I've been a fan of West Coast rap for as long as I can remember. From the first hip hop album that I purchased as a kid, Stone Cold Rhymin' by Young MC, for his hit record Bust A Move. To the songs and videos of Tone-Loc, Ice-T and NWA. I found their funky beats, Western twang and Southern California slang and gangster-inspired lifestyle intriguing. My family connection to the West Coast also influenced my love for this Western style. And many of the rappers sounded a lot like my great-grandmother, Granny Joy who was born and raised in Texas and spoke with the same Western twang.
I think the first NWA video, I remember seeing on MTV was "Express Yourself." On the weekends when I visited my father, we binge-watched music videos on MTV and especially the MTV show, Yo! MTV Raps. I remember watching the episodes of them hanging out with Fab 5 Freddy in Los Angeles. They showed him their straps and then drove him around their neighborhoods in Los Angeles from the back of a pick up truck.
This interview was done during a difficult time for Los Angeles in the 1980s; it was the height of the Crack Era and most cities across America. NWA showed that their raw and gritty songs over hard-hitting beats only reflected the state of their environment.
For those of us growing up during this time, we understood and related to this message. I could only listen to the edited versions of their songs but my older male cousins in Harlem were some of their biggest fans.
When NWA began to experience turbulence within their group, I was too young to really understand what was going on or to choose a side. I watched as Ice Cube left the group and launched a successful solo career. Years later, NWA would dissolve completely when Dr. Dre left the group and Ruthless Records to go solo and to launch Death Row Records.
Along the way, Dr. Dre introduced us to Snoop Dogg (then, Snoop Doggy Dogg) and Dogg Pound and a host of other artists that formed Death Row Records. I became one of their biggest fans, following their music through subsequent rivalries with Ruthless Records and Eazy-E, and then Bad Boy Records and Puffy. When Tupac joined Death Row at the height of the rivalry, it was only fuel to the fire that erupted into this East Coast-West Coast war.
But the music! The music---from both camps---was great and all of that intensity was reflected in some of the best hip hop albums to date!!
Surprisingly, Straight Outta Compton, was able to harness all of that---the music, the history, the friendships and rivalries---and without following the traditional on person voice-over narrator that many rock-and-roll movies have used.
Portrayed by a stunning cast of newcomers (O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge et. al) and Paul Giamatti---all of the actors did a fine job in their respective roles.
Produced and closely monitored by the remaining members of NWA (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella), Straight Outta Compton was able to showcase the personal moments behind the scenes in a sensitive but realistic way.
Despite being a fan of their music, the film made me realize how little I knew about their personal lives and my respect and admiration for the group has only grown because I now know more of their story. Of course, they could not include everything in the film and some critics have argued about some historical inaccuracies. But I found the film to be very accurate, especially regarding the music.
Overall, Straight Outta Compton had a great mix of action, drama, humor and magic to make this an excellent film. So much so that I found myself at the movie theater more than once to see it with friends and family.
I highly recommend this film for all lovers of hip hop and especially the West Coast music scene.
Straight Outta Compton
Running Time: 147 minutes
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writers: Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff