On August 5, celebrities and New York tastemakers attended a private screening of the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” Attendees gathered at the Florence Gould Hall in New York City to preview the film starring new comers Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. After the film, the cast, executive producer Ice Cube and Director F. Gary Gray participated in a Q&A moderated by none other than the legendary MC Lyte. Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube) also participated in the panel. Other notables in attendance included: Bun B, Jadakiss, Mack Wilds, Estelle, Fabolous, Method Man and Stalley. In 1980’s California, a group of young men form the hip-hop group N.W.A and revolutionize music and pop culture with brutally honest songs about life in the hood. The film is now playing and is the must see movie of the summer. Read what Ice Cube had to say during the event:
MC Lyte: So, Cube, I have to ask you, how did the film come to be?
Ice Cube: First of all, I want to thank all my New York, OG hip-hoppers in the house. Without y’all, we wouldn’t even be here. We wouldn’t have done this movie … And the project has been a lifelong dream of mine, ever since we started producing in ’95 with “Friday.” And I’ve been working, steadily hoping to get to a point where we can tell our own story and tell it so well. So when the project started to pick up momentum about four or five years ago, Gary blessed us with his presence by saying he’d do the project. Now, there’s only a few people that could tell this story. The only reason that I’m so thankful that Gary is the one because he knows the story, he was there. I didn’t have to teach him who NWA is and what they mean to the world. So, it just feels good, I’m blessed. These guys did an excellent job. I was watching them. I was like, damn. I was tripping ‘cause I was like “F—- man … that’s not us?” Wait a minute, those are actors. They would take me out and I would zone out, and after watching some of these performances I had to pull out our picture and look at it and make sure we didn’t morph into the screen. So that was just a beautiful job.
MC Lyte: What it showed me is that on the east coast [was] you all were dealing with something different. And that’s not to say that we weren’t dealing with police brutality, but to actually address it. I think Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Flash, and the Furious Five and the songs that they did, you know “broken glass everywhere” just painting the picturing for us. But you all took it to the street by speaking directly to the police, where we might tell a story about them to one another, but you addressed them directly. So I have to ask you Cube, there are groups that have existed where someone decided that they no longer wanted to be with the group, but I don’t know that they went on to do the things that you have gone on to accomplish. Did you know that or did you just have enough faith to say, “I’m out these doors and whatever happens is better than this”?
Ice Cube: I have faith in myself, I have faith in my talent, and where I come from if you know you’re getting screwed and you stay, you lose a little bit of your manhood. So, I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to lose my manhood. I didn’t want to just be there. And I’d be there in the heart, so I decided to walk away and it’s the best decision I have made. I had a support team; my family, people behind me, and sometimes you just got to bet on yourself. You got to believe in yourself. That’s the whole lesson: believe in yourself.
MC Lyte: So we’re right there in the midst of Cube of doing this, the record on your own, and I know at some point you came over to the east side for production. And so how was making that type of decision, being from the west side but selecting a group of producers from the east side.
Ice Cube: Well, at the time Dre wasn’t my favorite producer, it was the Bomb Squad. And they were my favorite producers, me and Ren would listen to Public Enemy records all day until our heads just busted. So Dre was, we was there with him everyday we didn’t know he was a genius. The records were big, the P.E. records were bigger than our records at the time. We were still basically locals. So, to make a long story short, I just figured [since] I couldn’t get the best producer on the West Coast, maybe I can get the best producers on the East Coast. So Chuck D, he saw me walking out of Def Jam one day and he was like, “Yo, what you doing here?” … and he was like, “Me and Big Daddy Kane are doing a record called ‘Burn Hollywood, Burn’ tonight, you want to jump on it?” And that started the meeting, Hank Shocklee and Keith Shocklee, they blessed me. And it was history after that.
MC Lyte: As I was listening to all the songs, were those the original songs or did you re-cut the songs?
Ice Cube: It’s a mixture … They recorded the whole album over again just in case we needed to use them getting down. It’s the same thing here where they’re going live. It just shows how much work they put in to sound like us and to just get the flavor right.
