The Genius. The Poet. The Hustler and most importantly, the music…
“Rap is not an art” in the mid 1980’s the title of “art” was only reserved for ‘classics’ such as Mozart and Chopan or Rock n’ Rollers like The Beatles or Rolling Stones, in other words created by white people. So certainly anything that came out of the streets of inner city LA, by black people rapping about the black experience; that often concerned with police harassment, gang violence and murder, was very far from the preconceived notion of what art was. But the world knows now that rap is in fact a art form and for me personally the greatest music art form there is; rap combines the beautiful imagery of poetry, the drama of a theater play and the power to change thought like a political speech. And now in the world today, rap artist stand at the very forefront of the music industry and their music is always shaping and changing the zeitgeist of our generation. But it would be hard to image if rap would have come this far if it wasn’t for a certain rap group and three very important members.
“Crusing down the street in my 6’4″…From the very instant Easy E uttered those historical lines, in his usual high pitched yet explosive mix of charisma and laid back cool, you knew instantly you were about to witness something very special, however NWA still felt like just another music group. “You’re now witnessing the power of street knowledge”…Subsequently It was only until the powerful and brutishly honest lyrics of Straight outta Compton screamed in your face that you realised, NWA wasn’t just another rap group to disappear down the alley ways of music history. NWA were the revolution that would change the rap and music game forever and cement Ice Cube, Easy E and Dr. Dre’s names in the history books.
Cinema has seen previous rap stars given the big screen treatment; Biggie Smalls in Notorious, Eminiem in 8 mile and 50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Trying. But Straight outta Compton and its director Felix Gary Gray sets itself apart by being the first biopic to be about a rap group and the first rap biopic to explore the social/political waves of NWA’s music and the emotional roller coaster of the rag to riches story gone horribly wrong for some of its members. It’s 1986 and in separate parts of Compton, California; Eric Lynn Wright (Jason Mitchell) is barley surviving the chaotic existence of a street life in the froes of violence and drugs, the only way he knows how, by hustling. O’Shea Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) wants to use his words to escape the menace of the’Bloods’ terriorising his neighborhood. While Andre Young (Corey Hawkins) is struggling to prove that both him and rap music have a bright future ahead of them.
Call it destiny, all 9 planets aligning or just plain coincident, but Andre Young in lists the help of Eric as financial support, O’Shea and Lorenzo Patterson as the writers and fellow DJ Antoine Carraby to help him produce in a new rap collective. But at first Andre finds it difficult to find the right rappers to create the sound he in visioned in his head. Vastly running out of ideas Andre urges a reluctant Eric to rap on the track ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood’, believing he lives the street life personified in the lyrics. Eric is the very embodiment of the charisma and laid back cool I was alluding to before. Eric stuns everyone in the room, quickly promoting them to gain the aliases of Easy E (Eric), Ice Cube (O’Shea), Dr.Dre (Andre), Mc Ren (Lorenzo), DJ Yella (Anotine) and call themselves NWA (N**** With Attitude). Easy E quickly attracts the interests of music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamantti) and he agrees to manage NWA and places Easy as the manager and leader. With his help the group get signed by Priority Records, who give them the resources to record the seminal album Straight outta Compton. The album explodes all over America and launches the group into the spotlight.
“Speak a little truth and people lose there minds”. However the smooth ride to success reaches shaker grounds when Jerry refuses to give the rest of the group except for Easy E contracts. Meaning while Easy is drinking champagne and eating caviar the rest are on Dr Pepper and hamburgers, causing fault lines between the group to emerge. Unwanted attention from the FBI also arises after the song F*** Police in a form of social activism was released, after the group see the injustice of the unarmed Rodney King beating by police officers. However soon the fault lines turn into a full on earth quake causing the group to split; Ice Cube goes solo, Dr. Dre joins Suge Knight at Death Row Records and Easy E is left to battle a serious illness while his empire collapses around him.
F. Gary Gray’s Straight outta Compton can be described using the very first scene as vocabulary, the scene with Easy E in the trap house quickly escalates from simple drug exchange, to Easy E running from both the cops and miniature tank and a drug dealer with a shoot gun. From then on Straight outta Compton embodies the very rap music its based on by moving rapidly and injecting every scene with energy, aggression and pathos. Gray also doesn’t hesitate to show the brutality of the streets, when a young Ice Cube witnesses a car filled with blood gang members, stop the school bus he is on and threaten the teens on the bus with murder, simply because they were making Krip gang signs out the window. Racial profiling by the LAPD when a police car randomly pulls in front of NWA on a street corner, despite innocently taking a break from recording and stepping outside. The police then forcibly make NWA lie on the ground ready for arrest merely because they assume they look like gangsters, only a angered Jerry Heller is able to intervene and stop from being sent to prison. But the most outstanding scenes in the film are the ones where you see the group on stage or the appearances of Snopp Dogg and Tupac, because these scenes remind you of the legend that was NWA and the illustrious history of rap music and the true talent and genius it gave to the world.
The most outstanding performances belonged to Jason Mitchell as Easy E and Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre; Mitchell was electrifying and brought a spark of comedic gold every time he stepped on screen, while Hawkins provided a measured and controlled balance to the pair.
However unfortunately F. Gary Gray left a lot of NWA’s life unexplored, for example Ice Cube is relegated into the role of third wheel in the film and the context to his powerful lyrics were never shown. It was also never deconstructed why Dr.Dre joined up with Suge Knight and what Suge’s motivation behind his violent behavior and reckless life style. But the most blatant critic of the film would be the omission of any prominent female characters, especially the likes of J.J. Fad who were actually a big influence in NWA’s road to success. But for me, despite the some slight concerns over the film, Gray still manages to give Straight outta Compton a jolt of truth and creates a compelling insight into the birth of the golden era of rap thanks to the hands of NWA.
NWA cited by the media as the “The worlds most dangerous group” and regarded by others as glorifies of gangs and violence. NWA stands as undoubtedly my favorite music group ever, because despite the negative image unfairly thrust upon them. NWA for me represented a voice to the voiceless black experience in America of the mid 80s. Sure some of the things they rapped about were clearly intended to be controversial and provocative, but it was for this very reason that their lyrics were so potent, honest and eye opening to the injustice being served up against them in a political and social system that treated them like second class citizens. Simply put, their voices changed the world.
“You’re now witnessing the power of street knowledge”