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Hip-Hop Predicted Liquor Store Trashings

by Adisa Banjoko

Hip hop has long addressed -- and frequently profited from -- liquor sales in impoverished black neighborhoods

(PNS) -- When black men in bow ties tore apart two liquor stores in Oakland, California the night before Thanksgiving, the security-camera footage was all over the news. Today, two members of an Oakland black Muslim group were charged with hate crimes and false imprisonment in the incidents. Police are investigating whether the alleged vandalism is connected to an arson fire earlier this week that destroyed another market, and the kidnapping of the store's owner.

To much of mainstream America this issue is new. But African Americans coast to coast have a longstanding issue with the infestation of corner liquor stores that they believe peddle poor-quality foods and dangerous alcohol. They believe that these stores devalue not only the surrounding property but also the lives of those who live near them.

Proof that this is not a new issue can be found in numerous rap songs over the years. The early 1990s were full of racial tension between the black community and liquor stores. On Public Enemy's song "1 Million Bottle Bags," Chuck D proclaims, "They drink it thinkin' it's good/ But they don't sell the shit in the white neighborhood!"

Earlier, in his now highly-famous song "Black Korea," Ice Cube hit L.A.'s Asian community with a mountain of racial slurs in rhyme form, closing with the now-prophetic line, "So pay respect to the black fist/Or we'll burn your store right down to a crisp."

The ugly clash between Korean Americans and African Americans over the liquor store issue is covered in excruciating detail in Jeff Chang's book "Can't Stop Won't Stop." The recent violence in Oakland reveals similar animosity toward store owners who are often Arab and sometimes Muslim.

An ironic twist is the role rappers themselves have played in the promotion of alcohol consumption in the hood. On the same album in which Ice Cube attacked the Koreans, he endorsed St. Ides Malt Liquor. Dr. Dre, Yo-Yo, Wu-Tang, King Tee, EPMD, Scarface, Snoop Dogg and even Rakim have all promoted St. Ides. This is not to mention Run DMC's countless mentions of drinking "8-Ball" (Olde English 800) or the Beastie Boys' world famous "Brass Monkey." Clearly the Hip Hop community has played both sides on this issue.

I grew up in the 1980s in the suburbs outside San Francisco. If my friends and I wanted alcohol, we went to Bay View /Hunters Point, because we knew an Arab shopkeeper who was always willing to sell to under-age kids. There was no such supplier in the area where I was raised. I knew at 15 that if I wanted to buy alcohol, I had to go to the ghetto.

In the rap song "Refuse to Lose," the MC's of Non-Phixion, lament this phenomenon: "When I was 10 I used to buy liquor with no I.D./ Thinkin' back subliminally, the store clerk was tryin' to kill me."

This anger at being devalued is at the center of the destruction of the Oakland liquor store. It does not excuse it, but it explains it. Many African Americans and other ghetto citizens feel they are being targeted for a slow death by liquor store owners. The group most active in opposing the liquor stores is often black Muslims. They do this because in the Koran it states, "And obey Allah and the Messenger Muhammad and beware of even coming near to drinking or gambling and fear Allah." This situation gives rise to an intricate tension that involves race and class as much as it does faith.

As a Muslim convert I feel that there is no legitimate reason that Muslim Arabs from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Palestine or Jordan should be selling products to black people that they would never try to sell in their own countries. However, I also feel that to vandalize and burn down these stores also reflects badly on Islam. The Muslim shopkeepers, vandals, arsonists, and kidnappers have all done wrong by their neighbors and by Islam.

Somewhere between tearing the building apart and doing nothing lies a non-violent solution that can be enacted by the community. The time for peace is now. However, unless and until the issue of liquor-store infestations of black ghettos are properly addressed, I fear we may see more of the opposite.

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Albion Monitor December 6, 2005 (

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