Straight Outta Compton

Directed by:  F. Gary Gray

Starring: O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown, Jr., and Aldis Hodge

The Black Lives Matter movement, along with cell phone cameras, has recently shined a light on the tense relationship between people of color and law enforcement.  But in the mid-1980’s, a rap group by the name of N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) shined a light on police brutality in their infamous song “F*ck the Police.”  Straight Outta Compton follows the rise and fall of N.W.A. and sadly still delivers a timely message.

The year is 1986.  Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr. Dre, (Corey Hawkins) lives at home with his mother in Compton, California.  Dre is struggling to make ends meet as a DJ at a local nightclub.  He is good friends with O’Shea Jackson, a.k.a. Ice Cube, (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) a high school student with a gift for writing rhymes.  Eric Wright, a.k.a. Eazy-E, also lives in Compton, but is immersed in the drug life.  One night, Eazy is in attendance at a performance where Dre spins the records and Ice Cube raps.  The crowd erupts and Eazy is impressed.  Dre suggests that Eazy invest his drug dealing earnings into the rap business.  Initially, Eazy is reluctant, but he knows that the cops are closing in on him and he needs another alternative.

Eazy partners with Dre and Cube.  Initially they attempt to make a record with a rap group out of Texas.  It does not work out and as a lark, Dre suggests that Eazy rap the lyrics that Cube wrote.  Eazy is initially reluctant, but with Cube’s lyrics, Dre’s beats and Eazy’s style, they create a hit record.  Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) a sleazy music manager takes notice and connects with Eazy to develop a deal.  They form N.W.A.  M.C. Ren (Aldis Hodge), DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) and the D.O.C. (Marlon Yates, Jr.) round out N.W.A.  The music group takes the world by storm.  They rap about their reality: crime, poverty, bitches, hos, and police brutality.  N.W.A. is a new voice for their generation.  They are incredibly controversial as many felt the group glamourized the gangster lifestyle.  Amidst their success, money, egos and the music business tear the group apart.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton is a compelling biopic of one of the most influential rap groups of all time.  The film is smart, surprisingly funny, and engaging.  As a child of the 80’s, I thoroughly enjoyed hopping in a time capsule and seeing how rappers from Ice Cube to Snoop to Tupac interacted.  What makes the film even better is that the cast is comprised of talented young actors who really look like N.W.A.  Notably, Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays the role of his father as a young man and he is a revelation.   Jackson, Jr. clearly did not just get the role because of his father, but shined on his own merit.  Moreover, the narrative focuses heavily on the group’s interaction with law enforcement and truly shines a light on how significant N.W.A. was in giving a voice to the voiceless. With the script, the amazing true story behind the group and the cast, Gray delivers a comprehensive film about some of rap music’s greatest pioneers.  

With that being said, Straight Outta Compton is not without its flaws.  As an initial matter, the film is a tad too long with a running time of roughly two and half hours.   What felt fast-paced and fresh at the outset, began to labor after about two hours.  Additionally, the film focuses primarily on the positive aspects of the group and depicts N.W.A. as revolutionaries victimized by the music business and police brutality.  It focuses on all that they overcame to achieve success.  However, it glosses over the negatives.

Significantly, the film barely acknowledges the group’s violence against and treatment of women in real life and in their lyrics.  As a child of the 80’s, I witnessed rap music normalize publicly referring to women as bitches and hos and disposable, interchangeable sex objects.  N.W.A. delivered such gems as “Bitch…You don’t have to front on me dear, So you why don’t you just give that p*ssy here?..All I want is the p*ssy, all I want is the p*ssy.”  I could dismiss that as youthful ignorance, but recently Ice Cube reiterated his position in Rolling Stone magazine.  Cube stated, “If you’re a bitch, you’re probably not going to like us…If you’re a ho, you probably don’t like us.  If you’re not a ho or a bitch, don’t be jumping to the defense of these despicable females…I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.”  I will not even begin to unpack the ridiculousness of that statement, except to state that casual misogyny in rap lyrics has made “woman” synonymous with terms such as “bitch” and “ho.”  Who makes the determination that a woman is a “ho”?  To suggest that you can parse out upstanding ladies when the vernacular has changed is simply a copout.  

Straight Outta Compton earns a 0.03% rating.  Even with a few flaws, it was a highly entertaining film, and it was a marvel to watch the incredible talent that came straight out of Compton.