On April 29, 1992, four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of their use of excessive force on Rodney King, a black man whose life-threatening assault at the hands of the mostly white officers was videotaped and shown on news stations all over the country. That same day, protestors in Los Angeles turned to looting, arson, and extreme violence, targeting people based on their ethnicity. Over the course of several days, 53 people were killed and thousands were injured, until the involvement of the National Guard and curfew hours allowed police to regain control of the city.
Inspired by these events and his own frustration with them, Bradley Nowell, singer and songwriter for the group Sublime, wrote “April 29, 1992” in 1996. His lyrics describe a society with complete lawlessness, where there is no fear of punishment. He tells us about the crimes he and others are committing with a certain pride: “You were sitting home watching your T.V. / While I was participating in some anarchy /… Next stop we hitted was the music shop / It only took one brick to make that window drop…”
He goes on to tell us about the various stores he’s robbed with ease, but his tone quickly turns to that of frustration when he explains the reason for all the chaos “Cuz’ everybody in the ‘hood has had it up to here / It’s getting harder and harder each and every year /… It’s about comin’ up / And staying on top…” Further lyrics suggest that in his society, he sees people of all different races coming together and uniting under a common cause: to continue rioting and focus their violence towards the police.
The song finishes by urging other cities all over America start their own acts of anarchy, calling “Let it burn / Let it burn… Riots on the streets of Chicago / On the streets of Long Beach / And San Francisco…”