Nowadays, O. J. Simpson is mostly remembered for the obvious reasons: controversial accused killer, Johnny Cochran’s “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” Kardashian courtroom drama. But the reason the case became a national phenomenon in the first place was due to O. J.’s already astronomical fame as an athlete, actor, and advertising pitchman. Playing for USC and the Buffalo Bills, Simpson accumulated a laundry list of trophies and accolades over his 10-year career, including the Heisman and various MVPs. The Juice still ranks among the all-time leaders in rushing yards. He represented the all-American athlete, the original archetype of massive celebrity stardom we see in today’s NBA back when public interest in professional football was stronger than basketball.
As pointed out in Who Got The Juice? The O. J. Simpson Trial 20 Years Later, a new documentary from Mass Appeal’s own Sacha Jenkins SHR that premiered last night on BET, O. J. was “Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan.” The film takes a fresh look at the trial of the century, which highlighted racial divisions in America, and at O. J.’s complicated relationship with the black community.
How large did O. J. loom in the public imagination? Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar recalls the thrill of seeing an O. J. Simpson doll as a child. Given hip hop’s closely intertwined relationship with popular culture, Mass Appeal decided to take a closer look at the Juice’s representation in hip hop. Before the trial, lyrical references to O. J. were innocuous and laudatory. Chuck D drops a quick “juice on the loose,” Simpson’s football catchphrase, on PE’s classic “Rebel Without a Pause.” While the concept of “having the juice” is usually credited to Tupac Shakur’s ’92 film Juice, there’s a strong case to be made that O. J.’s celebrity popularized ‘juice’ as a slang term. Prior to ’94, Simpson was a handsome, cool, black football star. In short, he was the man.
But, following the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson and a media circus of a trial that unfolded from 1994 and all the way through 1995, public opinion began to turn against O. J. Even though he was acquitted, his football legacy was eclipsed. The juice was no longer on the loose. In a case already filled with racial conflict, public opinion about the verdict was sharply divided along racial lines, to the point where President Clinton was briefed on the possibility of riots prior to the announcement.
Shortly after the slow-motion Bronco chase in 1994, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube dropped “Natural Born Killaz” with Cube pledging “I’m down with Dre like A.C. is down with O. J.” Referring to Al Cowlings, driver of the infamous white Bronco, Cube was moved by the loyalty between two black men under pressure from the L.A.P.D. After the verdict, Tupac used O. J. as a metaphor for freedom on “Picture Me Rollin” with the line “Free like O. J. all day.” Meanwhile Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers, apparently more concerned with O. J. dating outside his race than with his murder charges, called the Juiceman out for “sleeping with the enemy” on the ’96 jawn “Gods, Earths and 85ers.”
From the late ’90s on, any doubt that O. J. was guilty seems to have evaporated within the hip hop community and the culture at large. The O. J. bars from this ear reference him strictly as metaphor for a cold-blooded killer. Two of the more intense and visceral references to the murder come, unsurprisingly, from ’99 Eminem and ’09 Tyler the Creator:
“Me and Marcus Allen went over to see Nicole
When we heard a knock at the door, must have been Ron Gold J
umped behind the door, put the orgy on hold
Killed them both and smeared blood in a white Bronco (we did it)”
—Eminem “Role Model”
“Got stretch marks like she got four kids
Her legs can’t close like the four door hinge Bronco
That O. J. killed the white whores with”
—Tyler, the Creator “Blow”
Honorable mention goes to OJ da Juiceman and Guilty Simpson, both of whom have essentially made careers off these provocative name associations. Despite Guilty naming his first album with Madlib OJ Simpson —a combination via Madlib’s given name, Otis Jackson—there aren’t many actual OJ references in the music. And then, on the other hand, you’ve got Freddie Gibbs.
“Did it on the top flo’ with a light blonde ho, yea
Yeah, I hit it and forget it, bloody murder
OJ in the white Bronco, yeah”
—Freddie Gibbs “Pronto”
Freddie Gibbs’s bars of earlier this year perhaps best encapsulates what O. J.’s legacy has become in the popular imagination: all-star athlete who starts dating white women, then gets away with murder. Few even remember the fact that O. J. later went to jail on a robbery and kidnapping rap.
The fact that O. J.’s history, and all his accomplishments as a black celebrity, have been basically forgotten due to his violent actions, is more than a little tragic. His fame and fortune helped pave the way for the likes of Jordan amd LeBron, yet his legacy boils down to pop culture fodder for 1000 more corny punchlines. Before concluding this retrospective, we must pay tribute to Pusha T for dropping the GOAT O. J. line in all of rap.
“In Virginia, we smirked at the Simpson trial
I mean, yeah the chase was wild
But what’s the fuss about?
See, plenty my partners feelin’ like O. J
Beat murder like the shit is OK,
That’s what our dough say.”
For more O. J. info, be sure to check out Who Got The Juice?! The O. J. Simpson Trial 20 Years Later on BET.