New Music Screen Themes — Straight Outta Compton and the legacy of NWA

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Almost thirty years after the formation of one of the most controversial rap groups in history, entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at the new NWA movie, the new release from Dr Dre and a not-actually-new compilation disc of N.W.A. inspired tracks.

New Movie from some old Rebels

Straight Outta Compton (2015) directed by F. Gary Gray

Straight Outta Compton starts with a bang, as ostensible hero Eazy-E is about to be ripped off in a drug deal (by Stringer Bell, no less) and is saved by a military-style raid from the LAPD, escaping over the rooftops as the cops destroy the house and arrest or kill everyone inside.

Inspired to change his lucrative occupation for something a little less hazardous, Eazy accepts a pitch from local DJ Dr Dre to put together a group telling stories from real life. Dre brings his DJ partner Yella and Eazy recruits his friend MC Ren, but things don’t really come together until Ice Cube joins the crew, bringing incendiary lyrics and an attitude that would change everything.

Carrying the stamp of approval of Dr Dre, the estate of Eazy-E (Eric Wright), and starring the son of Ice Cube, it’s pretty clear from the start that this isn’t an unbiased biopic of “the most dangerous group of all time.” The lives of the three stars — Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Eazy-E are told through a distinctly rose-tinted filter (ignoring Dre’s assault on a journalist), the contribution of Yella and MC Ren is minimised, and original members Arabian Prince and DOC are pretty much ignored.

This is not to say that Straight Outta Compton is a bad movie — far from it. The casting is top-notch, with virtual unknowns Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E both killing it. Paul Giamatti plays manager Jerry Heller with just the right amount of sleaze, and R. Marcos Taylor brings a suitable air of menace to aspiring rap kingpin Suge Knight. Son of Cube O’Shea Jackson Jr is a dead ringer for his father, and captures the simmering rage that led Cube to quit the group at the height of their success.

The use of music throughout the film is exceptionally well done, particularly in concert scenes but also in quieter moments like where Dre lies on his back with his eyes closed, surrounded by records, finding beats. Particularly effective is the scene when rampant harassment at the hands of the LAPD inspired the penning of N.W.A’s most infamous song ...

Along with the historically accurate violence and casual misogyny, there is a dark layer of humour that runs through this movie, from Eazy-E’s introduction to rap (line by line, coached by Dr Dre) to the impact of Ice Cube’s famous “diss track” No Vaseline, where the remaining group members sit and listen, nodding to the beat and smiling at the dope rhymes despite themselves.

Rap fans will appreciate the effort that has gone into casting smaller roles, from the perma-stoned Snoop Dogg to a young Tupac Shakur, but readers who aren’t fans of the genre shouldn’t dismiss this movie out of hand — for my money it was a better movie than either Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line or the insanely overrated Ray.  

Verdict: 8/10 — a highly entertaining if somewhat biased biopic

New Album from an Old Artist

Dr Dre Compton: A Soundtrack

One of the few to legitimately lay claim to the title “best producer alive”, Andre Young has come a long way since N.W.A broke up in 1991. He has collaborated on some of the biggest selling rap albums of all time, introduced Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent to the world and was estimated to have a net worth of $550 million by Forbes Magazine in 2014.

Inspired by the movie Straight Outta Compton and featuring frequent collaborators including Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Xzibit and The Game, Dre has stated that Compton will be his final solo studio album, which isn’t really a huge surprise as it took him 17 years to make this one. To be fair, he did spend a lot of time on an album called Detox, even releasing a couple of singles, but eventually decided that it wasn’t good enough and shelved it.

The good thing is … Compton was worth the wait. A beautifully complex album with an undertone of rage that recalls the best of N.W.A, railing against the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner while taking aim at those who blame poor decisions on their environment (‘Anybody complaining about their circumstances lost me, homey…’ Darkside/Gone)

With a potential N.W.A reunion in the works, Compton shows that Dr Dre is far from a nostalgia act, producing music as interesting and challenging today as he did back in the day.

Standout tracks: Talk About It, It’s All On Me, Talking to my Diary

Sample lyric: ‘Record company motherfuckers asking when I’m gonna release.’ (It’s All On Me)

Verdict: 9/10 — a must listen for fans of old school rap

Compilation Album that I thought was new but is actually really old

N.W.A Legacy Vol 1: 1988 – 1998

I picked up this album prior to watching Straight Outta Compton, looking to expand my knowledge of N.W.A beyond the greatest hits collection that I’ve had since the nineties. As the title suggests, this album goes beyond the core N.W.A hits to showcase solo tracks, collaborations and guest spots — with a couple of N.W.A tracks thrown in to keep casual fans (like me) happy.

There are a few standout tracks, including the Dre/2Pac collaboration California Love, the funky Keep Their Heads Ringin’ and the menacing Dre/Cube collaboration Natural Born Killaz, but overall this album is an uneven listening experience.

Songs like Final Frontier (MC Ren) and We Want Eazy (Eazy E) show that N.W.A were greater than the sum of their parts, and songs like Trust No Bitch (by unknowns Penthouse Players Clique) take the rap misogyny cliché to ridiculous proportions. Inclusions from Cube’s solo career are solid, but the omission of No Vaseline suggests that this album is telling one version of the N.W.A. story, but not necessarily one that reflects reality.

If you only buy one N.W.A inspired compilation album this year, make it Compton, not The N.W.A Legacy.

Standout tracks: California Love, Keep Their Heads Ringin’, It Was A Good Day

Sample lyric: ‘Don’t quote me boy cause I ain’t said shit.’ (Boyz ‘n the Hood)

Verdict: 6/10 – some tasty tracks but too much filler

Like what you read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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