N.W.A are sometimes referred to as ‘The Black Beatles’ and this tag is not just a simplistic nickname. Like The Beatles, N.W.A made their music mainstream, whilst never sacrificing their artistic integrity. N.W.A led to some very successful solo careers, Dr Dre and Ice Cube in particular, could rival Lennon and McCartney’s. But most importantly, the group’s music is still as fresh and relevant as ever. With Straight Outta Compton, named after the group’s first album, the story follows Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy E from 1986 to 1996, when rap seemed to take over the world.
Watching Straight Outta Compton, one is reminded that history is written by the victors. Dr Dre in particular is portrayed as that typical film star character trying to break out of his hopeless upbringing. Forced into music to escape, Dre avoids the drugs and hood life in order to achieve his dream. Ice Cube too writes lyrics on a bus as local gangbangers board it to intimidate a classmate. Meanwhile, Eazy E sells enough dope to finance the group that would then become N.W.A.
There is little surprise that Dr Dre and Ice Cube were on the set every day and produced the whole project. While it is good to have eyewitnesses reveal what happened, I get the impression they had a little too much influence on it. Dr Dre’s morality minefield is rarely questioned. The son that he fathered at sixteen, and didn’t properly meet until he was an adult, is only mentioned briefly. The furore of him beating women, only revealed after the film’s release, is of course never mentioned. But the thing that really grates is his choice to team up with Suge Knight. By all accounts a psychopathic criminal, Dre’s choice to leave Eazy E and the gang for this prick is never delved in to. Was it money motivated? And how did Dre rationalise in his head Suge Knight’s methods of torturing and threatening those who opposed him? Also, there’s an irritating scene that has Dr Dre inventing the riff of ‘Nuthing But a G Thang’. Irritating because the riff was already contained in the sample of ‘I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You’ by Leon Haywood that Dre used. He did not invent it, despite what the film is suggesting.
Where the film really shines however, is when it sticks to what made N.W.A so iconic. The music, the black outfits, the rage. Scenes of police brutality are as relevant as ever. The excuse of ‘looking like a gang member’ or being on the wrong street at the wrong time mean the N.W.A members are constantly subjected to victimisation. In particular, the scene where Ice Cube composes ‘Fuck Tha Police’ is a glorious culmination of the rage many black people felt. When they are arrested in Detroit for singing it despite being warned not to, there won’t be an audience member, besides some crazy right wing nut, who does not side with them.
Straight Outta Compton is a safe but immensely enjoyable biopic for those who love Golden Age Rap music. With a brilliant performance from Jason Mitchell as Eazy E, the film has heart, soul and a lot of brilliant music.