*When it was announced that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were teaming with Cube’s long-time collaborator, director F. Gary Gray, to produce an N.W.A biopic, many were hit with a rush of nostalgic waves that carried them all the way back to the first time they heard the shrewd lyrics of West Coast’s most controversial rap artists to date. The excitement was unsettling at times – with fans taking to social media to pose an endless array of questions about the production, key players involved and the most pressing question being, ‘Who will they cast to play the late-great Eazy-E?’
Production on “Straight Outta Compton” was marred by controversy before F. Gary yelled action! A casting notice for the biopic was posted online that many deemed offensive and colorist. Black feminists called for a boycott of the film as a result, and most recently, outspoken blogger Christelyn Karazin outlined compelling reasons why ‘No self-respecting Black women should pay to see Straight Outta Compton.’ As she explains:
‘The members of NWA were the fathers of gangster rap, and they’re responsible for the decline of conscious hip hop and the degradation of black women.’
While we agree that N.W.A are the pioneers of glorifying gangs and disrespecting Black women through musical expression, 15 years later, however, some of the lyrics from their controversial debut album resonate with the country’s current social climate of racial bias and police brutality. When one thinks back on the great conscious rappers of the 80’s, very few of them have tracks that continue to define a generation, like “F**k The Police.”
How many times has that phrase been shouted through the streets where yet another unarmed, non-violent Black male or female has been gunned down (or choked out) by a cop?
“Straight Outta Compton” is an engaging rags to riches story about five Black guys from the hood who used their street smarts and talent to become household names. There’s nothing exceptional about their rise in the music business – you know how it typically goes – shady business manager rips off the talent, causing a riff among members – creating tension and inciting fights over money until the act breaks up. In this case, Ice Cube quit the band in 1989 over royalty disputes, and Eazy-E died later before their planned N.W.A. reunion.
What makes “Straight Outta Compton” unique is how the story grabs you from the beginning and transports you to Compton, dumping you inside a trap house where you eventually hitch a ride along with Dre, Eazy, Cube, Yella and Ren as they navigate their way through racism, classism, and police brutality toward a better way of life. You are visually intoxicated by their sordid world with a hint of familiarity in the form of anti-Black sentiment. You realize their world is our world now, much has changed within society, but still so much ugly remains the same…. ” A young ni**a got it bad cause I’m brown.” …. Right?
These young guys took the worse aspects of their life and transformed it into explicit social commentary that redefined a genre. What are young rappers talking about today, skinny jeans and poppin’ Molly? Yeah, hardly conscious rap. While many may not fancy N.W.A’s style, one could lose a debate denying the cultural significance and impact of their music, which can best be digested by appreciating their struggle.
F. Gary Gray put together a remarkable cast that will challenge your emotions with their infectious bond which will leave you breathless and inspired. By the end of the film, you’ll have to remind yourself that actor Jason Mitchell is not Eazy-E reincarnated, nor is he any relation to the rapper. Yeah, he’s that good.
“Straight Outta Compton” entertains while reminding us that the Black struggle remains. It’s not preachy – but in watching it, one realizes that it’s not about the group’s disparaging lyrics, it’s about the social injustice that continues to evolve in Black communities, with no end in sight. This film is about Black folks continuing to have to work 100x’s as hard in order to get a taste of that good ol’ fashion American Dream without being harassed by government and local officials.
“Straight Outta Compton” is the most important film you’ll see this year. It’s a movie about history that depicts the present and quite possibly the future. Hits theaters August 14.