The Straight Out of Compton movie has helped familiarize people once again with N.W.A. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube co-produced the film that tells the genesis of how five young men from the Compton, California area became the group that would eventually become the “grandfathers” of gangsta rap. One of the founding members, Eazy E, used his money to establish Ruthless Records where N.W.A. was born. The line-up of the group became Eazy E, Mc Ren, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and DJ Yella.
N.W.A. stood for Niggaz With Attitudes and was a huge statement in the mid 1980s. These young men told their stories of drugs, violence, and fun with lots of women. I remember first hearing the song entitled, “Straight Out of Compton”. I was elementary school age. I had never heard so many curse words strung together like that in my life. I was a southern girl who lived a sheltered life. I didn’t know anything about gangs, drugs, or police brutality.
What I saw on my television screen was just young guys running around saying a lot of inappropriate words and women falling in love with these words. I didn’t understand how these women could enjoy hearing themselves referred to as a bitch and ho. Where is the pride in that?
There will be no spoilers included in this piece, but it was frustrating to me the movie told a story but the audience sees no remorse for bad behavior. Some of the group members did some bad things when they were younger. We all do some bad things, but they did some really bad things that get glossed over in the film. There were a few scenes that give a taste of the violence they dealt with in their neighborhoods. They spent a lot more time explaining to the audience how horrible the police were towards them. No one is disputing the nasty relationship Compton residents had with police. Yet, I felt that the men never seemed to make the connection that how they treated each other and the women in their lives were no better. They used manipulation and control tactics on others the same as police used on them.
My love/hate relationship with rap was all due to N.W.A. I liked some of the rap of the late 1980s but then thanks to Niggaz With Attitudes we had a new form of rap that just seemed like angry toddlers with dirty mouths. The questions followed me around: how is this music and what is the appeal? I understand anger and frustration with the inequalities in your world, but why not be more like Chuck D and Public Enemy? I loved how political Public Enemy was and they didn’t have to make black people look bad.
N.W.A. was never trying to be political. They were frustrated about how they were being treated, but I don’t think it was ever really about putting a spotlight on their communities. Public Enemy cared about making their communities better while N.W.A. was more about filling their pockets. That’s the difference. My belief is that if none of the members were ever personally affected by the violence in their area, they would have never spoke out about it . I also do realize that at the height of N.W.A. they were all young and likely were very narcissistic.
This gangsta rap group made me start to really hate the direction rap was going in by the mid 1990s. Rap lyrics by many groups at that time started to become more and more violent toward other men and even women. The drug epidemic of the late 1980s had spilled out from the urban cities into suburbs. Gangsta rap did not create bad behavior but it didn’t teach lessons against it either. It’s one thing to tell your story and then say, “learn from my mistakes.” It’s another thing to go through something and say, “who cares…it happened…whatever.”
Many of us know that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are now superstars in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, Eazy E passed away at 31 in 1995 due to complications from AIDS. Mc Ren and DJ Yella went on to do other things and have tried to stay away from the limelight.
Eazy E’s legacy is a complicated one because of how he died. He died from AIDS which for many at that time was still known as the “gay man’s disease”. Homophobia has always existed in the rap community. The truth is that Eazy E had a lot of unprotected sex with women. His death at the time was a teaching moment for a lot of young men.
I just wished there were more teaching moments that came out of the success of N.W.A. I’m not talking about the monetary success of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. The young men “straight out of Compton” could have spoke out more for their brothers and sisters. They didn’t because that isn’t what they were about and they had that right. They had the right to rap about being against the police that unfairly targeted them. It’s a shame they didn’t do more with their stance against police brutality. It’s a shame they didn’t fight against the abuse of women. I’m sad that much of the rap on the radio is uninspiring, misogynistic, and homophobic. Good rap still exists but is like buried treasure.
The legacy of N.W.A. still lives on but hopefully after this movie there will be more insightful dialogue about the true influence they really had on rap.