by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Yeah. There’s no way I review this film and avoid admitting that I was one of those pasty white kids that was a massive fan of NWA back in the day. I was around 15 years old when my mate’s uncle gave me a tape with NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” on one side and the debut album from Ice-T’s Bodycount on the other. Outside of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tape I inherited off my old man, it’s the first tape I ever listened to so much that I stretched it beyond use! The first, and only NWA album with a full roster on it became one of my favourite all-time albums and it’s one of the few rap albums I still own and listen to today; a decent feat considering my propensity for very heavy metal.
I became a huge fan of most things “Gangster rap” and spent most of my teenage years listening to everything that guys like NWA and Ice Cube put out; catching up with their entire back catalogues and standing outside the local HMV for new releases, I was the biggest fan of rap music back in the day and I couldn’t have been happier the day I heard that there was an NWA biopic coming out.
Straight Outta Compton follows the lives of the teenagers that would one day become one of the most controversial groups in not just the history of rap music, but in the entire music industry. NWA was the brain child of a handful of teenagers that were clawing to make a few dollars, not always legally, and needed to find a way to get the lives they wanted and stand out from the crowd. The boys; known worldwide by their now legendary names of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella; get themselves a little studio time and press Eazy-E’s solo track “Boyz-n-the-hood”. A little recognition and a lot of work later, the teens release the one and only NWA album that’s worth owning, “Straight Outta Compton”.
Instantly pushed into superstardom, this is the story of how the rappers dealt with the money and the fame; it tells the story of friendships, splits, solo careers, bankruptcy and what happens when businessmen are allowed to take advantage of artists that, no matter which way you cut it, are just kids. It’s a tale of how these five guys bucked the trend of safe and censored music and brought a straight-talking style to mainstream audiences just when the world needed them to. Love them or hate them, and plenty hated them, NWA shined a light on the plight of young African-American’s across the United States. With a focus on the awful way people like them were treated by the LAPD, the rappers took the police, and society as a whole, to task with their music and didn’t back down when they were threatened by law enforcement over the content of their music. We get to see these boys grow up and make their way in the world, we get to share their highs and lows and we get to enjoy their music along the way.
Straight Outta Compton does a great job of telling its story. Essentially a warts-and-all biopic that really does show what the teenagers went through. From Eazy-E’s drug dealing days to the riots that started on their behalf when they were arrested during one of their sold-out concerts. However, while director F. Gary Gray and producers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have told a lot of the story and tried not to hold back, there are a couple of very large parts of their story that are missing, conspicuous by their absence. Mainly, while we seem to have gotten a look at all the shady dealings of founding member Eazy-E, a man sadly no longer around to defend himself, I would have liked to have seen the film tackle Dre’s 1991 assault on Dee Barnes, a woman the producer believed to have badly reported on a feud between group members so he, allegedly, grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly smashed her into a wall, with fellow band mates later going on record saying that “The bitch deserved it”. I’d also liked to have seen original group member, “Arabian Prince” brought up, seeing as he was in the picture long before MC Ren was. None of this takes away from the film though, which is a scathing look at 80’s and 90’s culture and how groups like NWA were born from it.
With big shoes to fill and massive reputations to uphold, every cast member did a stellar job of representing their characters on-screen. Clearly taking cues from their real counterparts, the actors have taken pride in their roles and learned the characteristics of the legends they are representing; with the always great to watch Paul Giamatti taking on the role of the sleazy Jerry Hellar, the man that made NWA famous but screwed them over at the same time, he slips easily into the role and makes you hate him in every scene he’s in. Special mention has to go to O’Shea Jackson Jnr. The real life son of rapper Ice Cube has taken on the gargantuan task of bringing his old man’s massive persona to the big screen and has done an amazing job. In my opinion, Jackson Jnr. is the star of the show, stealing every single scene from his cast mates as he lives and breathes his dad’s life for the almost two and a half hour run time. Ice Cube’s sneering face, his attitude, his mannerisms are all oozing from the screen as Ice Cube Jnr. makes the role his own and if just one guy gets any kind of award based recognition for this movie, it needs to be O’Shea Jackson Jnr.
Straight Outta Compton is essential viewing for almost everyone. Long-time fans like me and a lot of our generation should get a kick out of watching the rise and fall of one of the most prominent musical talents to grace our tape decks back in the day. Younger fans will get a ton of fun hopefully learning what it was that we loved so much and everybody should sit and enjoy the story of how rap music became rap music. The story of easily THE most influential rap group ever to grace vinyl was a long time coming and was definitely worth the wait. So sit, relax and enjoy an amazing film with one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear this year and get yourself a glimpse into the past, back when rap music was actually good, not paint-by-numbers awfulness.