If You Like Rap You’ll Like “Straight Outta Compton”
By Skip Sheffield
It’s not easy to write about “Straight Outta Compton.” It starts with the name N.W.A., which is the Los Angeles gangsta rap group chronicled in this movie. The name stands for “N word” With Attitude. We are not supposed to use the N word in polite speech. The N word is all over “Straight Outta Compton. So is the “F word.” It seems no one can put together a sentence without the N or the F word.
If you don’t like rap music you won’t like “Straight Outta Compton.” I will admit up front I don’t much like rap music. To me it’s not really music, but rhymes strung together rapid fire in a boastful, offensive manner. Compton is a very poor area of Los Angeles. It is wracked with violence, crime and police brutality. No wonder its residents have an attitude.
“Straight Outta Compton” chronicles the rise and dissolution of NWA, starting in 1987. The title comes from the group’s 1988 debut album. The group consisted of neighborhood friends O’Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays Ice Cube. Corey Hawkins plays Dr. Dre. Jason Mitchell is Easy-E. Neil Brown, Jr. is DJ Yella. Aldis Hodge is MC Ren and Marlon Yates, Jr. is The D.O.C.
Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were the dominant members of N.W.A., and it is perhaps inevitable there would be a falling out with two such strong personalities. Director F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job”) seems determined to get in every little detail in about N.W.A.’s rise and breakup. The story is credited to three different writers and the screenplay to two more. Perhaps with so many people involved it was inevitable this movie is too long- more than two hours.
While the members of N.W.A. are played as good guys, there are some villains, starting with the Los Angeles Police. It is no secret that L.A. Police were particularly brutal with minorities and suspected gang members. N.W.A. gloried in their anti-police stance, and they were expressing what many black folks were afraid to say.
Record producer Jerry Heller, played by Paul Giamatti, is also painted as a villain for his financial exploitation of the group. Rival rapper and producer Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) is another villain for his strong-arm techniques.
For a group that had such a brief life (Ice Cube left in 1989 and the group dissolved in 1991), N.W.A. has an outsized legacy. I suspect a lot of their bravado and provocative statements about drugs, crime and women, was part of the act. I had the occasion to meet Ice Cube several years ago in Miami and actually he was quite nice, polite and soft-spoken. You can’t argue with success. Rolling Stone magazine numbered N.W.A. as 83rd in their “100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The group has been nominated twice for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think this movie may well put them over the top.