N.W.A., one of the most influential rap groups of all time, truly pushed the boundaries of what can be said on the mic. Made up of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella, the “World’s Most Dangerous Group” left a lasting legacy that still resonates with today’s hip-hop world and society as a whole.
Their phenomenal 1988 debut album, “Straight Outta Compton,” didn’t shy away from heavy themes. It tackled gang life, drug addiction, poverty, and injustices with the law head on. So when I heard there was going to be a movie based on N.W.A., there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be powerful.
Watching the film, also named “Straight Outta Compton,” I knew hip-hop aficionados like myself would enjoy its portrayal of our favorite hip-hop giants. They are the artists we’ve grown to appreciate as we’ve rapped out loud, word for word, their smash single, “Straight Outta Compton” countless times.
The actors portraying the N.W.A. titans were each phenomenal, but one definitely stood out: Jason Mitchell’s portrayal of “The Godfather of Gangsta Rap,” Eazy-E.
His performance was so convincing, I truly believed that Eazy-E was still alive. I couldn’t help but shed tears during the scenes of his untimely death from HIV complications. It completely ripped my heart out.
“Eazy’s character was easily the best,” said 20-year-old Ivan Ruelas, a student at California State University-Long Beach who was part of a packed audience on the film’s opening weekend in Long Beach. “He’s just like I’d imagined him to be and his mannerisms were dope.”
Another character who stood out to me was O’Shea Jackson Jr., who portrayed his real-life father Ice Cube in the movie. Like Eazy-E, Jackson Jr. radiated with gangster charisma throughout each of his scenes.
The film had several movie clichés, including the demonizing of the LAPD, which is always prevalent in “hood movies” such as “Boyz n the Hood.” Then you have Yella embodying that typical funny guy you see in nearly every movie. I know he’s an important part of the group’s production side, but the movie failed to acknowledge that.
As an Eazy-E fan, I was quite disappointed to see the film leave out the beef he had with Dr. Dre after Dre moved on to Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre and Long Beach’s own Snoop Doggy Dogg took shots at Eazy throughout Dr. Dre’s debut 1992 album, “The Chronic.” Eazy fired back with the appropriately titled, “It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa” in 1993. On this album, Eazy-E collaborates with B.G. Knocc Out and brother Dresta to diss Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg with the quintessential West Coast diss record, “Real Muthaphukkin G’s.”
As a fan of both respective N.W.A. members it would’ve been great to include this time period where hatred was deeply ingrained on both record labels. Perhaps my wishful thinking will come true on the Death Row sequel to “Straight Outta Compton.”
Despite these cliches, the film still captivated me and those in my theater as we rapped along to our favorite songs through the course of its 150-minute running time. And though the events in the film “Straight Outta Compton” might have occurred over 20 years ago, they no doubt will remind viewers of conversations taking place across the country right now.
Much of the film’s backdrop is Los Angeles set ablaze during the Rodney King riots. The filmmakers depict N.W.A. as the megaphone for a voiceless generation of underprivileged minorities, often caught in brutal rumbles with police.
Earlier this year, we saw Ferguson, Missouri explode into riots in response to the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown. Much of the black community and others rallied fiercely in New York, Baltimore, and across the country in response to other instances of police violence in those cities.
“There is a heightened media engagement around police brutality in our current moment,” said Dr. Oliver Wang, a CSULB Sociology professor and hip-hop scholar, by e-mail. “But sadly, this film could have come out at any time and it probably would have seemed ‘timely’ in terms of tapping into people’s anger and frustration with police abuses.”
So perhaps “Straight Outta Compton” would have been relevant regardless of when it came out. It is disappointing knowing that tensions between civilians and police are still a timeless topic.
N.W.A. harnessed this tension when they wrote, “F**k Tha Police,” which Rolling Stone considers one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Armed with aggressive lyrics and political overtones, N.W.A.’s message does not fit in well with today’s cheery radio hits.
According to Dr. Wang, “Hip-hop didn’t begin as an explicitly political genre; it was a party music that gradually evolved to include many other forms of expression. N.W.A. was a vital part of that evolution.”
Despite the many tragedies depicted in the film, “Straight Outta Compton” encompasses the dreams of many people living in ghettos using music as a means to stability and eventually wealth and fame.
Moviegoers witness N.W.A. gain overnight success, its members coming from the same neighborhoods and dealing with the same struggles. It was flat out inspiring to watch the group start from humble beginnings to then dominating the charts. It definitely has inspired me to improve my craft!
Ruelas, the Long Beach student, says he saw the film three times within a week–just one of the many fans helping “Straight Outta Compton” become a box-office hit in its opening weekend. Clearly the group’s legacy has yet to fade.
“The movie made me appreciate [N.W.A.’s] rise to fame and how they all worked together to make music that I love,” said Ruelas.
Even for non-fans of N.W.A. or hip-hop as a whole, the movie explains everything you need to know before you eventually “witness the strength of street knowledge.”