Straight Outta Compton is the biopic that chronicles the iconic hip-hip group NWA, which introduced the world to Eazy E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. As someone who lived through that time period and was a fan of NWA who listened to the music, watched the videos and news reports, I was skeptical of what story the film would tell. After I walked out of the theater, I am still contemplating whether I have seen a better film this year.
The film covers the time period from 1987-1995, chronicling the formation of Ruthless Records, the record label started by Easy E that signed NWA, and the release of the album Straight Outta Compton. The storyline is assisted by a strong, relatively unknown cast. Jason Mitchell stars as Eazy E and Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, and both give top-notch performances. If you see a resemblance between Ice Cube and the actor that portrays him in the film, you should. O’Shea Jackson, Jr plays his father Ice Cube in the film, and delivers a great performance. Paul Giamatti is also excellent at Jerry Heller.
The film is brutally honest, and doesn’t appear to sugarcoat anything, from discriminatory treatment from the Los Angeles Police Department, to their misogynistic behavior (Easy E fathered at least seven children with six different women) to their internal beefs that would eventually play out on recordings and in videos.
Hip-Hop beef has recently been a resurrected topic of discussion since Meek Mill’s “Trigger fingers turned to Twitter fingers,” but Straight Outta Compton addresses real hip-hop beef with a couple of songs, including Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline.”
Police brutality is another topic in the news today that NWA addressed nearly 30 years ago that is relevant in the film. “F**^ tha Police” is a song that put NWA under pressure from the United States government, law enforcement, and even some fans, but it was their honest expression of how they felt. I am certain that there are hip-hop artists of today who feel the same, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear they have the courage to record a similar song.
Yet another topic that NWA addressed as a group that is in the film and parallels the happenings of today was the beating of Rodney King by LAPD, which was caught on video, and the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved. The murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island and the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, both of which happened in the summer of 2014, are just two examples of history repeating itself.
The film mixes in other names that are well-known in hip-hop, and chronicles Dr. Dre’s teaming with Suge Knight to launch Death Row Records, and features a brief cameos by Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, the legend who was signed to the label.
So just how influential was NWA? If the group was never formed, the world may never have experienced Eazy E, Ice Cube or Dr. Dre. We may have never heard of Snoop Dogg, Eminem or 50 Cent, or watched the “Friday” franchise. We may have never witnessed the comedy of Chris Tucker. And there certainly wouldn’t be Beats by Dre headphones. It is possible the type of hip-hop we listen to now wouldn’t exist. NWA is quite possibly the most influential group in hip-hop history.
The film was directed by F. Gary Gray and produced by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy E’s ex wife Tomica Woods-Wright, among others. If you are a fan of hip-hop, it is a must-see, not only for entertainment’s sake, but also as a history lesson that begins 28 years in the past. I left the theater inspired to dig up old cassettes to listen to the legendary group that changed hip-hop “straight outta Compton.”