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Twenty years ago today, former NFL great O.J. Simpson led police on a wild, low-speed chase in a white Ford Bronco. It was a dramatic prelude to the “trial of the century,” and one of the most famous moments in television history. The case and Simpson’s current situation (serving a 33-year prison term for unrelated crimes) remain unforgettable for anyone old enough to have witnessed them. Wale, an avid sports fan and cultural observer, is one of those people, and a six-and-a-half-year-old song he recorded about Simpson’s hubris and demise is especially relevant today.
In late 2007, Wale borrowed the beat for Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” to riff on a few issues that, while germane to the African-American community, were also huge national stories. One of them was Simpson’s September 2007 arrest for stealing sports memorabilia that he claimed were his at a Las Vegas hotel. Twelve years prior, Simpson was acquitted for the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman, thanks largely to the wizardry of Johnnie Cochran. How could he be foolish enough to place his fate in a jury’s hands once again? Speaking for the dumbfounded masses, Wale wondered the same:
“I do believe in pros and cons/Look at O.J. from pro to con/Then con to cool/Then cool to fool/Goddamit Juice, we was rootin’ for you”
The last point Wale makes—-the notion that Simpson had earned so much support, then pissed it away due to an unchecked ego—-is why his second arrest was so frustrating. Simpson was supposed to be this fallen hero who rose from the ashes, but ultimately proved to be a man whose celebrity made him feel above consequence. Wale’s O.J.-specific verse also highlighted a larger issue present within the black community: the immediate rush to defend our own, facts be damned.
“What you did is had us pray for you, and root for you/Minorities, the truth never worries us/See, we can play the race card/We can start a race war”
As a black man roughly the same age as Wale, I relate to his assessment. The Las Vegas arrest was a slap in the face to everyone who defended Simpson during the murder trial, a moment that created a vast racial divide in America. His advocates felt silly, as Simpson’s actions weakened many arguments about the struggles of the black male. For Wale and myself, O.J. had just made it that much harder for us.
“So thanks O.J. for proving them right/No more prayers, and no more kites/No more tales of a black man’s plight/I just had an epiphany, a flashing light”
On Oct. 3, 2008—-13 years to the day of his acquittal—-Simpson was convicted on all charges stemming from the robbery. After dodging prison following the most controversial, racially-charged trial in history, Simpson now calls a Las Vegas correctional facility—-where he’ll most likely die—-home. The vicious circle of life came for Simpson, and Cochran, who passed away in 2005, wasn’t there to save him. There was no one else to blame; it was all on him. Twenty years after his world first came crashing down, I have no sympathy for O.J. Simpson. Neither does Wale.