Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Straight Outta Compton

After watching the movie, Straight Outta Compton (2015), last night, my mind was really opened to the world of “old school rap.” The movie, based on a true story, is set in the city of Compton, California in the year 1987, an area ridden with gang violence, drug dealers, and police brutality. It follows the rise of the famous rap group, N.W.A., comprised of rappers Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Arabian prince, and Dr. Dre. The group was one of the original “gangsta rap” groups and received both love and criticism for its explicit songs about women, drugs, violence, and speaking out against the police. The group’s biggest hits are “Straight Outta Compton,” “F*** the Police,” and “Express Yourself,” all with various messages depicting life in Compton as African-Americans and their continuous struggle dealing with gang violence and oppression from the police. Their first album, “Straight Outta Compton,” went double-platinum in the United States, and once split up, the rappers continued to see success pursuing their individual music careers.

I had heard many N.W.A songs prior to watching the movie; however, I never truly appreciated the meaning of these songs until I was able to visualize what life was like for these rappers. I had previously believed their songs to simply be about demeaning women, drug abuse, and violence, just like much of today’s rap music; however, the movie really opened my eyes to the more substantive message their music really attempts to portray. Seeing the intense and very real police brutality the movie portrays, such as the abuse of taxi driver Rodney King, their music seems far more justified in its harsh and explicit criticism against police brutality. Here is an example of a scene from the movie depicting the police’s unfair treatment of the young rappers (Video contains NSFW language):

In addtion, every day in Compton for these rappers could be their last, as violence and gang activity was constantly present, so their music that makes repeated references to drugs, guns, and violence is not simply to sound like tough thugs, but rather accurately depicts the harsh lifestyle they were born and raised in.

Overall, I thought the movie was a great success in its attempt to open people’s eyes to the true meaning of N.W.A’s music, and I would certainly recommend watching Straight Outta Compton, whether you want to learn more about the culture of Compton in the 80’s and 90’s, or simply just need an entertaining movie to kill some time.

1 Comment

  1. I totally agree. Before the movie, as an immature kid, I remember thinking how cool I was singing along to such explicit music when my parents weren’t around. After seeing this movie, though, I understand their role as a rap group in the United States. They really brought the genre to the mainstream industry and helped to politicize it and make it important. N.W.A really created the mold for rap artists of the future. I especially liked how they quietly incorporated other stars into the movie like Snoop Dogg and Tupac. It showed how popular and important they had become and would remain for decades.

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