Film and TV

Important Things to Know Before Seeing 'Straight Outta Compton'

As a kid, I bonded far more with the male figures in my life because for the most part, that’s what boys do. They see their older counterparts and start mimicking them. Besides my father, nobody had a hold on me like my grandfather, who introduced me to wrestling, and my uncle, who introduced me to rap. When I was younger, I favored my Uncle Kenny so tough; those Pleasant genes were strong as hell. His old apartment had a closet filled with tapes from Too $hort to N.W.A to LL Cool J. When he passed 16 Junes ago, I took that crate and kept it in my closet, part memorial to him and part history lesson for me.

There’s a cassette tape of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton in that crate. Uncle Kenny probably was at the old Summit back in 1989 when they headlined a show that you can actually watch on YouTube. I still had a fear of what they rapped about because of the Parental Advisory sticker, because of what my parents (who hated rap even though I goaded my mom into buying a 2Pac album in 1995) warned. Because I actually got in trouble for rapping Dr. Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin’.” So technically, N.W.A got me in trouble way after they had broken up.

Before you even see Straight Outta Compton, the brand new biopic about N.W.A and key members Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre (plus MC Ren & DJ Yella), you need to be aware of a few salient points — not just about F. Gary Gray's movie (which is excellent), but about the group itself.

Why Is N.W.A Revered As a Rap Group?
They became the forbearers for West Coast hip-hop and in particular gangsta rap. Shit, they called themselves a gang and flat out declared, “Do I look like a role model? To a kid looking up to me, life is ain’t nothin’ but bitches & money”. In their short existence (1986 – 1991), they earned the wrath of Tipper Gore, the F.B.I. and more with their lewd lyrics and police brutality anthem, “Fuck Tha Police”. Also they crafted one of rap’s most furious and raw three song segments on the album version of Straight Outta Compton from “Straight Outta Compton,” “Fuck Tha Police,” & “Gangsta Gangsta” and crafted a macabre yet sonic classic with Efil4zaggin.

Do I Need To Listen to N.W.A In Order to Enjoy the Movie?
No, although I don’t see how you could have lived your life not hearing “Straight Outta Compton." Actually, listen to N.W.A and learn why the generation of George H.W. Bush LITERALLY used the F.B.I. as a scare tactic on N.W.A

Why Did It Take So Long to Create the Film?
Development hell for one. It took 13 years for it to get off the ground and true to Dr. Dre’s meticulous nature as a producer, casting for the movie had to be perfect. Cube’s son, O’Shea Jr. who plays Cube in the film is eerily like his father. Same for Corey Hawkins who plays Dre, almost right down to the voice and mannerisms.

Any Key Names In the Film?
Aside from the main members of N.W.A, there’s Jerry Heller, Jimmy Iovine, The D.O.C., Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight, Ice Cube’s cousin and main producer post-N.W.A., Sir Jinx; and even Tupac Shakur. Yes, Tupac is in the movie.

Are There Any Houston Tie-Ins?
Yes. Without spoiling it, the Rockets’ old home off of 59 plays a rather integral part in the rise of N.W.A.

So That Means People Should Praise the Lord, Right?
Yes and no. Movie biopics are tough because you not only want the source material faithfully represented, you want the cast to bring that material back to life. Biopic fans and comic-book movie fans want these two things more than anything when it comes to a movie.

Then Where Does the Bad Come In?
Well, you also have to not look at N.W.A through rose-colored glasses. Thanks to the shock culture we live in, where we barely want anything sanitized for Hollywood, people have turned into activists all over again and want no one celebrating what they feel is the glorification of “misogyny and abuse against women." Yes, N.W.A spoke out about police brutality rather sharply. They also made some pretty offensive music in regards to women and sex. That’s the short of it.

Why Do People Want to Boycott Straight Outta Compton?
The film glosses over a few things, namely Dr. Dre’s assault of Dee Barnes during the middle of the Cube/N.W.A. feud (“No Vaseline” is essential listening for understanding this, and the standard for any rap diss) and N.W.A.’s reverence for being misogynists. If their stance on women as a group in the 1980s weren’t known on the Straight Outta Compton album, you knew exactly where they stood on 1991's mostly MC Ren- and D.O.C.-written Efil4zaggin when it arrived in 1991. Seriously, the near 20-minute segment of the album from “To Kill a Hooker” to “She Swallowed It” may double as the most offensive segment of rap music toward women ever.

Recent interviews from a slew of crew members have definitely not made those stances seem like they were dead and buried in the ‘90s. Ice Cube’s Rolling Stone interview, for example, makes it feel like “A Bitch Iz A Bitch” and “I Ain’t Tha 1” were recorded yesterday. F. Gary Gray dismissed the notion while bringing up Oprah’s view on the movie in the same breath. Dre seems more remorseful than anybody, and he was the one facing lawsuits and potential jail time over his actions.

That Sounds Terrible. Why Are People Making a Fuss About It Now?
They were making a fuss about it almost 30 years ago. Ask C. Delores Tucker or the Reverend Calvin Butts. Social media wasn’t as prevalent and the press run until now has left the issue largely ignored.

Wait, You’re Still Saying Go See Straight Outta Compton?

Yes. The movie follows the timeline of N.W.A’s rise and tumultuous demise and even offers a bit of an epilogue — not just in regards to what N.W.A. means to people who are — as Kendrick Lamar refers to himself — the “children” of the group, but to music in general. What Colors and Boyz N The Hood showed about the realities of Los Angeles gang life and living in inner-city South Central, Straight Outta Compton shines light on five individuals who did it differently. It’s a telling description of the music industry and how loyalty and brotherhood are forever.

From a music fan’s perspective, Straight Outta Compton is also a time-warp to ‘70s and ‘80s West Coast funk. R&B records from Shalamar, Steve Arrington and Zapp! dominated the clubs Dr. Dre spun at in his shiny World Class Wreckin’ Cru jacket. It also shines a spotlight on how Cube used some of the early rhymes from N.W.A’s debut disc to earn respect among hardheads in Compton; the irony here is that the same “Weak In the Knees” beat he hijacks for AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’s “The N*gga Ya Love To Hate." Running from Darryl Gates’ battering ram, dealing with the police in Detroit, being weary of Suge Knight and then some — the film bleeds into the timeline of the era in general, of police prejudice and the violent Los Angeles Riots in 1992, which dominate the film's second half. There are also small glimpses of Snoop, just as “Deep Cover” and “Nuthin But a G Thang” were about to launch him into superstardom; Cube’s burgeoning move into filmmaking; the longstanding rivalry between the Bloods and Crips; and how reality for N.W.A in the ‘80s is reality for thousands of people now.

Director Gray and company have created a film that is a requirement for any fan of music transitioning to film. It’s his best serious work and may arguably be his best film, depending on how time treats Straight Outta Compton versus what Friday did. The performances by Jackson Jr. (Cube), Hawkins (Dre), and the endearing Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) may deserve some award consideration. Together, they made N.W.A look like a band of brothers who had aspirations of getting back to doing things the right way before Eazy died of complications from AIDS in 1995. Straight Outta Compton makes you love N.W.A. and their contributions all over again, as well as wish for more music from the group.

Any Easter Eggs?
You get a small preview of what Dr. Dre did with his brand-new album Compton and how it ties into the movie. Now, go say, “You’re now about to witness the strength of street knowledge" and "Damn, that shit was dope” and feel good that we may be headed for a golden age of hip-hop biopics.
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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell