by the Black Panthers and that willingness to stand up for Black Power was reflected in the rebellious spirit of the gangs. So in a nutshell if Cointel-pro was designed to destroy the Panthers it didn’t succeed in killing the spirit.
In the early 70s the Black Spades under the leadership of a politicized Bambaataa began to change their ways and became the Organization. The Organization later morphed into the Mighty Zulu Nation with the emergence of Hip Hop culture as a backdrop. The Zulus who took their name from the South African tribe that fought against Dutch Rule in South Africa, went on to become Hip Hop’s earliest and now oldest organization. Although it took a long time and many meetings, Bam’s goal was to get some of the rough and rugged gang members to turn a new leaf and start cleaning up the projects and become a international organization. With all this in mind, it would be naïve to think that law enforcement surveillance suddenly stopped because people were not actively gang banging.
If anything more surveillance was likely to befall groups like Zulu Nation because they were politicizing the gangs. Many speculate it was this sort of politicizing activity that led to the assassination of former Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Chicago who was trying to link the Black Panthers with Chicago street gangs like the Black Stone Rangers and the Black Disciples. We now know that he and the panthers in Chicago were constantly being watched.
If we chronicle some of the biggest street movements within Hip Hop you’ll find that it wasn’t too far removed from the street gangs. You can look at the new era of Hip Hop ushered in by acts like Eric B and Rakim when they dropped their Paid in Full Album and see right there on the back of their album cover the notorious Fort Greene Crew which included legendary stick up kids like the original 50 Cent. You don’t think the police weren’t keeping an eye and ear out on those guys?
If we fast forward into the so called Golden era of Hip Hop in the late 80s and early 90s when groups like Public Enemy, X-Clan and Brand Nubian hit the scene when can again see that important connection to the streets, gangs and organizing. And yes, there is no doubt that these groups were being watched. It may have come in the form of the 98 Posse and Nation of Islam with groups like Public Enemy, the 5% Nation with groups like Brand Nubian or Poor Righteous Teachers or Blackwatch with X-Clan. On the west coast you had groups like N.W.A. and Ice T who helped introduce the world to Southern Cali’s gang culture which included the Bloods and Crips. We also can’t forget the 1992 Rodney King Uprisings where Hip Hop was a main catalyst in helping spark the gang truces. It is on this west coast connection where Ron Stallworth comes in..
His books were written when gangsta rap first started to come out of Los Angeles and LA gang culture began to makes its way to Utah in the late 80s and early 90s. He continued to update his findings till the day he retired two years ago. His books are department issued self-publications which have been read widely by his fellow officers. They are extremely thorough, very detailed and have a keen political analysis that would actually shock most people outside of law enforcement because of some of the positions and conclusions Stallworth takes.
In addition to breaking down the lyrics, street culture and gang connections behind the songs and groups Stallworth and is Utah based unit (Department of Public Safety) kept tabs on, his books gave prophetic warnings as to what would likely happen if certain suppression based policies and practices weren’t changed or completely eradicated. Stallworth felt that it was important his fellow officers had a clear understanding of the socio-economic and political conditions that gave rise to some of the material put out by so called gangsta rappers and Afro-centric socially conscious rappers. He let his fellow officers know why some of the rap songs being put out advocated for harm and outright killing of police. In a recent interview Stallworth noted that some of his analyses did not always fit well with his brethren, but he vowed to remain objective and speak the truth.
I first became aware of Stallworth’s existence back in 93-94 when I sat on a Hip Hop panel at Laney College in Oakland alongside an Oakland police officer who was also on the panel. This particular officer happened to have a copy of his first book ‘Gangster Rap: Music, Culture & Politics‘ He let me look at the book for a few minutes and as I thumbed through the pages I was blown away by the amount of detail it had on popular gangsta rap acts at the time like Eazy E and NWA, DJ Quik, Ice T and others. When I say detail, I mean it would mention the artists and note his gang affiliation and had lyrics to his songs with explanations as to what the artists was saying and what he was really meant. At that time I had not seen any book out like that…
Just as I was starting to really get drawn into things the panel started and the officer told me I could no longer look at the book because it was just for officers in the Oakland police department. I asked him where he got the book and he became real vague. He said the book wasn’t available for the public and that it was just for police officers and that the guy who wrote it was a Sergeant out of Utah. He told me the guys name was Ron ‘Shuttlesworth’ and told me to look him up on the Utah police department.
Now, here’s a few things that were running through my mind at that time. First I kept asking myself, who in the world would ever think a police officer from Utah would be up on gangsta rap? Second, it blew me away while at the same time it left me impressed that OPD had such in depth details about rap. The author of this book from what I read seemed to know a hell of a lot more than most people who were in the industry itself. Over the years I would tell people to be aware that OPD had some sort of book detailing all the rappers and that folks needed to be aware and careful about the things they said and did.
Lastly I never was able to get a hold of Sergeant ‘Shuttlesworth’ because years later I discovered the Oakland police officer had given me the wrong name and telephone number. Over the years, I tried in vain to track down this book with no luck. Every time I would ask officers who were guest on my radio shows about this book on gangsta rap, they would look at me and say they didn’t know what I was talking about. It became a running joke of sorts because usually when I had Oakland officers on to talk about some sort of topic connected Hip Hop they would display a great deal of knowledge about the genre and I would always comment that it was because of Stallworth’s book. They would in turn always emphatically deny having these books. I even asked former Oakland Police Chief Richard Ward about the books and he too denied their existence.
