In 1980s California, a group of young men formed the rap group N.W.A and revolutionized music and pop culture with brutally honest songs about life in the ’hood. Eazy E (Eric Lynn Wright), Dr. Dre (Andre Romelle Young), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson), DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby) and MC Ren (Lorenzo Jerald Patterson) did not set out to change the face of hip-hop/rap, but they did.
Fast forward almost 30 years as I sit in the theater waiting to embark on this “hip-hopagraphy.” Not just a documented biography, not just a moment in hip-hop history, but in a dark, crowded theater I had the rare opportunity to witness the labor pains of N.W.A and the birth of “gangsta rap.”
It was nostalgic during my interview with executive producer O’Shea Jackson. (Ice Cube), Director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator), O’Shea Jackson, Jr (Ice Cube’s son) and Jason Mitchell (Easy E).
It had been 27 years since “Straight Outta Compton” was released and I wondered why release it now? To which Gray responded, “Why not now? That was the thought when we started, the story is incredible, from where they started to the empires that they have built. It goes so far beyond music, goes so far beyond the rap genre. It’s a universal story, it’s history.”
[ione_embed src=https://www.youtube.com/embed/-F5WcFPDzko service=youtube width=560 height=315 type=iframe]
Far beyond is correct. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre alone have redefined themselves from young up-and-coming rappers to business moguls.
“Everything comes from the N.W.A. tree,” Ice Cube said. “There would be no ‘Boyz n the Hood’ movie. None of my movie or business success would have been if there was no N.W.A. It was the origin, the jump off.”
Although success came, N.W.A stayed true to representing an audiovisual to what was happening in the neighborhoods. Compton in the ’80s was the epitome of the black struggle. Drugs were on the rise, gangs divided the city and in a struggle to try to maintain a controlled environment, police surveillance, along with police brutality, was also on the rise. Being black at that time seemed to automatically come with an assumed label of drug dealer, gang member or general menace to society.
Yet, in the midst of what seemed to be chaos were families who loved each other, went to work every day and raised good kids who went to school. However, those children were sent into the world where they were assumed an automatic threat on the police radar due to the color of their skin, limiting their rights and subjecting them to random searches and sweeps at any given time. The tension was heavy, the neighborhood needed a voice and N.W.A delivered.
In 2015, the tension from racial profiling and loss of black lives at the hands of police is trending so high, social media has labeled it with its own hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. Ice Cube agrees with the resemblance to the negative energy from the ’80s and had some strong words for this post-NWA era.
“The resemblance is because the police have not changed their tactics. We have our moments and then we relax thinking everything is going to be all right and then it happens again. The key is to never relax and to keep fighting for justice,” said Ice Cube.
Gray feels that resources in the ’80s were limited and we should be more solution-minded now.
“I think they did what they could with what they had, they were young so they jumped on the mic to push back and we still feel it,” he said. “Today I think we need to focus on solutions. Protesting is fine, but we’ve been protesting forever and it doesn’t seem to change the culture that encourages these cops to continue doing what they are doing. We need to start advocating for real solutions like body cameras for police.”
From N.W.A’s perspective, the authority that pledges to protect and serve was doing the exact opposite. “F–k the Police,” one of N.W.A’s most controversial songs, has Detroit history. As portrayed in the movie, police officers around the country set up a “fax” network designed to coordinate efforts to stop N.W.A. from performing live. In Detroit, police rushed the stage when the group performed the song and followed them to their hotel room for interrogation.
Despite the efforts to suppress N.W.A’s voice, Ice Cube holds no ill will towards Detroit. During a recent visit as part of a “Straight Outta Compton” press tour, Ice Cube, F. Gary Gray, along with actors O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Jason Mitchell showed some West Coast love to the senior class of Cass Tech High School with a surprise visit and panel discussion hosted by Detroit own Big Sean.
Big Sean gave homage to the rap legends for paving the way, saying, “They inspire me on so many levels, lyrically, being bold and bossing up in a major way by sticking to their guns even when being targeted by the FBI and police. Their conviction is the most inspiring.”
Conviction, boldness, courage in the face of censorship. If you thought N.W.A was just another rap group, think again.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON releases August 14th in theatres nationwide.