RFFocus had the opportunity to interview the very charismatic and insightful Lolita Files. Her book Once Upon A Time in Compton spans over twenty years where “gang unit detectives Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd patrolled the streets of Compton. They witnessed the birth and rise of gangsta rap with acts they knew personally, such as N.W.A and D.J. Quik”. So many words can be used to describe Ms. Files, however, we’ll let the interview speak for itself below. Be sure to check out her website at www.LolitaFiles.com and pick up her book Once Upon A Time in Compton available now here!
What is the book Once Upon a Time in Compton about?
It covers the 20 years that former Compton Gang Unit Detective Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd were on the Compton Police Department and then served again as Gang Unit Detectives. For a while, it was just the two of them, these two white guys, in a predominately Black and Brown city and Compton is a small city it’s only 10.2 square miles (there were 55 gangs). You have these two white cops in their African American box and they are policing it and on its face that sounds like the typical ‘White Savior’ story but when I dug deeper and really got to know them and the people of the community they were very respected and very good at what they did. During those 20 years, they were front and center in those moments in Pop Culture. They knew NWA when they were selling tapes out of their trunk at the Compton Flea Market. DJ Quik did an underground song about Tim Brennan, they were front and center on the LA Riots and on the LA Riots Task Force, they were also the cops who investigated the Tupac murder case. Tim Brennan was also on the Biggie Task force. Looking at the arc of everything it was so fascinating and that’s what pulled me in.
So they had a good rapport with people within the neighborhood that they were serving. Dealing with the current climate of everything. How do we restore that rapport?
Their relationship with the people of Compton and the community was so remarkably contrasted to what we’ve been seeing over the past few years regarding how African Americans and People of Color are treated by police. They actually knew the people that they were serving. So much of what we hear now is how people are “policing” their communities. Policing what? You’re supposed to be there to try and fight crime to keep those things to a minimum and to provide a sense of security to people who live in those communities and not to terrify them and that’s what we are seeing now. Now it’s more of a shoot first and never ask any question kind of mindset. That’s scary for me as a black person and for all of us. Something definitely needs to change. Cops first and foremost should know the people they are serving. If you don’t know them they mean nothing to you and it’s so easy to kill them.
So more community instead of policing?
Yes, absolutely I honestly think when cops come in as rookies I don’t think they should carry guns they should go around and get to know the people of the community with Tim and Bobby they knew the mothers they knew the fathers they knew the kids. The gangbangers were not just gangbangers they were someone’s kid. There were instances where they arrested gang members repeatedly and they would go to that gang member’s house and go pick up the mom and drive her to the police station to get her kid and then drive them both back home. Thinking of something like that now it seems unheard of.
That’s crazy I just pictured what you said in my head and I couldn’t imagine it that would never happen nowadays.
It would never happen and I don’t want to say it would never happen because you don’t want to use this blanket assessment of all police but there are these conversations about good cops and bad cops. Well, the good cops should have an accountability where they hold bad cops accountable and say “Hey wait a second why is your first reaction to being afraid for your life when this is a high-risk job, to begin with if your knee jerk reaction is going to grab your gun and shoot”.
Why do you think people are so interested in these stories after all these years?
Because Compton and the people who came from Compton the artists, talent, and Compton itself has impacted the world. People’s lives changed, people were influenced by it, other artists came into being because of the influence of NWA and gangsta rap for better or for worse. Look at the reality of what was happening in these communities and in the streets that came by way of the music and people speaking out about that community it shone a light on it. Compton in itself up having a national outreach and there were so many things that came from this 10.2 square mile area during the drug trade when it was developing with crack cocaine spread from Compton it was coming in from New York, Miami, and South Florida, where I am from, but Compton and the gangs were spreading that through the country. It never gets old.
So do you think the mainstream media does a good job at telling these stories?
You can’t let the mainstream media control the narrative. They’re going to put it in that cliché shoebox of that “urban” existence which they always do with people of color. It’ll be a sound bite or some sort of sensationalism attached to it in a certain way. Instead of just looking at the humanity of the people. The aspects of the community that are relatable to everybody no matter the culture. So the more we can control our narrative the better. Let’s not leave it up to mainstream media.
Do you think someone can love Hip Hop but not love Black Culture? [Laughter] They like to pick and choose what they love about us. It’s very interesting because I wrote a short story a couple of years ago called Appropriate Measures, where a group of White people very wealthy White people got to pay for access to insider stuff about Black culture like learning how to braid hair, how to use certain phrases, how to cook, all kinds of stuff but the cool stuff that the mainstream wants from us but they don’t want to deal with the challenges. Everybody wants the swagger but nobody wants to be marginalized, nobody wants to be profiled by cops, no one wants the negative stuff that comes with being Black. It happens all the time, especially in Hip-Hop. You were saying if people can love hip hop and the music but not love Black folks. We see it all the time. The biggest audience for Hip-Hop has been white people. I was at a restaurant on the corner of Wilshire recently in a pretty mixed neighborhood but this particular corner was African American. A White guy and a White girl in a convertible were blasting hip hop so loud and just kind of sped away to wherever they were going and it looked cool but what happens when you’re pulled over by the cops and when you’re treated like African Americans you have that gun in your face as the first reaction to anything. That’s the part that nobody wants.
