Damn that shit was dope!
Hip-Hop is often misunderstood. It is not actually a music genre but a way of life that combines Music, Art, Dance, Fashion, putting on shows/events and more. The music genre of Hip-Hop is equally diverse but usually contains a beat made by a DJ from older musical samples and a voice spoken by an MC in the form of Rap.
To think that all Hip-Hop is just “Yea, I’m a gangster, fuck chasin’ benjamins cos I got dem hoes in da club” is plain wrong. What you are probably thinking of is a sub-genre of Hip-Hop termed as gangster rap.
Even if gangster rap has become a self fulfilling prophecy in that people want to grow up to be gangsters so they can then rap about it, or worse just pretend to be gangsters, be careful not to underestimate it’s importance.
Gangster rap pretty much started with a group called N.W.A and the course of their history is charted in Straight Outta Compton. Cool, but why do you care about my shoddy abridged music lesson above? Well that’s simple; history, and gangster rap’s role in it, is represented with surprising care and grace in this film.
N.W.A started as a way for a group of disenfranchised youths to voice the frustrations of their social situation to those in the same boat. These boiled down to poverty, drugs, violence and most importantly inequality especially when it came to law enforcement.
The film both eloquently and succinctly explains why they chose to make the music why they did and why it resonated with a wider populous.
The music production and subsequent storyline weaves in and out with the growing tensions of police brutality that culminates in the Rodney King trial where, amazingly, none of the assholes that beat the poor man senseless were convicted of excessive force. Mind blowing!
Cue the L.A. riots where the maxim was taken from the seminal N.W.A song “Fuck Da Police”. The inter-connectivity of music, life and history should be interesting enough for everyone even if you are not a fan of rap or hip-hop.
If you are a fan then you have the added benefit of a well acted and intriguing drama about the N.W.A. members and the surrounding music industry. All of the cast perform surprisingly well given they appear to have been cast because they look strikingly similar to their real life counterparts.
This is especially true for Ice Cube’s own son O’Shea Jackson Jr who plays Ice Cube. You would think that he would be on auto-pilot to play his dad but there is an unexpected level of subtlety and range to his performance.
The actual events portrayed in the film are constantly interesting as we see the band rise to the fame thanks to the music production talents of Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) and the bank rolling of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). We see the infamous break up and subsequent slagging match after Ice Cube leaves, which is brilliantly portrayed and gives further context to the motivations behind the music. We also get to see Dre work with Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marc Rose) under the madness of the gangster Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) at Death Row records.
Whilst the above is far from dull there is never one moment that is truly heart stopping. Even when Eazy-E’s passes away the film doesn’t hit the dramatic heights that other biopics do, which may leave you finding the film slightly flat and a bit slow paced in places.
For want of a different phrase; that’s not the worst crime the film commits. It conveniently paints the band members in a rather positive light. Sure they have wild parties with drinking and scantily clad women so they’re not the role models but there is no mention of any past felonies. I don’t know their life so I can’t say for sure but Dr Dre’s first album is called The Chronic so not even one shot of anyone smoking a single, solitary, teeny, cheeky little spliff? Come on…!
It’s not entirely surprising that they have expressed themselves in a positive light instead of being all gangsta gangsta; after all it was co-produced by both Ice Cube and Dr Dre. Still, Straight Outta Compton is much better than it has any right to be. It is competently acted and produced whilst the story carefully and lovingly articulates not only the rise of some of Hip-Hops highest paid artists but also a fascinating slice of history. If, after all that, I ain’t the one to convince you of it’s quality then check it out for yourself but parental discretion is advised.
- Demonstrates the importance of the group
- Great soundtrack
- Surprisingly well acted
- Paints everyone in a suspiciously positive light
- ‘Shocking’ moments are not that shocking
- A little bit slow paced