Straight Outta Compton comes out this weekend, and like a lot of people my memories of NWA’s emergence are being rekindled as the trailer is getting played over and over this week and the main subjects of the film are doing the usual opening weekend press for a new movie. What I remember most about the group was the way their first major release (whose name the movie shares) just hit me like a ton of bricks when I listened to it the first time (which was also the last time thanks to my folks overhearing it and condemning my tape to the trash can). I had never heard anything like that before and at the time we had no idea what would be spawned in the aftermath of it all. NWA wasn’t the first rap act to curse on a record, or talk about daily inner city violence, or invoke misogynistic themes in their lyrics, but it seemed like they just cranked each one of those up to eleven and threw it all in a blender to make a album. And unlike many other entertainers that incorporated some or all of those things these guys weren’t using them as a crutch to obscure a lack of talent. These guys had the goods and it was obvious. I didn’t really identify with anything they were rapping about, but that didn’t stop it from being extremely compelling.
As I prepare to check the movie out soon I do find the way their story is being marketed as somewhat disingenuous. The group is being presented of some kind of bastion of social justice, a west coast version of Public Enemy if you will. Anybody who was old enough to listen to and understand what they were rapping about when they debuted (and especially on their follow up album EFIL4ZAGGIN, and who can still remember any of it now, know better. Ninety percent of their material was way beyond vulgar with a few tidbits of social commentary mixed in. But with a present backdrop of nonstop social media exposure of police action juxtaposed with one their hit songs, F tha Police, and a clever marketing plan the group is now being sold as if they were some kind of warriors against injustice when in fact they were a bunch of talented guys in their early 20s rapping about what was going on around them every day and their own roles in it.
But that’s how biopics tend to roll, as expertly laid out in this Daily Beast piece on the film. From what I’ve heard it’s really good and I’ll probably enjoy it for what it is. But having been heavy into hip hop during those years I’m not falling for the okey doke. That sounds like a dis I’m sure but it isn’t. I can look at their impact and the numerous acts they spawned and influenced over the years and respect that while being honest about how they actually were during their career together. But I’m not the one selling a movie here, and nobody here thinks that selling the compelling story of five guys who acted like some real bastards but occasionally had a cogent point about society would work.
So anyhow, enjoy the movie for what it is and I’ll have a review up after I see it for myself.