I graduated from Artesia High School in 1992. The Riots were a month before graduation. My friends and I were shaped by the Riots. I learned early that Los Angeles is a city of binary oppositions -- the neighborhoods blend like a DJ mixing records. The tension between the differences is addressed in "L.A. Love & War."
People wanna settle the score
between the haves & the have nots
Country clubs & crooked cops,
Range Rovers & bus stops...
L.A. LOVE & WAR..
What are WE fighting for?
This recording is another collaboration between Phillip Martin aka PhiLLHarmonic, David Wittman aka DJ Dave and me. The three of us were freshmen at UCLA in the fall of 1992. The spirit of the Riots hung over the city heavy that fall. Venues like the World Stage in Leimert Park, the Good Life Café in the Crenshaw District, Jabberjaw in Mid-City and the Onyx in Los Feliz served as incubators for a multicultural mix of writers, musicians, artists and activists. We pounded the pavement, witnessing poetry and live music in every neighborhood.
PhiL was born in Jamaica, came to Dallas at 12 and then UCLA at 18 on a full-ride Soccer scholarship. Early on we discovered we both wrote poems. The first poetry sessions were in dorm rooms and backyard apartment parties. In Phil's verse he refers to our old ritual of taking midday L.A. drives. We'd go to Elysian Park, Downtown, Melrose, West Adams, MacArthur Park. He mentions driving by the Disney Concert Hall and then says, "The future renaissance, what are we fighting for?" Phil is a tireless advocate of fighting the good fight, building community through the arts. Besides being a great poet, he's an excellent painter and soccer coach. His work ethic alone inspires all around him.
Before going further, Mike Davis asks a question in "City of Quartz" that remains relevant in 2012: Will the boundaries between different groups become faultlines of conflict
or high-voltage generators of an alternative urban culture led by poly-ethnic vanguards?
The answer is both. Cases like Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin show that conditions across America in many places have not improved. Widespread corruption and injustice still prevails. Though Obama is the current President, much of the ignorance from 1992 and 1965 remain in place. Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s high schools throughout the Southland had interethnic fighting between White, Black and Brown. There are still some reports of this but tolerance is growing slowly as evidenced by the widespread prevalence of mixed marriages.
The bright side is the high-voltage generators of an alternative urban culture led by poly-ethnic vanguards grows stronger ever year. They can be found in the thriving art scene. Immediately following the Riots, an explosion of creativity occurred across the city. The spirit continued over the last two decades in creative spaces like Firecracker, Juju, Afro Funke, Root Down, Chocolate Bar, A Mic & Dim Lights and Low End Theory. The artists of Los Angeles are alchemists using the brewing energy to rebuild and reimagine the city.
If you're alive in Los Angeles,
organize your ish as rightly burning!
We are the difference and the world is turning..
LA Love & War,
We don't need to fight no more!
Top photo: Two kids breakdance in front of a line of National Guardsmen. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
More on L.A. Letters:
- L.A. Letters Guide to Finding Poetry in Los Angeles, Part Two
- Beats & Rhymes: Revisiting Wisdom and Knowledge
- L.A. Letters Guide to Finding Poetry in Los Angeles
- Rapping the Message of Long Beach's Cambodia Town
- See the L.A. Letters archives