Sublime: April 29, 1992 (Miami)

‘this fucked up situation, and these fucked up police’
– Sublime (1996)

The police brutality against the African American man Rodney King led to several protest songs. Such as Rodney K. by Willie D., Cop Killer by Body Count, and Rodney King Song by Bob Rivers. With lyrics such as ‘fuck police brutality’, or ‘fuck Rodney King in his ass’ (meant sarcastically), the protest songs are typically against police and condemn their actions against Rodney King. In her Article ‘What a body can do’ the philosopher Elsa Dorlin addresses Rodney King and the existing paradox of self-defence: the more Rodney King defended himself, the more he became an agent of violence and the more he was beaten (Dorlin 2019, 6). However, Dorlin’s politics of self-defence, doesn’t focus on the aftermath of violence.

Instead, I want to focus on the song April 29, 1992 (Miami) of the reggae rock band Sublime, that doesn’t simply criticize the police brutality conflicted on Rodney King, but also address the inequality of black people as a systematic problem. The song describes the band members taken part in the Los Angeles riots of April 29 1992. The band points out that rioting people would not only steal liquor and TV-gear, but also essential needs such as Pampers. Although the band does acknowledge the frustration of poor black people, with lyrics such as:

Cause everybody in the hood has had it up to here It’s getting harder, and harder and harder, each and every year

They also stress that this problem is far more broad and systematic:

But if you look at the street, it wasn’t about Rodney King. And this fucked up situation, and these fucked up police. It’s about coming up and staying on top

The real issue was not about this isolated incident of Rodney King, but police brutality and gap between rich and poor. Sublime’s song evokes the question whether the riots were justified at all.

In her paper ‘Envisioning Abolition Democracy’ Allegra McLeod argues that abolitionist justice challenges existing ideas of legal justice (2019). Abolitionist justice does not focus on individual punishment and remuneration, but rather reparation and reconciliation of the harm done to victims and trying to change ‘the systemic bases of inequality, poverty, and violence’ (McLeod 2019, 1616). This kind of transformative justice focuses on the needs of victims and tries to minimize future harm (McLeod 2019, 1646). In the case of Rodney King, transformative justice is helpful to analyse the context of his experienced harm and provide a way in which this harm can be prevented (McLeod 2019, 1630). This abolitionist approach condemns rioting as a means to ‘justify’ police brutality and would also disapprove of the band members of Sublime partaking in looting.

On the other hand, Sublime’s song can also be seen as an approval of looting to fight the ‘fucked up situation’ that black people are in. In her book In Defense of Looting Vicky Osterweil argues that looting is an effective tool to make a positive change within society. Looting is a way to redistribute property and wealth and an ‘essential tactics in fighting racial capitalism’. (Osterweil 2020, 93). Stealing property is an effective strategy for marginalized groups to get essential needs for life, as well as making a political statement. The BLM supporter Kimberley Jones also supports looting, saying that ‘when the riots happen and if they present an opportunity of looting, that’s their only opportunity to get it.’ (CARJAM TV 2020, 2:10). Thus, looting is a powerful weapon to disrupt the status quo and to elevate the poor and marginalized.

While McLeod reminds us that transformative justice is an interesting abolitionist approach to fight inequality, Osterweil stresses looting as an accessible weapon of marginalized people to fight inequality, which are both possible solutions to the systematic problems Sublime address in their music.

Brenno Mulder


CARJAM TV. ‘#BLM How Can We Win? Kimberly Jones Powerful Speech Video Full Length Black Lives\  Matter #BLM 2020,’ Youtube video, 6:46. June 9, 2020,
Dorlin, Elsa. 2019. ‘What a body can do.’ Translated by Kieran Aarons, Radical Philosophy 205 (Autumn): 3–9.
McLeod, Allegra M. 2019. ‘Envisioning Abolition Democracy.’ Harvard Law Review 132 (Spring): 1613–1649.
Osterweil, Vicky. 2020. In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. New York: Bold Type Books.

Violence and Nonviolence

Missy Higgins: Oh Canada

‘But the body of Alan being laid upon the sand / Tell me how do you live with that?’
– Missy Higgins (2016)

The heart wrenching photograph of the death of the two-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi shifted the attention of the contemporary refugee crisis. Seeing the lifeless body washed ashore moved the public opinion on a fulcrum of grief.

