Rap Video Remake: Activism (Re)Mixed With Viewer Generated Documentary Footage

Curator's Note

Raptivist  Rapper B. Dolan posted a music video remake of NWA's "F*ck the Police" on YouTube on December 8, 2011, in connection to occupy movements, a month after alleged violence and media blackout of occupy evictions. In less than three days, "Film the Police" reached over 70,000 views, big numbers for an indie video and homemade grassroots activist documentary alike.

Rhode Island-based Sage Francis kicks off the track as NWA's Dr. Dre who passes the digital mic to B.Dolan as Ice Cube, then rapper/activist Toki Wright of Minneapolis as MC Ren, and finally to Jasiri X of Pittsburgh, as Eazy E. Filmed performances in each city are intercut with readily available online activist video. Video director Mason Johnson, a Utah-based filmmaker, provides us example of clever collaboration in the digital age. Through form and content, this crew encourages community, collaboration, and CopWatching with iPhones, Blackberrys, flip cameras and even Canon’s hi-definition 7D, over a track produced Buddy Peace, who is from London. Created in the tradition of activist rapper Jasiri X's remix videos, this videos works in resistance to mainstream media's (mis)representations through the art of rip and remix.

Here rap, a megaphone for activist themes (anti-police brutality and community organizing), reaches a broad audience. In the tradition of hip-hop's remix culture (see Copyright Criminals, the documentary on hip-hop’s creative bricolage charged with infringement on corporate profit), YouTubers are simultaneously (potential) contributors and viewers. YouTube as archive for (free) footage and simultaneously the distribution platform, offers possibilities for endless creativity, as long as YouTube exists in unpoliced forms. The other dangers: don’t get arrested or shot while filming, get video play (viewer hits) but as the hip-hop euphemism urges, don’t get played out (as in overplayed, used, tacky, fake, or seemingly disingenuous), and of course, don’t get prosecuted for copyright infringement! Also important here is the video’s affirmative answer to the question, "Are Cameras the New Gun?" Filming the police is well within your legal rights, upheld by a recent Supreme Court ruling. Still, the police continue to confiscate citizen cameras and attempt to prosecute those who film them.

B. Dolan’s belief that music can be a powerful tool in sparking people's awareness, shows that his carefully crafted lyrics send the timely and powerful message: We the people are the only real media we got.


In a few words you have given me much to think about Rachel. Beyond pointing me to an excellent piece of resistance media which I am excited to use in my courses, the questions you bring up about the ability of the police to confiscate and prosecute people who film them ground us in the reality of our rights and responsibilities as citizen journalists, documentary filmmakers and activists. Your piece also makes concious the idea of YouTube as archive. It makes me wonder how institutions such as the National Archive see themselves in the context of YouTube and other online outlets.

 Thank you, Sheila! Since reading Alex Juhasz's Learning from YouTube, I've been thinking considerably about digital archives. I am not a big YouTuber, in terms of watching hours and hours of "funny" videos (I call it video spam), but when a link hits facebook or is recommended to me, I sure do rush to rip/download the video using tools like keepvid, because for the average citizen, nothing is ever permanent. 

I hear that sites like The Internet Archive & the waybackmachine (and certainly company and gvt sites) copy, archive and possibly analyze all that is posted, I/we don't necessarily have access... there are definitely areas for us to filmmakers, scholars and media activists to intervene, develop, build, create, contribute, and of course, archive.



What a great clip and thoughtful post! Your nod to the historical context of rap and hip hop as activist media is much appreciated, and the context for this clip gets even more interesting when you throw in the resistant actions of using footage/video from YouTube that might step on someone's copyrighted toes.

The role of the police is interesting here, as it brings up another point for me. As you say, the video reaffirms the legality of filming police (at least in most states), while bodies of authority mistakenly enforce nonexistent or misinterpeted laws. YouTube is another forum in which bodies of "authority" (usually corporate entities concerned with IP protection) try to enforce nonexistent laws, thereby strongarming a resistant public/audience into submission and more conventional (read: profitable) ways of doing business.

This clip and your post say so much about the ways in which activists as well as active media participants are, well, actively resisting the powers that be.

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