On April 29th, 1992, four police officers – Stacey Koon, Theodore J. Briseno, Timothy Wind and Lawrence Powell – were found not guilty for using excessive force in the March 3, 1991 arrest of Rodney King, a beating that had been surreptitiously videotaped and then broadcasted around the world. Hours after the conclusion of the trial, rioting began in South Central Los Angeles, and then spread to other parts of the city, until then-President George H.W. Bush called in the California National Guard. The five-day uprising resulted in a reported 55 lives lost as well as billions of dollars in damage.
Popular music reflected much of the anger that would boil over during that week. Ice Cube’s Death Certificate – released a mere five months before – now seems like an eerily accurate document of the frustrations, intra-racial strife, and socio-economic breakdown that fueled the riots. But his angry, racially fraught masterwork is just the tipping point for years of songs that told of a Los Angeles more complex than the one portrayed in Hollywood films, or even exploitation action flicks like Dennis Hopper’s gangbang tale Colors. This list gathers a few that foretold of a coming storm.