The Legendary K.O. — “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”

Released: 9.6.05

Peak: Did not chart

What was I saying about protest songs again? If Iraq demanded a pop response in keeping with precedent — wars create anti-war songs — the Katrina disaster demanded a response because it was unprecedented. Not entirely, of course — as the resurrection of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana, 1927” reminded us, New Orleans had already gone through so much of this, including the not-quite-paranoid fear that outsiders were abetting nature’s havoc. But we’d never watched a major U.S. city disappear on national television before, or seen so many black American faces almost literally washed away.

Looking back, what was so remarkable about Kanye’s notorious, unscripted on-air speech was how little it tracked with the typical rant. Rather than confidently striking the time-honored notes of indignation we expect from African-American spokespeople, Kanye’s words were nervous and frightened, leaving logical blanks for sympathetic listeners to fill in. He builds slowly, scolding the media for disproportionately accusing black families of looting, noting the resources deployed overseas that could have gone to help fellow citizens, recognizing his own complicity. By the time he blurts the only line we remember — “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” — it’s less a smug accusation than a reluctant conclusion based on what he’s witnessed.

As remixed by the Legendary K.O., “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” struck a less emotional tone. Kanye’s original statement is truncated to the more rhythmically pliable “George Bush don’t like black people” by a couple fed-up guys who’ve sound as though they’ve seen all this shit before. These MCs only wish they could be shocked by the fate they recount in sharp detail. Their recycled hook implies that politicians are the ultimate “gold diggers,” too busy sucking up to corporate interests to bother with the job entrusted to them. And the climatic taunt of “Come down Bush, come on, come down” is just plain nasty.

There were other Katrina protests — Public Enemy’s “Hell No We Ain’t All Right” was angrier, and maybe smarter, more specifically linking federal disinterest to a preoccupation with overseas adventures. But if Dem Knock-Out Boyz are just serviceable rappers up against Chuck D (or Kanye, for that matter), their world-weariness seemed like the next step past shock that the black community would inevitably take, That resignation in their voices, echoing a belief that whites think that “niggaz … used to dyin’,” contextualizes Katrina not as an unfortunate one-off, but as the latest chapter in a long, traumatic history.

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