That's the sound of da police!
That's the sound of the beast!
KRS-One sets the song up with his now-famous "woop-woop" imitation of a police siren.
He starts by drawing a clear line in the sand, calling the police "the beast" and setting them up as the song's bad guys. The beast is now well-known slang for police, but The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English suggests a West Indian origin for the term.
Interestingly, KRS-One was born in Brooklyn in 1965 to Jamaican parents and raised by his mother. The Bronx in the 1970s was a major site for Jamaican immigration, as well as the source of the earliest hip-hop; KRS left home in his mid-teens and ended up living in the Bronx.
By 1993, when KRS released "Sound of Da Police," the integration of Jamaican sounds and Jamaican slang into hip-hop was a done deal, promoted in part by KRS' own earlier albums with Boogie Down Productions. "The beast" as a term for police may partially have been popularized by this very song.
Stand clear! Don man a-talk
"Don" is an Italian word that is roughly equivalent to "Sir," but the term is probably best known in the U.S. for its appearance in mobster movies.
In the mobster-movie context, "the Don" is the head of the family, and Don is an honorific title used to address him (the most famous of these is probably Marlon Brando's performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather.)
KRS suggests that the officer yelling "Stand clear!" is trying to act like he's the big boss.
I know this for a fact, you don't like how I act
You claim I'm sellin' crack
But you be doin that
Racial profiling has always been a controversial issue in law enforcement, but the crack-cocaine epidemic brought even more attention to it.
When crack hit the inner cities, Ronald Reagan's "War on Drugs"—a set of policies to combat the drug trade in Latin America and crack down on drug use in the U.S.—was already underway. Policing in the areas most heavily affected by crack increased.
Because community members who were not involved in illegal activity sometimes faced suspicion, and at times even violence, by police, distrust of law enforcement grew during this period. KRS-One grew up around this distrust and reflects it back in pretty much every line of this song.
Be a officer? You wicked overseer!
KRS-One takes us into his view of history here.
By 1993, KRS-One was also going by the name The Teacher. Some fans loved the new persona, but he was also known for giving reporters didactic lectures and for a certain political arrogance.
Here, he compares being a police officer to being a slave overseer, a comparison that may seem extreme. KRS has a historical point to make here, though: for Blacks in the U.S., the history of policing is inextricably tied to the history of slavery.
Black Africans who came to the early U.S. typically entered this country without any legal rights; slave laws legalized abuses as intense as murder for slave masters, while restricting virtually all human rights of slaves. Even after the official end of slavery in the U.S., Jim Crow segregation laws continued the close regulation of freedoms for African Americans.
There could never really be justice on stolen land
"No justice on stolen land." Does that phrase ring a bell?
"No justice on stolen land" was one of the phrases used by President Obama's short-lived environmental czar Van Jones, who was pushed out of his position after a flurry of conservative backlash and a minor media circus in 2009.
Jones, an environmental activist, had promoted land rights for Native Americans in a speech, saying, "We owe them a debt… No justice on stolen land."
Neither his phraseology nor KRS-One's is original. We don't know the origin of the phrase, but for the last few decades it has been used as a stock activists' statement promoting Native American rights. The phrase highlights the track record of broken treaties and forceful displacement that led to the foundation of the United States on land once occupied by hundreds of sovereign indigenous tribes.