Thurzday revisits the '92 violence to find his creative 'Riot'
The narrative, however, left a scar on the young Koffi. King, of course, was the subject of the infamous videotaped beating by Los Angeles police in March 1991 that resulted in four officers being tried. Their acquittal led to the riots that turned about a 10-mile stretch of Los Angeles into a battleground, with torched buildings, massive looting and more than 50 casualties.
Such a backdrop is one that Koffi, half of local rap duo U-N-I, is using for his debut solo album, “L.A. Riot,” which was released Tuesday.
“I lived in Inglewood during those times, so I remember a lot of things about it. The title just struck my interest,” he said while prepping the album’s release party at the Papillion Institute of Art. “Calling it that, you have to pay homage to the historical event that shaped a lot of L.A.”
The concept album features Koffi assuming the role of King and providing a first person reenactment of the beating on the gripping and aptly titled "Rodney King." He also raps about the unrest and offers a self-critique -- both in songs with titles that we can't print. Adding to the grit, "L.A. Riot" is spliced with interviews with people who were involved with and experienced the riots.
Koffi, in fact, didn't just assume the role of King, he became him for a viral video he released in support of the project. With the help of his #92Crew, a collective of artists and filmmakers, he pieced together a 10-minute short about the project.
Koffi was quick to add that the album isn’t a history lesson. He even drafted a not-so-tongue-in-cheek manifesto, which lays out the political and social goals for the work. “I riot for the freedom of music and art that has been incarcerated," he wrote, adding that "riots are the voice of the unheard." He also takes a few shots at mainstream rap and the work populating BET.
“I’m not going at BET,” he explained. “For me, I haven’t really watched a program on BET since ‘Rap City’ and when Joe Clair was hosting. We were excited for hip-hop at that time. I riot for the people who miss that."
Koffi’s project comes as London has been stricken with riots and political unrest is stretching from North Africa to the Persian Gulf. Closer to home, things got messy recently on Hollywood Boulevard after DJ Kaskade announced an impromptu performance to celebrate the Hollywood premiere of a documentary about the Electric Daisy Carnival.
“That was a senseless riot," he said of the Hollywood uprising, in which fans jumped on police cars and the LAPD had to close off streets. "People partying, probably on drugs and being unruly, there was no purpose in that. We analyzed that and [thought to include it in promotions for the album], but it didn’t mean anything.”
The rapper is hoping to do a movie to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the King-inspired riots, for which the album would serve as the score. His team is currently soliciting anecdotes through a hotline. He'd also like to meet the man who served as inspiration for the project, though he's yet to have any luck getting in contact with King.
When asked whether the riots in L.A. were necessary, Koffi takes a more philosophical approach.
“As a kid, I’m looking at the riots, you see some of the stuff like burnt buildings, cops in riot gear, angry, upset folks. You can’t really interpret the purpose of why this is happening. You just see anger. When you go back after you’ve grown up and look back at the situation, you see all the racial tension that was thriving at that time … and hasn’t changed,” he said. “You see the police brutality is current throughout every generation. Looking back, I’ve been able to interpret all of that and understand it better.
“I think it’s something we’ve learned from. But were they necessary? That’s what I want people to ask."
Listen to the DJ Khalil-produced single “Riot,” which features Black Thought of the Roots, and watch the 10-minute documentary here (warning: there is profanity in both). Viewers can also check out his transformation into Rodney King.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: (Top) Yannick “Thurzday” Koffi. Credit: Ed Cañas. (Bottom) Thurz poses with a poster of himself as Rodney King. Credit: Screenshot taken from Koffi's short film.