MC Lyte: I want to tell you what it seems like in the film, that moment that you talk about in terms of you realizing that Dre was something to be hailed, was when Eazy was rolling down the street and he saw the sign of the “The Chronic.” And that felt like, “Wow.” Like he understood that he was a part of something that was huge.
Ice Cube: Yeah, I don’t know how anybody let Dre go. It’s like Lonzo let him go, Eazy let him walk out the door, Suge let him walk out the door. Dude, if you don’t make anybody happy, make Dr. Dre happy.
MC Lyte: So who wrote this script?
Ice Cube: It was a collaboration of a lot of great writers and we needed to punch up and make sure the conversations were true, authentic, and the real conversations we had with each other and wasn’t just Hollywood dialogue. Me and him, we had a pact with each other. We called it DefCon 4. If Hollywood tried to inject BS into this movie, we was going to quit it and blow it up. If you ain’t going to do it right, don’t do it at all that’s how we feel.
MC Lyte: Now is that on tape? That conversation with that interviewer in front of that pool actually happened?
Ice Cube: We’ve got a thousand tapes of me goin’ at it with reporters (laughs). They used to come at me back in the day.
MC Lyte: I can imagine. Having to correct them always by saying “That’s not my mission. We’re here for this instead of that.” What do you think is missing in hip-hop today as it relates to courage, maybe?
Ice Cube: Hip-hop is missing that hip-hop (laughs). I think the assault on political hip-hop happened around ’93, ’94, when all of our outlets basically pulled the plug on all the groups we were listening to: the Poor Righteous Teachers, BDPs, the Public Enemies; all the groups that were coming in that vein. Then, they decided, “Yo, let’s go with that escapism rap. Let’s go with the strip clubs, the drinking, the smoking, the rims, the jewelry.” From ’94 you saw the erosion of the political rap groups into the escapism kind of … let’s just party. And the youngsters think that’s the way to do it to get on, so they start doing that kind of music and forget about these issues in the world that they should probably address when they got the mic. Groups are now comin’ around. I like what J. Cole’s sayin’, I like what Kendrick’s sayin’. It’s a few guys that’s coming around. But I will say this: it should be in your heart. You shouldn’t feel pressured, you shouldn’t feel like, “They want me to say something” or, “I saw something on TV” or, “I ain’t feelin’ it but I need to say somethin’ because I just need to do it.” That’s wack. It’s all about just feeling it, and going into the studio and not worrying about being on the radio and just feeling it.
Michael Eric Dyson: First of all, I’ve gotta give props to F. Gary Gray for doing, cinematically and visually, what y’all represented on wax was such an incredible work that not only summarizes the integrity, lyrically, of what NWA did, but the kind of depth of humanity that repudiates every conception of black people as mere thugs or nihilistic throwaways who have no depth of perception about the culture around them, so I’ve gotta give you mad props for that. Just a couple questions to Cube, ‘cause all y’all did a hell of a job. I’m sittin’ here like “man, this is just so real.” But Cube, your analysis now was interesting. I saw Talib [Kweli] on Twitter defending NWA because some righteous dudes were trying to say that NWA was the end of serious hip-hop, and what they don’t understand with what you did as a solo artist, as well as Tupac, the kind of depth of political integrity that it represented was incredible so first of all, I appreciate what you did. You were one of the great storytellers; they talk about Big and talk about Jay, but you were one of the first great storytellers in hip-hop. Whenever I teach hip-hop, I always talk about the structure of analysis you put forward and the narrative that you carried through, and your ability to marry the power of description novelistic-ally with a kind of political sensibility, so here’s my question … This movie couldn’t have been more timely given that Black Lives Matter … I’m not gonna lie to you. I was a seminary professor in Hartford, Connectucut, and I was like “F— Tha Police coming straight from the underground / a n—- got it bad cause I’m brown…” We were rapping that straight up; like I had my bible in one hand and NWA in the other (laughs). So tell us how timely, both F. Gary Gray and Cube … you could’ve never anticipated that when you began this movie that we would be in the midst of one of the most profound legacies of white supremacy that’s been articulated within the last 25 years, and your movie, our reality caught up to what you understood 25 years ago; so tell us how it feels to be prophetic in the sense that you anticipated it, but also, tragically, how we’re in the same place we were when you were getting knocked on the ground and the police were doing the same kind of thing we’re right back to where we began 25 to 30 years ago. Much love and respect to all of y’all.
