Straight Outta Compton
What were Americans listening to in 1988? Nothing good, I’m afraid.
The singles charts was dominated by bland pop stars like Steve Winwood and George Michael. The top-selling rock albums were by artless bores like Def Leppard and Van Halen.
Meanwhile, 11-year-old Max was listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic. That is until my school friend Nathaniel gave me a cassette copy of Straight Outta Compton by the rap group N.W.A.
My taste – and the world’s taste – in music was forever changed for the better.
N.W.A. reinvented the genre of hip hop. Their brand of gangsta’ rap was defiantly black music made for an inner city audience. Their stories of crack dealing, street hustling, and gun violence were completely alien to suburban white kids.
But the music was so danceable and the lyrics were so intelligent that no open-minded listener could deny N.W.A.’s greatness.
The surprise blockbuster “Straight Outta Compton” begins with artistically driven music producer Dr. Dre trying to cut his first record. His friend Ice Cube wrote the lyrics and his drug dealer pal Eazy E supplied the cash. When the talent Dr. Dre lined up quit on him, the neighborhood buddies were forced to do the rapping themselves.
While taking a break outside the studio, N.W.A. was harassed and humiliated by a quartet of cops who didn’t believe that the black teenagers were there to legitimately work. This incident inspired Ice Cube to write the group’s most memorable and infamous song: “F— the Police.”
The profane track struck an immediate chord with the black community. And it educated a generation of young white Americans – like me – that consequence-free police brutality was an epidemic in our country. After N.W.A., you had to be an ideological ostrich to deny that racism is still a problem.
Like most music biopics, the first half the film is exciting and uplifting and the second half is slow and depressing. Way too much of the 2 1/2 hour running time is spent showing how duplicitous manager Jerry Heller tore the group the apart for his own profit.
As important as I think N.W.A. is to music history, I don’t suggest that you go see the movie tonight. I’d wait until it comes out on Netflix so you can watch the fun first hour and skip the rest.
And, truly, I don’t think the influence that Eazy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre had on rap music can be overemphasized. It’s no coincidence that Snoop Dogg and Eminem became rap megastars and brought hip hop to the masses while under the tutelage of Dr. Dre.
Nearly 30 years later, N.W.A. still sounds amazing. In contrast, of all the artists I mentioned in my 1988 introduction, there’s only one who is still relevant: Weird Al. And that’s only because he got really good at rapping.