I finally got confirmation about three or four years ago when my old DJ partner started working for the sheriff department. He saw the book and told me that there were updated versions of what I had read and they were pretty detailed. He went on to add that he could not bring them to me because they were only for the police department and as a rookie officer he did not wanna risk getting in trouble.
I felt somewhat vindicated, but it wasn’t until I read an article on the AP wire about Stallworth retiring from the Utah police force that I felt completely vindicated.
His name came up in the most usual way. You see about 30 years ago Stallworth made a name for himself by infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs.
That in itself is a crazy story. How in the world did a brown skin Black man infiltrate the Klan? What’s even more bugged is that Stallworth was so good at his job that he was even offered the position of Klan chapter leader. His Klan membership card was issued by to him personally by KKK leader David Duke whom he once bodyguard. His incredible police work led to the eventual dismissal of Klan members who had joined the United States Army with a couple of members actually working at NORAD. (North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
This is a story that is so unbelievable that in many ways eclipses Stallworth’s work in Hip Hop. In fact it was at the end of this article of him joining the Klan that there was a one line sentence stating that Stallworth was an expert in gangsta rap. Hours after I posted a blog running down my long search for Stallworth that I got an email and eventual phone call from him where he gave me the run down of what led him to becoming an expert on gangsta rap. We eventually connected face to face and did this incredible interview
In part 1 of our Breakdown FM Interview we talked with Stallworth about his adventures with the KKK and how after 27 years David Duke is just finding out he had been duped. What’s even crazier is that on the back of the KKK membership card which Stallworth is shown holding in the photo above the first rule that all Klansmen are obliged to follow is to -Never talk to undercover cops… It looks like David Duke violated his own rules. Maybe he needs to be kicked out.
Breakdown Interview Evolution of the Hip Hop Police pt2
In our interview explained that he had no intention to become any sort of expert or to keep tabs on rappers. He’s an old school type of cat who was working in Utah department of Public Safety.
One of the things this department was charged with doing was engaging the youth gangs. In the late 80s and early 90s Stallworth noted that many of the white Mormon kids started to associate themselves with Crip and Blood culture out of South Central LA and Compton and thus formed gangs. This sort of attachment puzzled Stallworth who eventually made trips to Los Angeles and teamed up with gang task force leaders to see first hand how gangs were operating and how and why they had such a hold on white kids in Utah. He eventually discovered that gangster rap via groups like NWA is how these white Mormon kids were getting their leads and cues. They were fascinated with what they concluded was ‘black culture’.
Out of necessity Stallworth had to become an expert in this new subgenre of Hip Hop. The rest they say is history. Stallworth felt it was important to truly understand the culture of He then began to see how police misconduct had fueled a lot of the rage being expressed in the songs. This led to Stallworth writing a ten page paper which contained his conclusions and observations became the basis for his first book.
In this interview Stallworth breaks down the methods he used to gather intelligence. He said it was all about connecting the dots and that ironically many of the rappers themselves through their lyrics and album covers which showed graffiti, street signs and other key indicators provided all the information he and other law enforcement officials needed to paint a picture.
He talks about how the biggest challenge he faced was explaining to other officers the perspective of the rappers and how and why law enforcement needed to change some of their approaches. He wanted the police to study the artists, and find common ground which he felt could lead to better relationships in the community.
He admitted that many officers were invested in maintaining a negative outlook and too often over reacted to situations that could best be diffused with better understanding. In our interview Stallworth referenced a situation in Detroit involving NWA where plain clothes officers rushed the stage after the group attempted to perform the song ‘Fuck tha Police’.
In order for Stallworth to maintain what he saw as an objective outlook he would write the books that was issued to the department on his own time and publish them with his own money and resources.
During our interview we discussed the history of surveillance in the Black community in particular Cointel-Pro. Stallworth explained in great detail how and why what he was doing was not the same as Hoover. First and foremost he felt Hoover crossed the line and violated the constitution. In fact he noted that Hoover needed to be jailed. With respect to his operation, he basically listened to the material put out by the artists and then cross referenced things with police resources. In other words if a rapper said he was down with gang, then Stallworth would check that out and see if it was true or not. If an artist took a picture of a street sign and put it on his album cover, he would check it out and see what the deeper significance behind it. In short many rappers were telling on themselves.
Breakdown Interview Evolution of the Hip Hop Police pt3
We conclude our three part conversation with retired Sergeant Ron Stallworth. Here we talk about the 4 books he’s written on Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap. We pay particular attention to the book he wrote on Hip Hop activism.
He spoke about the things he saw and heard within Hip Hop that predicted what would eventually take place during the Rodney King rebellion in 1992.
Stallworth noted that today rap music has been neutralized and has lost a lot of its urgent message. He says today kids are all about making money and that’s clearly reflected in many of the songs that are commercially viable. Says we live in a time when people want to escape poverty.
We spoke about the Stop Snitching Movement. He personally finds it disgraceful; however he understands the sentiments behind it. He says people in the community are getting the wrong message when they are being asked to tell while Congressmen remain silent when they are asked to speak out.
We talked about studio gangsters. Stallworth said there are a number of rappers who say lots of things in records that don’t add up when he checked them out. He cited Snoop Dogg and Ice T are glaring examples. He also talked about the 2Pac case and Suge Knight. He said if he was running the investigation into Pac’s killing he would start with Suge. He then talked about the Death Row organization and it being a unique in the sense that it was represented by both Bloods and Crips.
Lastly we talked about the music industry and the role that street gangs played and how they are perceived by law enforcement versus traditional organized crime like the Mafia. We talked about how and why the street gangs came under surveillance and why we don’t hear as much about the mob.