What’s the most shocking thing you’ve discovered while doing your research in Compton?
Oh my gosh, there were so many, it happened during my research. There’s a 6 part docu-series named Who Killed Tupac that I’m a part of and I am a producer and I am also featured in the docu-series. I had to go down some serious rabbit holes for that as well. So, I have a lot of shocking stuff. One of the things that shocked me on a guttural level was Tim and Bobby talking about how there used to be this pack of wild dogs that used to roam the streets of Compton back in the 80s and there were so many murders happening between the gangs that they couldn’t handle them fast enough. There would be a murder and a body would be in the streets bleeding and then seconds later there would be guns popping a few blocks over for someone getting retaliation for the murder that just happened. While these bodies would be lying in the streets bleeding and they’re trying to handle the crime scene and the families are on the sides grieving these dogs would burst through the crime scene and start licking the blood up off of these bodies and the imagery of that was so shocking to me. It felt like a Wild West scenario to see these wild dogs bursting in these crime scenes and running up on the bodies almost like vultures. That’s something I can not get out of my head. It still leaves a very vivid image in my head when I think about it.
Did you see the new Tupac movie?
I did. I went to the premiere and I saw some versions of it prior to that. I was involved in some of the marketing for the movie and creating some of the behind the scenes content and doing some of the interviews with the stars, director, and producer. Also, I personally know the lead Demetrius Shipp Jr. who is really talented. Did you see the movie?
No not yet [laughter]. However, I have been hearing a lot of mixed reviews about it. What was your opinion on the movie?
I loved the movie. Tupac’s story in and of itself the fact that it was even made and the fact that they were able to pull enough material in a solid way to tell his story. I mean Tupac lived such an extraordinary life and it was all over so quickly. I thought they did a good job with it and grant it there were parts that I’m sure that had a literary license if you will or dramatic license that was taken. I read that Jada Pinkett took issue with her relationship with Tupac as it was portrayed in the movie, although, she gave big-ups to the people who played her and Tupac. I think the producer LT Hutton wanted to use Tupac’s words to tell that story. So everything they pulled from for the most part was things that Tupac said. They didn’t make up this fictionalized story they pulled from his words and people who knew him. So I think they did a pretty good job. I thought Demetrius Shipp did an excellent job by a certain part of the movie you forgot that he’s there and you really believe you’re looking at Tupac. I’ve seen the movie four times and grant it I have a special relationship with the film and some of the people in it but still I am able to be objective enough, I am very much a cinephile and a critic when it comes to good story telling, and I totally believe he’s Tupac by the end of the movie. To that end, I think that people should see it. I would love to hear what you think after you see it.
What is your responsibility within the culture?
Mmm, I think my responsibility is to tell our stories that don’t get told. Whether it be fictional or non-fictional but tell our stories. So often African Americans are viewed as others. We have the same emotions and the same experiences as everybody. We are all human. I remember growing up and I loved reading. I loved Russian literature and Shakespeare’s my favorite writer. I read so many books that were not written by African American writers and I read so many that were by them and each of those stories I was able to slip into those worlds especially fictionalized worlds. So the same should apply for our stories and not be marginalized this is a “black movie” a “black film” a “black book” this is a black whatever. Our stories are applicable to everyone.
So how do we break out of that? I feel sometimes that we marginalize ourselves.
You know I did something slick with my last book of fiction called Sex, Lies, Murder, Fame and it is now being turned into a movie. The main character is a White guy and he kind of moves through the whole world that deals with publishing and entertainment. It wasn’t me trying to erase or hide my blackness because the characters in the book that are Black are Black but I deliberately did not put my picture on the cover because I wanted the book to be about the book. Now we shouldn’t have to resort to those kinds of things but because the mainstream, Hollywood, and the entertainment world put those labels on us we have to find ways to dismantle those labels or work around them. I also think that success can happen as a juggernaut where you look at Straight Outta Compton where people of all cultures came to see it and it’s as Black as it wants to be.
Final Question: What is your opinion on the current state of Hip-Hop?
Oh wow, coming after we just lost Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Wow. It’s hard. I always have hope for hip hop and I am always for evolution. We can’t just stay stagnant. I don’t always get what’s happening there’s a lot of Trap Music that I love then there are others where I am like what the hell is this? What is it saying? And they get you by a great beat and then before you know it you’re singing along! Then you feel like you fell in love with the song by default. I look at one of the greatest periods of hip hop for me I would say 91-97 there was this Golden era, Tribe Called Quest with The Low-End Theory and Cypress Hill with their first album and Ice Cube with Death Certificate which is one of my favorite albums. Then you had Pac doing what he was doing, Biggie, you had so much great stuff happening in Hip Hop, Nas, all of it. I can’t compare this era now to that. I saw the hope of it with Kanye first two albums and My Dark Twisted Fantasy but I am still on the fence about Kanye I mean he’s so extraordinary to me but then the world of fame pulls in. I don’t know [laughter] if I even answered that question. It’s a giant question mark for me. I love artists like Anderson.Paak who straddle hip hop and R&B I have a lot of hope in that kind of artistry. But I am on the fence about a lot of stuff now.