VH1 is set to mark the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots with a new documentary — Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots premiering May 1. Uprising is a walk through the events that spring in 1992 from the beating of Rodney King to the six days of civil unrest that followed — all through the prism of the music that captured it: hip hop.
Uprising makes a case for hip-hop, predominately coming from the West Coast at that time, as being the voice at the forefront of the riots and the circumstances to which they were a response. In a scene from the film, Eazy E of NWA stands in front of a riot-torn street and facetiously tells an MTV camera crew that someone should record a song called “F**k Tha Police.” “Someone did, you did,” said the reporter.
WATCH THE TRAILOR FOR ‘UPRISING’ BELOW:
In a time when hip-hop, as personified by “gangsta rap.” was condemned for what it depicted, Eazy E saw his group’s most controversial song as a sort of prophecy of what was to come. When the police officers on trial for the beating of Rodney King were acquitted, the reality of the music became more apparent.
”’F**k Tha Police’ encapsulated in a song how an entire generation felt toward the government and police,” said Uprising director Mark Ford. “We included a lot of footage of that in the documentary. People are spraying the words on buildings, playing it in their cars. Even during the looting, they would turn to cameras and say it,” he said.”It was the theme song of the riots.”
Mark Ford previously directed NWA: The World’s Most Dangerous Group for VH1. In Uprising, he weaves together archival footage from the riots with interviews from people who experienced it up close. Henry Watson, one of the men convicted of beating Reginald Denny, shares his memories of that contentious period. Rodney King, Arsenio Hall, Ice-T, John Singleton, Too Short and Nas also contribute soundbites to the proceedings. The film also benefits from narration by Snoop Dogg, who discusses his experience participating in the riots and producing music soon after.
“We had known that Snoop was involved in the riots,” said Ford “We called him up and he jumped on immediately. He felt it was an important chapter, historically and musically, and he has a really visceral memory of the events.”
Some of the memories shared by Snoop Dogg are of the making of The Chronic with Dr. Dre. Listening to friends talk abut the rioting and watching the events on the news, inspired the sound of one of music’s most critically acclaimed albums. Two tracks: “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” and “The Day the Ni**az Took Over” include audio from footage recorded in the midst of the riots by filmmaker Matthew McDaniels. Ford unearthed that footage and presents it throughout Uprising in what he called a “feedback loop” of inspiration between hip-hop and the riots.
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