The Sound of the L.A. Riots

KCRW DJ and culture critic Garth Trinidad commemorates the civil unrest of 1992 with an eclectic playlist

These tracks were in heavy rotation during my senior year of high school and early college exploits. They represent a composite of a culturally rich, diverse Los Angeles as seen and heard through my emotional experiences surrounding the L.A. riots, and they laid an early foundation for what would become my style of programming as a DJ.

“Jump n Move” ft. Jamalski (1992)

The night of the riots, Los Angeles DJ Marques Wyatt headed to New York to help oversee the Brand New Heavies funk-rap album Heavy Rhyme Experience. Looking down at L.A. while taking off, he could see the fires. “Jump n Move” can be heard in the film Happy Feet.

“Color Blind” ft. Deadly Threat, Kam, The Madd Circle, King Tee, J-Dee (1991)

Before Ice Cube dropped The Predator in late ‘92, I was obsessed with his ‘91 release, Death Certificate. As a high school senior who dared to dream, this track gave me hope.

“Stop Funk’n With My Head” (1991)

Infectious Grooves was a funk-rock side project by Mike Muir of legendary L.A. thrash band Suicidal Tendencies. This song became my own personal message to the media.

“Give It Away” (1991)

A lifelong fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers, the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik further solidified my love for their sound. I broke my Datsun’s cassette deck with all the power finger rewinds on “Give It Away.”

“Pressure” (1991)

Fishbone is one of L.A.’s greatest musical treasures. Their forays into progressive punk-funk laid the foundation for countless bands that followed. The sweet soul and savage speed of this post-ska banger mirrored the powder-keg like atmosphere of L.A. at the time.

“Cop Killer” (1992)

Ice T was a central figure during the riots, on the streets and in the news, constantly fielding questions about his perspective. What Ice simply called a protest song became one of the great American controversies regarding First Amendment rights.

“Duck Down” (1992)

Boogie Down Productions’ Sex and Violence remains one of my favorite hip hop albums. As a young black man, I was never one to join in coastal segregation. With that in mind, this track was anthemic for the riots.

“Unfinished Sympathy” ft. Shara Nelson (1991)

Massive Attack’s 1991 debut Blue Lines featured this song, which to this day is one of my all time favorites. The range of emotion produced by the tempo, chord structure, strings, percussion, and Shara’s haunting vocals were like nothing I’d ever heard.

“Papua New Guinea” (1992)

Current KCRW music director Jason Bentley had this in heavy rotation during the formative years of his groundbreaking music program, Metropolis. This mind-boggling cut by The Future Sound of London was featured on the soundtrack to the film Cool World.

“Kiss Them For Me” (1991)

This Siouxsie and The Banshees cut was a major hit at Family Fitness back in my “hey babe, look at my pecs” days. I thought their sampling of Schooly D’s classic P.S.K. was extremely fresh.

“Twisted” (1992)

Neneh Cherry was one of my high school crushes. This track spoke directly to my worldview at the time with a dope beat behind it.

“Little Wing” (1991)

My dad turned me on to Jimi Hendrix in the ‘80s. My friends and I were shopping for CDs and scoping out females at the newly opened Virgin Megastore on Sunset when I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of “Little Wing.” It blew my mind.

“When You Gonna Learn” (1992 single)

Jamiroquai’s first single was the sound of young, bohemian, post-riot L.A. coming back together. It made me aware of soul music being an international commodity.

“Survivor” (1992)

Mr. Fingers, aka Larry Heard, is one of the godfathers of deep house. This mid tempo groover was evocative of the more positive sentiment that some Angelenos felt when efforts arose to rebuild parts of the community affected by the riots.

“Mystery” (1992)

Although well aware of Miles Davis, this started my relationship with his music. From his final recording, a fusion of jazz and hip hop produced by the young, up-and-coming Easy Mo Bee, “Mystery” put me in a trance-like state.