No Reason To Pretend is a weekly column by Stephen Kearse that explores the intersection of hip-hop and pop culture.
“I didn’t join the force to kill people,” declares Bronx beat cop Deke DaSilva in the 1981 film Nighthawks. DaSilva is addressing his superior, Peter Hartman, an Interpol agent teaching counter-terrorism tactics to an NYPD task force. “To combat violence you need greater violence,” Hartman responds. On Nighthawks, the collaborative album by Camu Tao and Cage, DaSilva doesn’t need convincing. Rewritten by Cage and Camu as inveterate dirty cops, DaSilva and his partner Matt Fox are cops on a rampage, the violence never great enough.
The album is replete with car chases, robberies, extortions, planted evidence, bribes, and harassment, all perpetrated, and covered up, by the cops. It’s a thrilling and horrible listen, a product of vivid imaginations, close encounters, and dedicated reading of the NYT crime pages. Unmoored to a narrative, the album consists of scattered vignettes and skits, following DaSilva and Fox as they stalk the streets. Nighthawks is easy to file away as seedy horrorcore or Freaky Friday gangster rap (“What’s more gangster than dirty cops?” a friend asked me when he introduced the album to me), but the album’s real treat is its sly critique of super cops.
Central to this critique are the rote facts of the movie. The film is about two NYPD cops who learn firsthand that terrorists differ from street criminals. Billy Dee Williams and Sylvester Stallone play Fox and DaSilva as gritty but straight, unorthodox but still in line. The focus of the film is how far Fox and DaSilva must bend as they face the reality of terrorism. On the album, the focus is how bent Fox and DaSilva already are and how committed they are to abusing their power. The contrast is stark, but it’s just the beginning.