Though We Still Gang Bang Anyway: A History Lesson Through the Documentary 2/2.5

Written by: Kev Morris

I initially started this piece as an album review. But the content of this body of work prompted me to take this in a different direction. The Game dropped the highly anticipated double album The Documentary 2/2.5 which is a sequel to his 2005 classic release The Documentary. Game’s content has always been marked by LA’s gang culture but he took a much more informative approach this time around. What you get when listening to The Documentary 2/2.5 is not a glorification of gang life but rather insight to the hood politics that dictate the lives of many black and brown youth caught up in LA gang life. Game provides some much needed context to gang bangin’ in LA’s inner city while not falling victim to overstating or sensationalizing what that life is about. Furthermore, he breaks this gang shit down in historical terms that attaches the formation of gangs in Los Angeles to its racial and political roots. The Documentary 2/2.5 is reminiscent of the reporting and storytelling of previous generations of West Coast hip-hop, mainly from rappers like Ice Cube, DJ Quik, and Ice T.

Game has a track on 2.5 entitled “Gang Bang Anyway” featuring Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock that gives an overview of the history of gang bangin’ in LA. More than any other song on this double album, “Gang Bang Anyway” is a perfect entry point into the subject of LA based gang bangin’. It’s important to note that the formation of gangs in Los Angeles was not something that happened in a vacuum but was instead a reaction to real life conditions of racism, police repression, and a counter to the white street gangs as early as the 1950s with gangs like the Spook Hunters. With black street gangs like the Slausons, the Avenues, and the Businessmen formed under the objective of community protection from white street gangs and most importantly from the LAPD, black gangs took on the role of political organizations during the short transition from the Civil Rights era to the Black Power era.

Game correctly points out that these gangs “Started as Black Panthers/everything power/everything pro black/Started off unified the FBI know that”. The Black Power era swept across South Central LA in rapid fashion leaving an indelible mark on the youth of the time. Many of the early gang members from the 1950s had become integral to the success of the Black Power Movement as a whole in LA with people like former Avenue Bunchy Carter assuming a leadership position in the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party. There was also a large percentage of members of the cultural nationalist group, the US Organization that had been former gang members looking to become directly involved with political activism.

However, by the 1970s, the radical political organizations of the sixties had been effectively wiped out through governmental task forces leaving the youth of South Central LA without any viable political base. Gang activity sprang up again however this time the nature of gang life took on a much different character than that of the previous generation. While many of the street gangs looked to the Black Panther Party as models of organization most of the political rhetoric of the sixties didn’t translate to this new generation of bangers.

Another major shift in gang bangin’ came as a result of the 1980s Crack era which saw black and brown youth already economically disenfranchised – in other words they had very few options of stable cash flow – looking to the illicit drug economy as the only viable means of earning money. Gang life was then steeped in a larger political and economic struggle that has reshaped the mobility or lack thereof black and brown youth in South Central, Compton, Inglewood, and Watts experienced.

March 1984, Compton, California, USA --- Members of the Crips in Los Angeles' Compton district flash signs used by their gang. --- Image by © Daniel LainÈ/CORBIS

March 1984, Compton, California, USA — Members of the Crips in Los Angeles’ Compton district flash signs used by their gang. — Image by © Daniel LainÈ/CORBIS

In the track entitled “Summertime”, Game goes in depth about his own bangin’ background but the hook is what is important to understanding the nature of bangin’ in the post-Reagan era. “I think I might bang the whole summertime…” is a very simple yet power line. The summers in Los Angeles since the late 1980s have been marked by gang activity. Without the containment of most bangers inside LA schools from 8am to 3pm fives days out of the week, summers witnessed the bulk of bangers running the streets at all hours of the day. The summer is the testing ground for those looking to establish their reputation and those lookin’ to get put on. Whatever the case, the summertime is contentious time of the year in Los Angeles and it is indicative of where gang bangin’ has gone.

Why is this history important though? I think we can answer that in the context of American society today. There is a clear need for community organization and political participation in communities of color. Although the nature of gang life in LA has taken a sharp turn from its core objective of community protection in the 1950s and 1960s, the very idea of gaining membership in these street gangs speaks to the need youth have for participating in something bigger than themselves. Although many see street gangs as a major problem within communities like South Central, there is a certain political potential these gangs carry that has yet to resurface since the sixties.

The Documentary 2/2.5 did much to shed light on a side of gang life that was informative, yet unapologetic about that lifestyle. But until we try to harness the potential these gangs hold, we’ll continue to see the destructive side that understands the reality of unemployment, burying loved ones, confinement to certain blocks, and the prospects of prison bids because after all, they live it. And in the face of it all they’ll say – we still gang bang anyway

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