Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton  photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe formation and eventual breakup of seminal rap group N.W.A (Niggaz with Attitude) is the subject of Straight Outta Compton. The biopic mainly charts the careers of 5 artists from Compton, California who greatly influenced hip hop in the 90’s and beyond. In 1988 N.W.A was dubbed “the worlds most dangerous group”. Much of this due to their explicit and profanity-filled lyrics about urban crime and the gangster lifestyle. The FBI even sent them a warning letter. In retrospect, they couldn’t have asked for better publicity. Their music, including songs like “F— tha Police,” received no airplay from mainstream radio. Yet publicity fueled the album’s success and their popularity grew with the masses.

Any memoir must edit facts in order to streamline a narrative. Straight Outta Compton is definitely a bit guilty of selective history. The lineup of N.W.A. began with Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. Although N.W.A formed in 1986, MC Ren actually didn’t join until 1988 just before the release of their first album Straight Outta Compton. Arabian Prince left shortly after but he did contribute to their debut. As a matter of fact, he appears on the album cover. So why doesn’t he rate a mention here? Even a bus driver gets a credit. Delving a little into this personnel shakeup would’ve been nice.

The film mainly centers on members Ice Cube (real life son O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) are key people too but remain somewhat in the background. All of the aforementioned three get ample screen time, but interestingly it’s Eazy-E’s story that is the most compelling. From drug dealer to last minute replacement rapper, his drama is never short on surprises. His solo debut single “Boyz-n-the-Hood” is presented as almost an afterthought. Short of stature with a voice pitched in a higher register, his characteristics belie an intriguing personality. The strength of his business partnership with manager/friend Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) was a development I wasn’t expecting.

Straight Outta Compton does a nice job of encapsulating a fairly dense plot that juggles a myriad cast of characters. The era leading up to N.W.A’s creation is dramatized but also the period following their breakup. Dr. Dre’s association with Suge Knight is detailed, as well as his split from Death Row records amid rising tensions, to form his own label Aftermath. At 2½ hours, it is a bit long but there is still a lot of interesting material here. The first half that focuses on N.W.A’s inception and transformation is best. Occasionally director F. Gary Gray falls victim to the standard rise and fall cliches of music biographies. The fable succeeds most when detailing the harsh realities of urban LA that inspired the song lyrics of their true-to-life tales. They were rallying against poverty and prejudice. We’re given news events that establish a timeline. The Rodney King trial is referenced for example. In light of current ongoing media investigation of police brutality, their social commentary rings even truer today. The details behind N.W.A is something of which I knew little. Yet the movie gave me a reason to care. The complex evolution of how influential artists popularized a burgeoning subgenre called gangsta rap, is frequently fascinating.

08-15-15

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15 Responses to “Straight Outta Compton”

  1. abbiosbiston Says:

    I am quite looking forward to this. My mum is a massive NWA fan so I grew up listening to this stuff. Her favourite is Fuck the Police.

  2. “The details behind N.W.A is something of which I knew little. Yet the movie gave me a reason to care.” — this pretty much describes how I will be going into this movie. I’m glad to hear it will pay off by watching, because I’ve been truthfully, on the fence about seeing this at all. It sounds good but I had the thought I’d be watching this just for the sake of reviewing it later. But now I think i might actually learn from and enjoy it.

    • In 1988, N.W.A and indeed gangsta rap in general, was considered far outside the rap mainstream. This was the era of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. N.W.A sold albums but received no airplay. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that gangsta rap became a dominant force on the pop charts. This is the story of how that all began. Think of it like a history lesson.

  3. happy to hear how fascinating this is

  4. The acting really surprised me. Thought the casting looks-wise when looking at the trailers was great, but I was skeptical of how the performances would come across, especially Ice Cube’s son, who did an great job in his first ever role.

    I don’t think it necessarily deserves Oscar noms (some people have been floating it around) but I wouldn’t be shocked if it did receive a few.

    • Universal is pursuing an Oscar push. They had a screening for Academy voters in Beverly Hills on Saturday.

    • The acting here is top notch and so is the direction by F. Gary Gray, the man who was behind the original “Friday”(with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker), “The Negotiator”(with Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson), the underrated crime thriller “Set It Off”(with Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Kimberly Elise),”Law Abiding Citizen”(with Gerald Butler and Jamie Foxx),not to mention his remake of the crime thriller “The Italian Job”…..it is really surprising that F. Gary Gray absolutely NAILED IT in this biopic based on the real life story of ‘the world’s most dangerous group’ in hip-hop that blazed a trail beyond expectations and made America aware of what was happening….”Straight Outta Compton” needed to be told……fascinating and riveting throughout with a electrifying performance coming from O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (the son of the legendary rapper Ice Cube)…A MUST SEE FILM OF THE YEAR!!!!
      rayman007@hotmail.com

  5. This was a great music history lesson for me. I knew who NWA was, but didn’t listen to them or know any of their songs. They did a great job showing me their rise to fame. The acting was great too. It was raw yet polished. 4 stars.

  6. Straight Outta Compton is a bit long, but I think it does a good job condensing NWA’s story into something that feels cohesive. I felt like the first half was the best like you did. I agree that the movie succeeds most when concentrating on the harsh realities of urban LA that inspired NWA’s music. However when Eazy-E is diagnosed with HIV, I feel like the movie picks up steam for some really great drama. I was pretty happy with how they wrapped everything up and left things. I think the picture ends on a strong note.

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