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Aug 08 2018

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A. (jetmag.com)

N.W.A. (from left to right: DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube en MC Ren)

You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge

Introduction

As was stated in the article on Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, 1988 was the year hip-hop really broke through. That year a lot of all time hip-hop classics were released, including this album. Public Enemy’s album shocked because of the strength of black awareness and the call for revolution. America was afraid and the band quickly became public enemy no. 1.

N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton shocked the world because of the look into black life in the ‘hoods’ of the big cities, where drugs, guns, violence and death were the norm. Gangs fighting each other to the death over a street corner. Youth ruthlessly massacring one another. Police violence, often racially motivated. America was shocked and the band quickly became the world’s most dangerous group.

Given the message and the stories of the group it’s saddening to conclude that very little has changed in the last 30 years.

N.W.A.

Ruthless Records logo (discogs.com)

Ruthless Records logo

The group name is an abbreviation that stands for Niggaz With Attitudes. The group was founded in 1987 by Eazy-E, a school drop-out who lived in Compton, California. With money he made selling drugs, he started a record label: Ruthless Records. Eazy-E subsequently hired Dr. Dre and Ice Cube to write songs for the new label. One of the songs they wrote was The Boyz-N-The-Hood was refused by the group they wrote it for. Eazy-E liked the song, recorded it and released it under his own name as his debut single. It turned into a hit.

The first single of the group was Panic Zone released on August 13th, 1987. The group was made up of the three Ruthless Records founders and new member Arabian Prince. The song was also placed on the album N.W.A. And The Posse, which was released on November 6th, 1987. Besides Panic Zone the album also contained Eazy-E’s debut-single and 8 Ball and Dope Man, which both ended up on Straight Outta Compton as a remix.

In 1988 work was done on the debut-albums of Eazy-E (Eazy-Duz-It) and N.W.A. (Straight Outta Compton).

Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (hiphop-n-more.com)

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

On August 8th, 1988, the ‘real’ debut-album by N.W.A. was released on Ruthless Records. Within six weeks after Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back another ground-breaking hip-hop album was released. Another album that was innovative and different, whose influence was so great that an entire genre was named after its content: gangsta rap entered the main stream.

In the meantime DJ Yella, MC Ren and The D.O.C. had been added to the group’s line-up. Arabian Prince left surrounding the album’s release.

Lyrics

The lyrics were written by Ice Cube, MC Ren and The D.O.C. many viewed the lyrics as a glorification of crime, murder and gang life. Others saw it as a reflection of daily life in Compton, California and South Central, Los Angeles. The descriptions of daily life isn’t very flattering or glamorous. I don’t see how the lyrics glorify violence at all.

There is another thing that stands out for me. Something that, to me, comes across as rather juvenile: the cursing. It really stood out, especially when compared to Public Enemy. They didn’t curse (or very little) and their message was heard just as loudly and profoundly. N.W.A.’s use of words like nigga and bitch to describe black men (including themselves) and women was new, especially at that scale.

Fuck Tha Police

Printed as _ _ _ _ Tha Police on the album sleeve, the most controversial song of the album, the group, the year. The song is not part of the censored version of the album. The song tells the tale of a trial. Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E testify against the police to a judge (Dr. Dre). Many wrongs are addressed: stereotyping, unlawful arrests and assault.

Rodney King beating (fox5sandiego.com)

Rodney King beating

Within a few years the song became highly relevant (better yet: N.W.A.’s reality proved to be right): the Rodney King beating on March 3rd, 1991, which was filmed by accident. The footage was shown around the world. When a year later the police officers were acquitted from assault charges major riots ensued in Los Angeles (known as the 1992 Los Angeles riots). Order could only be restored after the mobilization of the California Army National Guard, the Army and the Marine Corps. The riots resulted in 63 deaths, 2383 wounded, more than 7000 fires, damages to over 3100 companies and almost $ 1 billion in costs.

The things N.W.A. addressed happen to this very day, on a regular basis. 30 years after its initial release, it sadly remains a protest song that is relevant and applicable to current events.

At that time it was a shockingly forthright song, that shocked many. The way Ice Cube rapped was aggressive and direct:

Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, ‘cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell
Fuckin’ with me ‘cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product
Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics

© 1988 N.W.A.