The song Oh Canada of Missy Higgins tries to express this grief through the story of Alan Kurdi. Kurdi’s family fled from the war in Syria and dreamed of making new life in Canada, but due to misfortune most of the family drowned in the Mediterranean sea. The chorus of the song alludes to the dreams of the Kurdi family to reach Canada, sung from the perspective of the father:

Oh Canada, if you can hear me now
Won’t you open up your arms towards the sea?
Oh Canada, if you can help me out
All I ever wanted was a safe place for my family

Higgins states that the song isn’t only about Canada, but any country where refugees seek asylum. Australia for example, has strict refugee laws, going as far to send boats of refugees back (King 2016). Higgins didn’t want to criticize or preach; she just wanted to make sense of her emotions and spread awareness about the way in which other countries deal with refugees, which is explored in the outro:
There’s a million ways to justify your fear
There’s a million ways to measure out your worth
But the body of Alan being laid upon the sand
Tell me how do you live with that?

Notably, there is no strong rhyme between the words ‘sand’ and ‘that’. Higgins is willing to make the last lines less concise to ask the question how countries can live with their xenophobic policies.

This xenophobia towards the migrant is explored in Butler’s chapter ‘The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence’, were they state that this fear comes from the desire to keep Europe ‘white’ and ‘pure’ (Butler 2020). Violence against migrants is justified on the basis of fear for refugees: ‘the violence is state violence, fueled by racism and paranoia, and directed against the migrant population’ (Butler 2020). More importantly, every individual has a certain ‘grievability’, a reasonable basis for how much someone is grieved or mourned. As they state: ‘The thousands of migrants who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean’, just as the life of Alan Kurdi, ‘are precisely lives that are not deemed worthy of safeguarding.’ (Butler 2020). Thus, Alan Kurdi’s life was ungrievable from the start.

But how does Butler’s view coincide with Higgins song? Thousands of listeners grieved Alan and his family. When listening to this harrowing song, even I broke down in tears, especially with the lyric:

I’m not losing everything I love tonight

Of course Alan is grieved by certain people and communities, but only thinking in terms of grieving individuals would make the concept of grievability loss its critical edge. According to Butler, ‘all lives are equally grievable’ (2020, 148). To use the term grievability is to criticize the language of ‘inequality’ deeply rooted in hegemonic discourse. We need a displacement of language to get rid of the cold and rationalist language of inequality. This displacement is useful to criticize the corrupted system that determine which lives are not worthy of grieving. The song Oh Canada can help to spread awareness about refugee policies of countries, and to make lives like that of Alan Kurdi grievable in the future, so that this sort of violence may never happen again.

Brenno Mulder


Butler, Judith. 2020. ‘The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence.’ In The Force of Nonviolence, 103-150. London/New York: Verso.
King, Robin Levinson. 2016. ‘Australian singer Missy Higgins pens song “Oh Canada” in memory of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi.’ Toronto Star, February 19, 2016.

Racial Violence and Representation

Kendrick Lamar: King Kuta

Bitch where you when I was walkin’?
Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta
Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta
Black man taking no losses
– Kendrick Lamar (2015)

 The album To Pimp a Butterfly from the rapper Kendrick Lamar is undoubtedly one of benchmarks in rap history. With rich vocals and instrumentals and socially aware topics, Lamar pulls of an excellent narrative throughout the album. The third track King Kunta evokes a critique on rappers as well as going beyond the visual representation of the black man.

The song provides us with cartoony sound and zany background vocals, and starts off with a rant on fellow rappers. ‘King Kunta’ is a reference to the rebellious slave Kunta Kinte, who was the basis for the 1976 novel and TV series Roots, a story based on fact and fiction. In the story, after failed to escape his plantation for the fourth time, Kunta was given the choice to be castrated or have his right foot cut off. Kunta chose to have his foot cut off, which explains the line of Lamar:

King Kunta / Everybody wanna cut the legs off him

‘King Kunta’ is used by Lamar to criticise the laziness of contemporary rappers who use ghost-writers. ‘Most of y’all sharing bars like you got the bottom bunk in a two man cell.’ As Lamar raps. King Kunta is also in a paradoxical sense a dominant king and an oppressed slave. This refers to how Lamar used to be a unknown rapper from Compton, but now that he is a famous ‘king’, everyone wants to ‘cut the leg off him’; to steal his success. Leaving aside Lamar’s critique on other rappers, I would like to experiment with Lamar’s revival of Kunta Kinte. Should we even reproduce the suffering of Kunta Kinte?

