Watching N.W.A. navigate through the music business in Straight Outta Compton, one wonders the outcome had they remained together as a musical act. Making consecutive hits looked easy. But there they were, five or more young black men from Compton, laying down layered tracks and defying record industry protocol. It makes one hopeful that N.W.A. would reunite just once more for their legions of fans. But, the reality of watching them lose ties after the contracts are executed and the money is distributed, weathering the mistrust of management, struggling against the racist so-called police, you share the pain and the Crenshaw ride with respect that they’ve chosen to just let it all rest in peace.
N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, their first studio album on Ruthless Records, was released 27 years ago. It was ground-zero and a defining moment in the genre now known as hardcore West Coast rap. An established drug dealer in Compton by 1986, Eazy-E was also a shrewd businessman who elevated his status as a respected industry leader. As the chief financier, he arguably considered himself the most important asset and N.W.A.’s sole foundational asset. What’s not debatable is that Dr. Dre oversaw the music production that gave the group its foundational sound. All the while, N.W.A.’s lyricist, Ice Cube, was scribbling like a documentarian, weaving ‘hood tales together with a sometimes too-thin thread.
As success came and N.W.A. struggled to keep their message authentic, the essence of mistrust permeated the group, the fermentation ultimately blowing it apart. The casting, along with Dr. Dre’s graceful musicianship and Ice Cube’s modern-age storytelling turns Straight Outta Compton into a showstopper. It’s the kind of pure artistry and docudrama that engages you before cursing you out and pushing you from a moving car.
The director of Straight Outta Compton, F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Set It Off), has been connected to Ice Cube since directing him and Chris Tucker in Friday. They worked together on Cube’s video “It Was a Good Day” and several other videos before going mainstream filmmaker with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Gerard Butler and Kevin Spacey. Grimy yet endearing, generic yet reminiscent, Straight Outta Compton takes you into the bowels of Compton, California. A backdrop that cranks 808 beats and soulful R&B against gun-totting thugs and police stops, the leading cast is a hard-working one. O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Neil Brown Jr. as Yella and Aldis Hodge as Ren are cast as members of the original N.W.A. group. They are joined by Golden Globe and Emmy-winner and Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti (Ruthless Records co-founder and musical act manager Jerry Heller) and newcomer R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight.
In this movie, the lyrics as well as the scenes of police brutality keep it real. Vintage shots of L.A. burning after the infamous “not guilty” verdict from the Rodney King trial maintains the relevance to current-day social ills. Clearly, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube channel their inner star power, feeling that their efforts and hard work paid off in the end. Director F. Gary Gray confirms this by film’s end as well. Throughout Straight Outta Compton, you can sense the filmmaker awkwardly playing tug of war with the real sequence of events. The climax grows more sinister yet emotional with the excellent acting delivery of Jason Mitchell as the genius, yet flawed Eazy-E. Paul Giamatti’s worldly flair is especially crucial to his Jerry Heller character demonstrating that N.W.A.’s astro-ride to stardom was somewhat reliant on this man to succeed in the game of American pop music. –darralynn hutson