Yo Dre, I got something to say
The first time I heard NWA was 1989 when I was a senior in high school. My musical tastes were and still are deeply rooted in the metal and hardcore underground, but when NWA’s Straight Outta Compton came my way and I was told “you have to give this a listen”, I did just that. “Straight Outta Compton, crazy muthafucka named Ice Cube, in a gang called Niggas With Attitude.” When I heard that first line I thought I got punched in the face, it hits you that hard. This was like nothing I ever heard before. I listened to Run DMC, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys, but this was something totally different. These guys were saying fuck and nigga and talking about AKs and bitches, I never heard anything like it before.
I was just some white boy suburban teenager from NJ, I didn’t know where Compton was, but this place sounded dangerous. After you tried to catch your breath from that first song, they hit you in the gut again with their second track, “Fuck Tha Police.” Growing up listening to Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and the like, I heard plenty of songs against police. Even MDC sang “Kill All the Cops”, but somehow Fuck The Police came across more like an anthem and there you were down on the floor again trying to catch your breath. NWA was listed as the most dangerous group in America and they sounded it. Even though NWA introduced gangsta rap to the masses, to me they were never too far from punk rock. They were fed up with what was around them and they sang about it. They broke away from the establishment, what was safe, they screamed for change. Just like punk rock. I loved NWA, I still do, though I felt that they were never the same once Ice Cube left. I followed Ice Cube’s solo career as well as when Dr. Dre released the powerhouse “The Chronic” and I still proudly wear my NWA shirt to this day.
I always admired Ice Cube. This muthafucka could arch his eyebrows and put on a scary face that would make even Jason or Freddy think twice about raising a knife to him. He was the main lyrical writer in NWA and left the group at the height of their popularity over royalty disputes and launched a successful solo career, as well as became a great actor in his debut role as Doughboy in Boyz in da Hood. By the time he rolled out the movie Friday he definitely showed there was nothing he couldn’t do. Here was a guy who said “Fuck Tha Police” and was “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”, and now everyone loved him in “Are We There Yet?” He did a complete 180 with his career yet to me somehow kept his street cred. I always respected that. The same thing happened with Dr. Dre. The man walked away from Suge Knight and Deathrow records and lived. He launched the superstar careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent and if that wasn’t enough, he sold his Beats business to Apple for $3 billion. But how did this all start?
I had heard the rumors for years about an NWA movie. It wasn’t until I heard Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were producing and Ice Cube’s son was actually portraying him in the movie did I start to get excited. When I saw the first trailer that showed Cube and Dre together driving back in their old Compton neighborhood talking to the kids and the kids telling them how important NWA was to them, did I start to get chills. With a street date of August 14, this became my most anticipated movie of the year to see. You can keep your Star Wars crap, my ass is coming Straight Outta Compton.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, who got his directorial debut with Ice Cube’s first feature film “Friday”, he later went on to direct “The Negotiator,” “The Italian Job,” and “Be Cool” most notably. His talent as a director really shines in handling this biopic about five guys who revolutionized music forever. The story starts out with Eric Wright aka Eazy E, a local street hustler who has had one too many close calls with the law and is looking to move on to other things. E’s friend Andre Young aka Dr. Dre is a DJ with a new sound looking for his break. Dre and DJ yella are DJing at a night club where they bring out their friend Ice Cube (played by Ice Cube’s real life son in probably the best casting role of all time) who does a rap in his own style talking about the reality of the streets of Compton. Dre convinces Eazy to invest his money in the studio with him and are going to get this hot group from NY to sing Ice Cube’s rhymes. When the NY group, HBO, shows up, they refuse to sing Cube’s song “Boyz in Da Hood.” They didn’t understand about their neighborhood, Compton in South Central LA. Dre and Cube convince Eazy E to just rap the song himself. Thus Eazy E’s label Ruthless Records was born and from that NWA, which now consists of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella.
What was being billed as Reality Rap and later Gangsta Rap, NWA’s first album Straight Outta Compton took the world by storm. The movie shows the success of their tours, hotel parties and run-ins with the police, while later receiving a threatening letter from the FBI. At this point the scope of the movie really comes alive. In most biopic movies there is usually just one member of the band that stands out the most and has an interesting life. But in Straight Outta Compton you have three: Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy E. The film really did a good job of keeping up with everyone’s lives throughout their split with NWA. I was honestly a little surprised how much of Eazy E was shown in the movie, but I suppose when Cube and Dre split, E was still trying to carry the name on.
After the short 2 1/2 hour running time of the film, (which completely blows by) it begins how it ends with Dre telling you, “You are about to witness the strength of Street Knowledge”. The credits roll and very cleverly they bring you up to speed with how far Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have come in their careers from where they started from on the streets of Compton. Very rarely do you see a biopic featuring people who are either still alive or still relevant today. Straight Outta Compton takes you on journey, a journey of five guys who grew up on the streets of crime ridden Compton in Southern LA and rose to fame and fortune and even dinner at the white house. If you weren’t a fan before, you will be by the end, and if not you will at least be inspired by all they had accomplished, why they did what they did, why they said “Fuck Da Police” and why the world needed to hear what they had to say. NWA brought the problems of the streets and their neighborhood to the front door of America and let them know, there are problems, they exist even if you choose to ignore them. No one would ever know where Compton is if it were not for NWA. But above it all, beyond the reality rap or the gangsta image, NWA’s message was, as their only video that was allowed to be aired on MTV titled, “Express Yourself”. And that is what NWA did.
This is one of those movies that really charged me up after seeing it and hours after it resinated I realized I want to go see it again. I am looking forward to the Andre 3000 led Jimi Hendrix biopic, but only the possibility of the Scorsese directed Ramones feature could get me more excited than I was about this film. Yes some stuff was left out I am sure, and it may have fluffed it up a bit how close they were, because shit definitely got brutal when they dissed each other on their solo records. But ultimately this movie was not supposed to dig up the dirt and the negativity, it was supposed to show the fun that five guys had discovering and making music together and that is where this film is at it’s strongest. Here we are in August, and so far this is my favorite movie of the year.