The American writer Saidiya Hartman argues in Scenes of Subjection (2007) that it is impossible to get rid of the reproduction of black suffering entirely, but she still problematizes this reproduction by pointing out the nature of its circulation. On the one hand, the representation of black suffering shows the injustice of other people’s pain. On the other hand, this representation can turn the subject into a commodity, making us ‘voyeurs fascinated’ by the terror and suffering (Hartman 2007, 3). The horrific scene of the amputation of Kunta Kinte’s foot in Roots gives this entertainment a certain pleasure-component. When does this pleasure become problematic? According to Hartman, when the pleasure numbs the spectator, losing empathy towards the subject, and turning him into a passive object (Hartman 2007, 4). Overexposure of a reproduction of racial violence leads to a certain ‘casualness’ towards the violent situation. Rather than to contribute to the endless recitations, Hartman wants to focus on the violence and terror found in the mundane and quotidian.

However, Lamar’s representation of Kunta Kinte does not go into detail of the extreme violence of Kunta’s right foot being cut off. The original film and novel Roots shows explicit violence, combined with screaming and suffering. Instead of showing extreme form of racial violence and amputation, Lamar uses the reference of King Kunta to establish himself as a king that looks down on fake rappers that don’t write their own lyrics. Therefore Hartman would say that Lamar’s mundane use of Kunta Kinte is unproblematic, but the original depiction of Kunta Kinte in film Roots is not.

More interestingly, King Kunta expresses an acoustic dimension that moves beyond verbal meaning. As the poet Fred Moten argues in his book In the Break, music has the power to express the unspeakable (2003). Moten challgenges the notion that music and sound, which he refers to as ‘phonic matter’, is always reducible to verbal meaning. (2003, 6). Phonic matter not only goes beyond verbal epxression, but also asserts the identity of the performer.

In this view, we can see why Lamar refers to Kunta Kinte in his rap. I think that Lamar is not afraid to compare himself with an enslaved person. Lamar identifies himself with Kunta Kinte, acknowledging his history of slavery while simultaneously giving power to the slave as a ‘king’. By calling himself King Kunta, Lamar turns the pejorative connotation around slaves into something positive to be proud of. This shows us how music can sometimes be better than films and series. Hartman and Moten reminds us that the ‘phonic matter’ of Lamar’s King Kunta goes beyond the visual presentation of Roots, by strategically not contributing to overexposure, while at the same time reclaiming the identity of the black man. Images may speak a thousand words, but sound has the power to express the unspeakable.

Brenno Mulder


Hartman, Saidiya. 2007. Scenes of Subjection. Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford University Press, “Introduction”, pp. 3-14.
Moten, Fred. 2003. In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gendered Violence

Nirvana: Rape Me

I’m not the only one
– Kurt Cobain (Nirvana 1993)

When you first listen to the song Rape Me of the Grunge band Nirvana, it may sound like a song that normalizes rape, rather than a weapon to fight the war on women. The first lyrics of the song exemplify this:

Rape me
Rape me, my friend
Rape me
Rape me again

But as the frontman of the band Kurt Cobain pointed out many times: it is actually an anti-rape song. Cobain was frustrated that their listeners did not understand that their previous song Polly was also an anti-rape song. It was about the actual event of a 14-year-old girl being kidnapped, tortured, and raped. Combined with Cobain’s aversion to the media and his dissatisfaction of his listeners, he wrote Rape Me. For me, this song not only stresses the epidemic and systematic nature of violence against women, but also the ambiguous power of the victim to be submitting and mocking to the rapist.

At the beginning of the song we hear the catchy four-chord guitar riffs that reminds us of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Then we hear Cobain singing quite casually ‘rape me’, with variations like hate me’ and ‘waste me’. Combined with the link between rape and violent behaviour, the song creates a beautiful yet haunting aesthetic. With the repeated sentence ‘I’m not the only one’, Cobain reminds us that rape is not a rare phenomenon, it is widespread problem which many people in our society suffer from, or as the sociologist Verónica Gago would put it: there is a war on women’s bodies (2020). In the chapter ‘Violence: Is there a War on and against Women’s Bodies?’ Gago argues that there is an ongoing conflict against women, because of the escalation of deaths and rapes of women, lesbians, and feminized bodies (2020, 56). Why does Gago speak of a ‘war’, instead of a problem? Describing it as a problem would make the issue more neutral and dismissive, rather than admitting the nature of the conflict. Sexual violence is not just the result of individual actions, but the complex relationship between the patriarchy, capitalism, and male dominion. Therefore, sexual violence is not a problem of the private sphere, but rather a war that is an attack on the female body (Gago 2022, 59). Moreover, the political scientist Françoise Vergès indicates rape as a weapon of the state (2022). In the chapter ‘Neoliberal violence’ Vergès states that rape ‘has always been a weapon of war (and of colonial war in particular); there is no colonization, no imperialist occupation without rape.’ (Vergès 2022, 23). Gender-based and sexual violence is used to destroy communities; rape-victims often feel excessive shame and rejection (Vergès 2022, 26).

