Director F. Gary Gray’s exhilarating and unapologetic biopic about the rap group N.W.A, ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ is a real crowd-pleaser. Possibly the story’s only flaw is that it is bigger than one feature-length movie can encapsulate. It’s an urban rags-to-riches tale about the American Dream. Even if you’re not a fan of Gangsta Rap music, there is still so much to admire here. Not only does it cement the legacy of the pioneering hip-hop group N.W.A from Compton, California, it also makes a political statement regarding the past and present racial tensions that exist from Rodney King in LA to Michael Brown in Ferguson. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of a gifted group of black artists who overcome tremendous odds to achieve success in the music industry.
For those familiar with N.W.A’s controversial 1988 debut album, “Straight Outta Compton,” remembers that it was greeted with outrage from the forces of society. Particularly, the notorious song “F*** the Police” which protested police brutality and racial profiling. Their album was one of the first to get Tipper Gore’s Parental Advisory sticker warning of offensive language. The lyrics also brought the group into conflict with various law enforcement agencies across the country including the FBI. But as everyone knows, any publicity is good publicity and actually had the opposite effect by increasing their mass appeal with disaffected youth. The same thing happened with Elvis in the 50s and Punk Rock in the 70s. The film reminds us that N.W.A’s first national tour was greeted with demonstrators bulldozing their CD in front of sold-out concert venues.
“I can make you legit,” says Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), the rock manager that helped N.W.A get their first record deal. Anyone who has seen Giamatti’s performance in the Beach Boys’ biopic ‘Love & Mercy’ knows that when he enters the picture, it ultimately never bodes well. After cutting their first record in the studio, Heller sees the raw talent and potential in Eazy E (a terrific Jason Mitchell) and the rest of N.W.A. There is a terrific scene where Eazy-E raps about cruising down the street in my 64. Their rise is fast and furious to stardom but the film lets us see the group develop during the early stages. The three key players of N.W.A are Eazy-E (Mitchell), Ice Cube (played by his real-life son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins). The two other members are DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). It’s a terrific ensemble cast that perfectly illustrates how incredibly talented these young men were in writing lyrics and recording thrilling new sounds in the studio.
There is a gritty scene where the group is taking a break from laying down tracks for their album and the cops come out of nowhere to harass them. Heller lashes out at the cops for mistreating his artists. During their tour, some of the band members question whether Heller has their best interests in mind. Ice Cube shows his dissatisfaction for not having a contract while many of the songs on their popular album were written and performed by him. It’s obvious that Eazy-E receives a better deal than the others for getting them much needed distribution and promotion that catapults them to fame. The film even shows raunchy hotel parties of scantily clad women. It’s a bit excessive but it was probably even worse in real-life with groupies and debauchery. As the group begins to splinter, the menacing cigar-chomping record producer Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) enters the story. He uses unethical tactics to get Dr. Dre out of his contract with Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records to begin their own label Death Row. We even get a glimpse of new artists like Snoop Dog (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose who looks exactly like the legendary rapper).
There are poignant moments in the film between Eazy-E and Heller. Eazy-E respects Heller for opening the door for them into a music industry dominated by white people. It also shows how Eazy-E’s wife Tomica (wonderfully played by Carra Patterson) discovers Heller’s mismanaged business dealings. Although Eazy-E died in 1995 after contracting AIDS, producers of the film Dr. Dre and Ice Cube solidify their place as music legends. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is a classic music biopic that entertainingly shows a group of talented artists rise out of the slums to achieve the American Dream. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/rsbWEF1Sju0.