Soundtrack of the Apocalypse

Color Blind * Ice Cube * Death Certificate * 1991

I don’t know anything about living in the inner city. I grew up in an assortment of small towns and suburbs that were pretty severely lacking in diversity.┬áThe closest I ever got was when we lived in the Inland Empire for a little while, even though we were closer to Big Bear than Fontana. Which is to say that I recognize that anything east of like, San Dimas is gross, but it was still pretty far from┬álife described in your average Ice Cube song. That said, I happened to be living in relative proximity to Los Angeles when the 1992 riots happend. I was in seventh grade and utterly transfixed. I watched the nonstop coverage breathlessly. I bought copies of the LA Times for each day of the riots and put the front page up on my wall. That’s… super weird, in retrospect. Yet those days of massive civil unrest sparked something in me that has stuck ever since.

I had so many questions! Like, why are these people so mad? Is society really this fragile? Seriously, my little world at the time was no reference point to what was going on 70 miles to the west of where I was living. There was only one thing left to do, which was to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. Over the years I have pursed understanding by studying African-American literature, reading non-fiction accounts of gang life, and listening to music of the era, of which “Color Blind” is a prime example. There is no question of ever really understanding the overspill of rage I witnessed in 1992. I can’t identify because I’ve never lived it and it would be insulting to insinuate that I could just by listening to a lot of N.W.A. That said, I can approximate an intellectual understanding of the social, historical, and racial conflicts that created the situation where all this rage and frustration bubbled up from.

“Color Blind” is a series of lyrical vignettes that describes some of the truths of gang life. The title has nothing to do with race; it has everything to do with gang colors. “Baby Lou wears blue, Big Fred wears red. Put ’em together and color ’em dead.” The song isn’t here to give answers, it’s here to make clear what the life is like. It does so by giving voice to no less than seven MC’s (including Coolio, of all people) all describing the same essential thing: shit be crazy out here. The voices here are all removed from the life (that’s why they’re color blind, you see), but it’s still a part of them. Each verse is a slice of life that most people don’t ever see, let along experience. For someone like me, it’s a fascinating account of a whole other America, one that until this point pretty much existed beneath the notice of the mainstream.

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