Ice Cube: The game don’t change, you know. The only thing that does is the players, and our plight in this country has been being abused, and used, and dehumanized for a long time … I’ve gotta shout out rappers like Melle Mel, KRS, Chuck D, who taught me how powerful the mic can be … I saw this in the ‘60s. I heard about these things. There was a Watts riot before I was even born, so these things have been constant; all we did was shed a light on it. And now that we have technology, we’re able to see for ourselves what we’ve been knowing for hundreds of years. It’s just a time for us to hold these officers accountable; it’s time to hold that a– to the fire. They’ve been getting away too long, and we’ve really got to weed out the bad cops and really kind of appeal to the good cops to start pointing out these bad seeds. ‘Cause y’all wanna say we have a no snitching policy in the hood, but y’all got a no snitching policy in the department, and we gotta get rid of that and get your dignity back from the community and that’s where it needs to start. Holding them accountable is the new NWA. Holding them accountable is the new “F—Tha Police.” A song can do only so much, we gotta do what we can and everyone in this room can do something to fight back.
MC Lyte: I just wanted to say the film certainly enlightened us to how involved you were in writing the lyrics so shaping who NWA in fact was, which was awesome to know.
Ice Cube: It was a collaborative effort, it was Eazy, it was him pushing us that way real hard. He wanted us to be brutally honest about our environment where we come from, not to be ashamed. It’s a testament to him and Dre and everybody that was there that really put in a lot of work on the imagery, what you saw. The group was a very, very special talent pool so to speak. It was a collaborative effort on everybody’s part.
MC Lyte: So you’re in Detroit and they tell you what not to do. Was everyone in unison?
Ice Cube: Every show we did they would pull us in the back and they’d be like, “The police need to read the city ordinances, the little bylaws telling us what we couldn’t say, the obscenity laws they had in place.” We were just getting tired. Every show they were trying to tell us what we can’t do. So in Detroit it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. We was like, “Alright, we gonna give it to them.” ‘Cause they made us promise we wouldn’t do “F— Tha Police.” They was like, “Yo, if you do this on tour we’re gonna cancel the tour.” So they were threatening us with that every stop. So we was like, “Yo, this is our first time really being on a nationwide tour.” We felt lucky that West Coast hip-hop had even made it to that level. So we didn’t want to mess that up, but we just got tired, we just got tired of them telling us that we couldn’t do the song, so we just decided. I don’t think Yella knew, Yella was chasing somebody.
MC Lyte: He was the playboy. Everybody else was getting down to business and he had different business on his own. What I loved was just seeing you all not be afraid to be bumped. It just was like, “Whatever y’all gonna do, we gonna do this song, they gonna slap us on the ground, shove us in the whatever.” But you were okay with that.
Ice Cube: Yeah we didn’t care. We was like, “This is hip hop, we gotta do whatever it takes to do what we want to do.” That’s what the music is about. You can’t conform you gotta be yourself, that’s the only way it works.
MC Lyte: What I was gonna say … because you were able to do it and decided to do it, you gave that much more inspiration to Dre … to be able get up and walk away as well. ‘Cause it seemed like he was the one that was playing your music around Eazy-E and was like, “This is hot, I don’t care what you say.”
Ice Cube: Yeah, you know … I hope so, you never know really how — really what triggered him or what was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I know what I was saying to him was real. I know it was penetrating. All of them, I had a talk with all of them before they signed the contract. I planted a seed and it grew and he did what was right for him.