Like many a teen I stumbled into a few subcultures, hip-hop being one of them. I cannot deny also as a teen being influenced by NWA. They were controversial, it is true. Also their talent, grown straight outta the street, ripped up the music scene.
From the beats and lyrics laid down on their tracks to the image, the branding was built from the subculture that started in the Bronx in the 70s. But in their case, with a distinct Compton flavor.
Now Eminem, all the Rhyme Sayers artists and Snoop Dogg flick their baseball caps and gang signs to them. They were dope and also, it seems, “rock and roll,” with their induction into the Hall of Fame. For the chagrin of the Kiss bassist, there is no denying NWA had that rock, and even punk no-holds barred, spirit. They also undeniably made a sociopolitical difference with their anti-authoritarian stance.
As an occasionally political poet, I have also been influenced by them in other ways. The stage presence of Eazy-E and Ice Cube, the way they could work an audience, has rarely been matched since.
The retro street soundtrack to your teens
The way Ice Cube’s son plays him in the biopic “Straight out of Compton” takes you back to a misspent youth listening to great rap and hip-hop. I would say he surpasses his father in his acting skills.
The music in the film was like part of the soundtrack to my teens. Back then I was into original indie, grunge and hip-hop, wore my hair long, but mixed it up with snapbacks and hoodies.
The backdrop to the story, even if you’re not a fan, is intriguing with the social and political undertones. Record label corruption, police brutality, drugs, AIDS, excess, guns, gangs and street living. This was an era where it was not faked in order to sell a tough image, unlike mainstream rap does now.
From the opening scene you see that they were really boys from the hood, especially the main protagonist, Eazy-E (RIP). NWA was the brainchild of Dr. Dre, but frontman Eazy-E tried to lead and control the creative direction. I guess Dre was like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, in that he had the talent for mixing, producing and accompanying the hard, in-your-face lyrics of Eazy-E and Ice Cube. The point where tensions build up between the lead man and these two artists is where the film picks up pace, with a scrupulous look at the interference of management, the industry and the establishment.
The film having so many themes should appeal to a wider audience than old-school, hardcore hip-hop fans. And Eazy-E is probably at peace now, with the reformation and growth of hip-hop into a powerhouse.