Please be advised: There is profanity in this article. If that offends you, please do not continue reading.
I saw ‘Straight Outta Compton’ last weekend and had mixed thoughts. On one hand the movie itself was well done. The acting, screenplay, cinematography and story line were all dope. When the film was over, I just sat in the theater for a while to take the whole story in. It was that good. I think it’s dope that a Hip-Hop bio-pic could do this well at the box too. The film has grossed over $100 Million within two weekends.
What I’m conflicted about though is what N.W.A meant to Hip-Hop. They definitely put Compton and even Los Angeles on the Hip-Hop map. They also changed the game. But I’m not sure it’s a change we should be proud of. A lot of hip-hop was conscience before N.W.A Records like “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, “My Philosophy” by Boogie Down Productions and “Don’t Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy all precede N.W.A. Those records were songs about growing up in Urban America during the crack era and Reaganomics. All three addressed the same problems from a totally different stand point than N.W.A though. Those songs made you hate those conditions and desire to rise above them. They never glorified the environment or the negativity that went on in the hood as a result.
‘Straight Outta Compton‘ dropped and essentially created a new sub-genre, Gangsta Rap. Yes, there were people like Schoolly D out of Philadelphia and even Ice-T in L.A. making this type of music before hand, but N.W.A, unlike Schoolly, Ice-T and some others, actually sold a ton of records and gained mainstream notoriety while doing it. Now everyone from the artists to the record labels and fans see that you can be negative and sell records. And that began a phase of hip hop that hasn’t really stopped. 20 almost 30 years later much of mainstream Hip-Hop still has a ton of artists following the N.W.A blueprint.
So while it’s dope that Cube and Dre are in a position where they can tell their own story on their own terms. How they got in that position bothers me. Mainly, the music they made to get there. Yes it was reality (Eazy E’s reality), but it also glorified a lifestyle that no one should have to live or want to live.
N.W.A.’s music and corresponding music videos also helped develop stereotypes about black men that still exist to this day. Think about this: prior to NWA, what black men with any type of platform were running around talking about “F” the Police (total disregard for authority) and that they’d kill another black man just because? Then, when you consider that many of their fans were suburban, it’s easy to see how many people who don’t interact or live around black people could look at N.W.A and believe this is how all or most black people thought and acted.
Let’s look at the first few bars of Straight Outta Compton (Warning Profanity follows):
Straight Outta Compton, crazy Motherfucka named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes
When I’m called off, I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off
You too, boy, if you fuck with me
The police are gonna hafta come and get me
Off ya ass, that’s how I’m going out
For the punk motherfucka that’s showin out
I’m sorry, I can’t be proud of these lyrics, especially since Ice Cube didn’t really live like this. Eazy did. Cube didn’t. Why glorify that?
I also can’t help but consider the thoughts and feelings that some people developed towards black and brown people as a result of hearing this song or watching its music video. Keep in mind, this record was the first of its kind to reach that broad of an audience (Over 2 Million records sold).
You also can’t ignore the part of their legacy that deals with their treatment of woman. Though this wasn’t touched on in the movie, as Dee Barnes’ article that went viral earlier last this week explained, several women who were in their camp were physically abused. And millions of women were verbally abused on songs like “She Swallowed it”, “One Less Bitch, and “A Bitch is a Bitch.”
So while some of their music was birthed out of their experiences with police brutality and I’m sure they saw their fair share of groupies, portraying yourself as the angry black man who doesn’t respect authority certainly didn’t do anything to quell the stereotypes that already existed about us. N.W.A actually fanned the flames.
I’m a big fan of discussing art even if you don’t agree with the messages in it. It’s why I wrote this blog. I wouldn’t even try to hinder anyone from seeing the movie. As I stated above, it’s very well done (there is a fair amount of nudity if that bothers you) and serves as a solid, though not perfect, historical account of that time period. If you do choose to watch it, just make sure you see the big picture while you watch.