Back in the ’80s, when their rhymes and beats of great passion started rolling in from the west coast, I must admit the true grit of rap from N.W.A. greatly went in my ears more like a news story than a foundation change of my soul. I was a Bruce Springsteen guy loving rock covering sports for the big daily in Syracuse.
Yeah, then, the Rodney King beating happened in June 1991, the not-guilty verdict came down in April 1992 and LA erupted in riots. By then I had moved over to the music beat. My mind started sending messages about all styles of sound further into the core of my inner self. I paid more attention to rap, gangsta included. Did I get it? Can’t report here that I was a fan. But I tried harder to understand across the board. My mind was open as I reviewed rap concerts, watching the national acts and fans, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg at the Carrier Dome. I acquired a greater knowledge and appreciation by establishing relationships with Syracuse artists Khalid Bey, aka The Most Talented, and Seth Marcel, who was the first artist signed to the new label started by former Syracuse University and NBA star Derrick Coleman.
And so I entered the opening day matinee at the big theater Regal Cinemas’ Shoppingtown multiplex eager for Straight Outta Compton, excited to get the big picture of that stretch of time when Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E took over their home streets of Compton with a sound so real and connected to the strife they all experienced.
I hoped to find what I had missed at the start.
Written by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff and directed by F. Gary Gray, this movie is 147 minutes of gripping drama, with that seminal gut-busting sound mixed in for optimal effect.
Make no mistake, it’s biopic all from the rapper’s side. It’s what they saw and felt and told the world about through their songs.
Why did they write and record a song titled “F— the Police” you want to know? The way they’re treated by the cops on screen in every instance, ugly, physical, race-influenced confrontations not only in LA but in Detroit as well, is self-explanatory.
Does it attempt to be balanced with any police temperance? No, it does not. It’s their story, after all. And, hey, it does relate very much to the present high emotions and actions in Ferguson and Baltimore.
The acting is fantastic, starting with the uncanny physical resemblance of O’Shea Jackson Jr. to his father, Ice Cube. Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are equally as believeable as the other two pillars of N.W.A., Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, and with all three, it’s about their chemistry and believable attitudes and language. Paul Giamatti, supporting actor extraordinaire, is solid as their eagle-eared manager, and the rest of the Ruthless Records/N.W.A./LA rap scene entourage are top-flight as well.
The story is real and ugly and violent as money makes them implode, explode and reload. It’s as profane as the streets and the songs were back in the day. But the movie shows the heart, too, the good and the bad and the beats. You don’t have to be a rap fan, then or now, to take it all in with wide eyes.
Have you ever been a follower of the music of N.W.A., and can you explain? Are you a rap or hip-hop fan, and can you explain? Are you going to see this movie, and can you explain?