But where Gago and Vergès argue that sexual violence against women and feminized bodies is a larger war-like conflict reproduced by the patriarchal hegemony, Nirvana’s Rape Me points out the paradoxical position of the victim. In an interview Cobain states: ‘’It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.’’’ In other words, Cobain tries to give the narrator a defiant yet powerful position. The rape-victim paradoxically enough gives consent to being raped. On the one hand, this can be understood as taunting and deceiving. This is true for the story behind Polly, where the victim managed to escape by acting defeated in order to led the rapist’s guard down. On the other hand, it could also be a cry of helplessness. This tension reaches its climax at the end when Cobain painfully screeches ‘rape me’ over and over again to create and ambiance of eruption. These abrasive vocals express the power of the victim to mock the rapist, but at the same time the realization of capitulation.

Thus, while Gago and Vergès provide us with a theoretical framework to see rape as a weapon used in a war fought against women, Nirvana’s Rape Me expresses through the art of music the ambiguity of the victim’s power and helplessness.

Brenno Mulder


Gago, Verónica. ‘Violence: Is there a War on and against Women’s Bodies?’ In Feminist International: How to Change Everything. Translated by Liz Mason-Deese, 56-83. London/New Tork: Verso.

Nirvana. ‘Rape Me.’ Track 2 on In Utero. Geffen Records, 1993.

Vergès, Francoise. 2022. ‘Neoliberal Violence.’ In A Feminist Theory of Violence, 10-34. London: Pluto.

Border Violence

Björk: Earth Intruders

‘We are the earth intruders’  – Björk (2007)

 Music has the power to inspire and emancipate marginalized groups by criticizing the status quo. An example of such music is the song Earth Intruders (2017) by the Icelandic singer Björk, where she uses the pejorative term of ‘intruder’ and turns into a tool for agency and emancipation.

Björk stated in an interview that this is the most chaotic song she has ever written; she tried to adjust her written lyrics in a logical way, but she said ‘it’s just like chaos.’ (Barton 2007). Combined with alien-like synthesizers and a foreign beat, the song gives the impression of strangers coming into an unknown land. The chorus of the song illustrates this ‘army-like’ appearance of the ‘earth intruders’:

Here come the earth intruders
We are the paratroopers
Stampede of sharp shooters
Come straight from voodoo

Björk seems to evoke the fear of the ‘earth intruders’ invading a country. As Harsha Walia writes in her book Border and Rule (2021), quoting Christina Sharpe, ‘that movements of Africans are imagined ‘’as insects, swarms, vectors of diseases’’’. But Björk also uses ‘intruders’ in an empowering way:

Here come the earth intruders
There’ll be no resistance
We are the cannoneers
Necessary voodoo.

By proudly calling themselves ‘earth intruders’, Björk gives a positive connotation to migrants, as many minority groups have done with negative terms. The song evokes the idea that human beings have a natural tendency for wanderlust. In a sense we can say that we are all earth intruders: we all belong to the earth; we all have the right to follow our natural desire to explore the world.

According to the philosopher Immanuel Kant this need – combined with a spherical and finite globe – is the reason why we have a natural right to enter every territory (Di Cesare 2020, 75 -76). For Kant, every human being has the right to hospitality. When foreigners enter another territory, they have the right not to be treated in a hostile way. Moreover, the foreigner opens a new political path to perpetual peace, by challenging the hospitality of democratic states (2020, 76). The acceptance of migrants, means the acknowledgment of a state’s sociability. Combined with Björk’s idea that we are all earth intruders, this opens up a new way to look at borders and territories. If the earth belongs to everyone, and everyone can freely travel between countries, we can imagine new border-free communities. Paradoxically enough then, there exists no earth to be ‘intruded’ at all.

Communities without borders may sound Utopian, but I think we need a different view on territoriality to deal with the contemporary refugee crisis. We should not love nor hate the ‘intruder’, but like Björk, simply acknowledge the natural right and human tendency to wanderlust.

Brenno Mulder


Barton, Laura. 2007. ‘I had a little bit of cabin fever.’ The Guardian, 27 April 2007.

Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. ‘Migrants and the State.’ In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of  Migration, translated by David Broder, 5–77. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Walia, Harsha. 2021. ‘Fortress Europe.’ In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism. Chicago: Haymarket Books.