Straight Outta Compton
Film Review by Kam Williams
Gritty Raptrospective Chronicles Rise and Demise of Legendary Gangsta’ Group
Back in the Eighties, the CIA began orchestrating the introduction of crack-cocaine to African-American communities all across America, starting with the South Central L.A. By the middle of the decade, the epidemic had turned Compton into a godforsaken wasteland rife with drug addiction and crime.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that when a young Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) teamed up with MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) to write songs, they’d reflect the reality of what they’d witnessed growing up in the ‘hood. In 1988, together with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.), they released “Straight Outta Compton,” the debut album of N.W.A., aka Niggaz with Attitudes.
The controversial group pioneered a seminal sub-genre of rap revolving around black-on-black violence, misogyny and police brutality. While detractors criticized their glorification of ghetto dysfunction, proponents countered that N.W.A. was merely telling it like it is.
Despite that first CD’s going double platinum, Cube soon departed to embark on a solo career, ostensibly after being ripped off by their manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). In fact, he subsequently threatened to “put a bullet to his temple” in a tune where he also suggested his former bandmates “get rid of that devil” because they couldn’t be gangstas “with a white Jew tellin’ you what to do.” Meanwhile, his abandoned homeys promised Cube via lyrics that they would “f*ck you with a broomstick.”
Ironically, they would all eventually wise up and come around to agree with Cube, most notably, Dre, who finally left Ruthless Records in 1991 to sign with his bodyguard Suge Knight’s (R. Marcus Taylor) new label, Death Row Records. Eazy E would remain loyal to Heller the longest, leaving not long before he died of AIDS at just 31 years-of age.
All of the above is recounted in vivid fashion in Straight Outta Compton, a gritty raptrospective that unfolds like an extended episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. Directed by F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen), the film does seem to be celebrating the sort of depraved behavior that might lead to an early death.
For, between off-stage and concert performances of N.W.A. hits. we’re basically being treated to such sights of these hedonistic pop stars as “drowning in pussy” in a hotel room littered with groupies, settling their differences with adversaries at gunpoint, and being arrested after ignoring orders by the authorities to stop performing the incendiary F*ck the Police.“
The cinematic equivalent of a nostalgic fanzine designed with die-hard devotees of gangsta’ rap in mind.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for violence, drug use, pervasive profanity and ethnic slurs, graphic sexuality and frontal nudity
Running time: 147 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures