Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, my formative years included heavy doses of NWA. High school for me was rolling down the windows in my car (sadly not a six four), blasting Straight Outta Compton, and going word for word with Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Now, as a soccer mom with 2.5 kids and a minivan*, it might be a little unsettling that I can still rap along with the boys while Dre keeps the beat. To say that I was excited to see this movie would be an understatement. However, I was also apprehensive. Would I be disappointed? Would the movie do the crew justice? I knew one thing, it wasn’t just going to be all about the music.
N.W.A. was a band before its time, doing things that had not been done in music before. Gangster rap was basically unheard of. Sure, we had the Beastie Boys’ License to Ill, but that hardly prepared us for what the West Coast was about to drop. Not only was rap music about to change, but outside of my middle class white world, racial tension was at an all-time high. Racial profiling was the norm, police harassment was commonplace, and people were starting to demand change.
Director F. Gary Gray (of Friday fame), along with screenwriters Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, have created a movie that takes the audience through this time of civil unrest and shows us how one group brought it to the nation’s forefront. Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) were just kids from Compton that were fed up with where their lives where headed, done with life in the hood. Dre, in particular, had a vision of changing music and at the same time changing his own life. With Ice Cube’s lyrics and Eazy’s drug money, Dre produced the iconic song Boyz in the Hood. And it took off. Overnight these kids became stars.
The music not only had fresh new beats, but it was raw and ruthless. The lyrics spoke the truth and exposed what they saw in the world; drugs, gangs, girls and out of control authorities who abused power. The movie chronologically follows the band thorough the highs and lows of their career, their explosive rise to stardom to their unfortunate break up. The audience sees first hand what these young black men from the ghetto went though, and how they overcame. Their music, along with evidence of police brutally around the nation, sparked a social revolution that is still burning to this day.
So, did this movie disappoint? Absolutely not. Did it do the band justice? For sure. I ended up loving the group more than I had when I sat down in the theater. It definitely wasn’t just about the music. It was about a better life, not just for them, but for an entire nation. I urge people to see this movie. It is an eye opening experience. What was just a band for me, some of my favorite musicians to this day, is now so much more. The music was, and always will be, powerful. But the social commentary is much stronger. N.W.A. was not only instrumental in changing rap music, they became the voice of the unheard. They would not let record companies, shady producers, or censorship stand in their way. They had something to say, and we listened.
*I don’t actually drive a minivan, nor do I have .5 of a kid, it just sounded better for the purpose of this article.