NWA was a lot of things. Brash, fresh and revolutionary come to mine. Specifically their debut album, Straight Outta Compton.
Another thing Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella were — as a collective — is short lived.
After SOC, came their last album, Niggaz4Life, which, sans Cube, didn’t produce the highlights of its predecessor and brought forward some of the ails the group mucked about in.
This all begs the question, was their career worthy of a movie?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is…maybe not a theatrical release. Or this particular version.
Much has been made about the movie’s lack of addressing the misogyny in their lyrics and Dre’s assault on Dee Barnes. In Rolling Stone, Dre tried to own up to it and Cube tried to mansplain it. Bitches still ain’t shit, right?
But more than anything….spoiler alerts abound…the movie, while good and well paced, was too long. By the halfway mark we were already onto post Ruthless/NWA business and Suge replaced Jerry Heller as the villain. This split duty in the evil department didn’t give us much to invest in a far as obstacles. Presumably Compton was the biggest and the guys got straight outta there fast. Mansions and pools occupied the settings throughout the film.
And the LA riots served as a secondary story that never quite picked up and failed to connect to a larger scope, i.e. Cube’s fiery solo work. Or even Dre’s “Lil’ Ghetto Boy.”
Instead, much of what makes “Straight Outta Compton” go is the early origin story of how ascending DJ Dr. Dre, promising lyricist Ice Cube and pusher Eazy-E joined forces in the first place to cut “Boyz N Da Hood.”
F. Gary Gray did a knock out job early in the movie of relaying the menace of mid-80s Compton. A scene where a school bus carrying Cube being boarded by Bloods who terrorize a teen set throwing up their C’s rivals any scare produced in a coming of age flick. Same for a police sweep where Ice Cube had to deal with being accosted and disrespected as he was carrying his schoolbooks.
Later in the movie (after Cube’s troubles with his label and Dre’s with his), Eazy — in declining health, with an ominous whooping cough — tried to recruit his more successful pals for a reunion that we know never materialized. Here, the casting really pays off as Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins and O’shea Jackson Jr. are equal parts warm and brooding, leveraging the tension from their split to deliver smiles and cheery embraces during the reconciliations.
Overall, like a lot of albums from this era, a few brilliant flashes are truly timeless, whereas the filler is a byproduct of that genius. The movie joins a series of rap biopics (TLC, “Notorious,” ‘Pac, come to mind) for us (prayer hands emoji) by us (literally, since members of the groups help produce) that could use distance from those involved and the deft touch of an outsider. As hip-hop greys and more projects are commissioned, we’ll demand something different from these experiences. Right now, however, it’s worth celebrating the power of street knowledge.
(Off the dome, as in, written on the D train heading back to Brooklyn after watching the movie.)