The biopic of the controversial rap group N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton, chronicles their rise to fame and the solo efforts of some of the group’s members. Since its establishment, N.W.A., has spawned such talented artists as 50 Cent, Eminem, The Game, Bone Thugs ’N Harmony, and even Kendrick Lamar. Their frank and unflinching look at the brutalizing of South Los Angeles residents at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department made the group a hit and put its members on the FBI’s watch list.
In the film, N.W.A.’s members are visionary leader Eric “Eazy E” Wright (played by Jason Mitchell), music writer O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, (portrayed by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.), beats master Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown Jr.), Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge), and D.O.C. (Marlon Yates Jr.). Other rap talents that make an appearance are Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield), and Tupac (Marcc Rose).
French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once said, “The more things change, the more they are the same.” No matter how much we, as black people, feel that we have progressed, it seems as if we are still dealing with the same racial inequalities we have dealt with since Rodney King was mercilessly attacked by four white LAPD officers. That act, which was caught on camera, aired all over the world. The officers were arrested and later acquitted of all charges. This spurred widespread distrust between citizens and law enforcement officers. Sound familiar?
The biopic is produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Will Packer, Tomica Woods-Wright (rapper Eazy E’s widow), and a host of others and is based on several years of interviews and research compiled by music documentarian S. Leigh Savidge (who wrote the script with Jonathan Herman). The film illustrates NWA’s humble beginnings in 1987 in a garage studio in Compton through the death of Eazy E in 1995 of AIDS.
Director F. Gary Gray, who has worked with Cube on several projects, brings to life Eazy E’s rise to fame as he brought together a group of young men who were talented and just needed a chance to shine. Unfortunately, relying on the bad advice of his manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), the group disbanded after a few hits. However, those hits were enough for the iconic group to leave a lasting impression within the hip-hop community.
Unfortunately, critics implied .their music incited violence against police officers. But, exercising one’s right to freedom of speech is a better way to counteract violence. In the film, the audience sees young black men using their freedom of expression as an outlet for their frustration with the LAPD and its practices. Concurrently, the film harkens back to a time before social media when music was the best non-violent expression a young person could resort to be heard. Songs like F*** Tha Police, Express Yourself, and Straight Outta Compton were anthems and rallying cries to open up a dialogue on police brutality.
Essentially, this film is the film that Dope tried to be, but lacked the sense of conviction of the times. Where Dope laughed at drug abuse and drug dealing in the faux 1990s, Straight Outta Compton unflinchingly hands you the 1990s and shows you that what’s happening today in the news isn’t new. And, it gives the younger generation of today a better alternative to random violence in protest.
Some scholars may tout the old adage: “History repeats itself.” It does. Straight Outta Compton is a timely piece that gets the younger generation to not only experience what great rappers look like, but show them that there is an alternative to rioting.