Last post of Hip Hop Week here. If you’ve missed the previous entries you can check out the links at the bottom of this post.

I’ve just come out of seeing Straight Outta Compton about 30mins ago, so this is pretty fresh in my mind. Bottom line is that I thought it was an incredible movie. I probably would say that after writing about hip hop all week, but I’m still very glad that the movie was done well. I’m sure it’s about 50% truth and 50% drama but as all four living members of NWA were involved in some capacity it must be a pretty realistic dramatisation on some levels. Obviously this post may have spoilers below if you haven’t seen the film yet.

I’ve been writing a lot about East Coast 80s rap this week and this movie obviously focusses more on the swing to the West in the late 80s and on into the 90s. I was pleased, however, to see a Kurtis Blow LP and hear some Run-DMC in the first 15 mins. There were nice touches like that throughout the film. In fact if you are interested in the progression of rap in the 80s and 90s this movie covers a lot of bases. There are appearances and references throughout the film to names such as Lonzo Williams, Suge Knight, The D.O.C. and his accident, Chuck D, Warren G, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.

They also do well in covering pretty much what I knew about the origins of NWA. They didn’t try to dress it up to be any more gangster than it was. They had Dre and Yella wearing their shiny World Class Wreckin’ Cru jackets. They made a big thing of Eazy-E’s Boyz-in-the Hood single. They referenced Ice Cube’s other group C.I.A. They also covered the not so pretty progression through the record companies including Ruthless, Death Row and finally Aftermath.

I’m sure a lot of people will worry that the film will glamourise violence and gang culture, but I don’t think that’s the case. They show gang behaviour in a negative light just as they show the harassment by the LAPD. Any unnecessary violence that is done by someone in the film is almost always shown in a negative light and leads to a downfall in some way. This is a violent film but I wouldn’t say it glamourises it in any way. It also doesn’t try to make any of the main players into heroes. They are all shown to have flaws. Which brings me to the main actors.

MC Ren, didn’t look too much like MC Ren in my eyes but I still really liked how he played him. Started off as a bit of a hard man but you really got a chance to see another side to him too.

DJ Yella is someone who probably doesn’t get as much limelight as some of the others in the band, so it was nice to see him getting some funny lines in the film. The actor also looked really like Yella. Great casting there.

Talking about lookalikes, that was a genius move having Ice Cube’s son play Cube. At some points you just think you’re looking at old footage of him back in the day. He does have very iconic fashion at various stages so that helps with the look, but I was quite impressed with O’Shea Jackson Jr’s acting throughout the film. And I think Cube comes across pretty well and likeable, apart from a few questionable things later on in the film.

A lot of the film does focus around Dre, and that’s completely fair as he was in many ways the heart of the group and has obviously done the most out of everyone. To be totally honest though I didn’t always find the character 100% likeable the whole time. Not sure if I didn’t quite connect with the actor or if that was meant to be case. Dre is certainly someone who has made a lot of mistakes in his life, particularly in the early days so it may well be that they were trying to be honest about pointing out his flaws. I really like Dr Dre nowadays and really respect what he’s done but when I see past interviews he doesn’t always come across quite as cool back in the day. I know it’s not a lookalike competition but maybe I just didn’t think the actor looked enough like him. There was only one bit where I actually kind of associated him mentally with the real Dre. I have to say the moment when his brother dies is pretty powerful though, especially when the group all rally round him. In the film they do a great job of showcasing his talent right from the start. It’s obvious that Dre is the engine of the group.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that apart from all the biographical rap history stuff, at its very heart this was a film about Eazy-E, or more accurately Eric Wright. He was the central character throughout the film and I think was the main one who was pretty much always shown in a good light. In many ways he started the band, he was the first official recording artist, he brought in Jerry Heller, he part-owned Ruthless records. He was shown as being shrewd, intelligent, and with a lot of balls but also a lot of heart. I felt you were made to connect and empathise with him in a way you didn’t with all of the other characters, and that’s what makes his death all the harder when it comes. Great acting by Jason Mitchell.

There are lots of powerful moments in this film. Eazy’s death for one. The time they get harassed by the police outside their studio and Jerry backs them up and then they go in and record F*** Tha Police. The moment Cube sings the first line of F*** Tha Police in Detroit. And I also loved how they did the rap battles between Cube and NWA when Cube was rapping it in the booth and at the same time the band were listening to a recording of it in the office. That was well done. It’s just also so cool how many good songs are in the movie. It’s done in quite a contrived way but when Snoop Dogg starts rapping Nothin’ But a G Thang it’s still pretty damn cool, and that actor does Snoop extremely well. I also really liked how they did the Tupac California Love bit. It seriously looked and sounded like Tupac was up there on the big screen, and I’m not talking about a hologram!

One thing about the film that was a bit strange was that the characters didn’t really seem to age. Cube aged a bit because they changed his hair and then Eazy changed when he got sick but several years pass for the others and they kind of just looked the same. At one point Cube sees some old footage of him (his dad actually) in a Straight Outta Compton video and he says “Damn, look how young we look”, and to be honest I think he looked younger than his dad did in the video! But hey it’s a film, so I’m not going to get too hung up on that. You just had to pay attention to the dates when they came up, because the film did have to skip forward a few times in order to cover the ground that it did.

I liked how the last word of the movie was Dre saying ‘Aftermath’. That pretty sums it up as Dre is the one who has really taken things forward since then and Aftermath is such a great name for what came after that mess. The pre-credits sequence is basically a round up of the band’s legacy, most of it driven by Dre. There are old clips of the band being interviewed, there are appearances of Kendrick Lamar (the one keeping the Compton rap flame alight) and there are up to date clips of Dre and Cube today doing promo for the film. It’s a great way to sum up what the band has meant to future generations and the footprint that they have left.

Not only is this a great rap film but I found it motivational on a number of levels. Like all good films it’s made me want to do stuff after watching it. And it doesn’t make me want to be violent or do drugs or some stereotypical thing like that like some people might be worried about. It makes me want to be creative, it makes me want to start a business, it makes me want to be careful about not making mistakes in my life. Whether I do any of these things is another story but I salute Gary Gray in making a film that incites action. And I think it did a great job in showing rap to be the powerful, creative voice of the people that is at the very heart of the art of hip hop.


If you’ve missed any other of my Hip Hop Week posts this week you can check out the links below.

Day 1 – My Introduction to Rap
Day 2 – My Run-DMC Top Ten
Day 3 – My Hip Hop Top Ten
Day 4 – Hip Hop in Other Media
Day 5 – Straight Outta Compton Review