FBI

N.W.A. logo (altopedia.com)

In the song police officers are threatened, which created problems. The FBI felt compelled to write a warning letter. The group was accused of “advocating violence and assault” and inciting actions that were “discouraging and degrading to these brave, dedicated officers”. The letter was designed to place N.W.A. in a bad light. But the opposite turned out to be true. Album sales rose even more and newspapers spent more and more time chasing after stories of the way the police operated in the (slums of the) cities.

Today the letter hangs, framed and all, in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Review

Thirty years after the release of Straight Outta Compton its strength and relevance can still be felt. The music is very funky and aggressive. The lyrics and raps are hard, aggressive and edgy and strike a chord to this very day.

Straight Outta Compton wasn’t the first gangsta rap album, but it was the first popular one and it is the one that brought the genre into the mainstream. For the first time gangsta rap, or to put it in another perspective, US West-coast rap, became commercially interesting. Without any marketing or radio support the albums effortlessly went platinum.

To this day, I can not believe that this album is separated a mere six weeks from Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. In my mind there is a larger gap between both albums. To my recollection, I bought N.W.A. way later than It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Maybe that’s true. In the end, I still play this album regularly and still think it’s exciting. It comes highly recommended and it is a true hip-hop classic.

N.W.A. - Receiving a gold record (ambrosiaforheads.com)

N.W.A. – Receiving a gold record

Current status

Straight Outta Compton was highly influential on hip-hop and rewrote the genre’s route. The album if often placed in the top 5 hip-hop albums of all time. In 2017 the album was selected for eternal preservation in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, because it is “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”.

Songs

  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Fuck Tha Police
  • Gangsta Gangsta
  • If It Ain’t Ruff
  • Parental Discretion Iz Advised
  • 8 Ball
  • Something Like That
  • Express Yourself
  • Compton’s N The House
  • I Ain’t Tha 1
  • Dopeman
  • Quiet On Tha Set
  • Something 2 Dance 2

Personnel

  • Ice Cube – rap on six songs
  • Eazy E – rap on seven songs
  • MC Ren – rap on eight songs
  • Arabian Prince – rap on one song, keyboards, drum programming on five songs
  • The D.O.C. – rap on one song
  • Dr Dre – keyboards, drum programming on five songs, rap on five songs
  • DJ Yella – sampling, drum programming on seven songs, rap on one song

Following Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A. - 1989 tour (sfgate.com)

N.W.A. – 1989 tour

The main message N.W.A. left behind was that there’s a way out of the ghetto: music. N.W.A. has been invaluable as a source of inspiration for kids who were trapped, but gifted with a feel for lyrics and flow.

N.W.A. quickly disintegrated. In 1989 Ice Cube left the group and went to work on his first solo album with The Bomb Squad (of Public Enemy fame), AmerikKKKa’s Most Wanted (number 41 in my album top 50). In their subsequent release N.W.A. addressed Ice Cube’s leaving and made a so-called diss (putting down and/or insulting someone) song about him. On his debut-album Ice Cube hadn’t done anything like that, but on his second album, Death Certificate, he did. The result is a typical Ice Cube song: No Vaseline. The power, aggression and funk pops out the speakers. N.W.A. was buried six feet under in the song which, to this day, is regarded as one of the best diss songs of all time.

In 1991 the album Niggaz4Life was released. It turned out to be the last new N.W.A. material that was released. Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. soon left N.W.A. and Ruthless Records and joined Suge Knight’s Death Row Records.

All previous members would remain active within the music business. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre built the most successful careers. Nowadays, Ice Cube spends most of his time in movies. Dr. Dre has become a major and influential hip-hop producer. Besides releasing three great solo albums and introducing the so-called g-funk, he collaborated with a lot of big names, of which he discovered several, within hip-hop, like Eminem, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and 50 Cent.

On March 26th, 1995, Eazy-E died of the consequences of AIDS.

In closing

In 2015 the movie Straight Outta Compton was released: a movie on N.W.A.. The movie was very successful. One year later the group was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

What do you think about Straight Outta Compton? Let me know!

 

Compliments/remarks? I´d love to hear them!