Compton has become known as one of the toughest cities in America. In 1988 when N.W.A. burst onto the gangsta rap scene with “Straight Outta Compton,” they made it well known where they were from. The city has changed in the years since, and may have even softened a little. As Bloomberg reported July 28, the city is rebranding itself as a commercial hub, complete with affordable housing. The shift in the city’s image hasn’t stopped visitors to LA Hood Life & Hip Hop Tours. If anything, it has only brought more.
Hodari Sababu has been giving tours of Compton, the Los Angeles suburb known for its violent past, since 2010. When he started, nobody thought it would work, and he’s still the only person doing it. For $75 Sababu takes visitors from all over the world to the places they have only heard of in rap songs, or seen in the movies and on news broadcasts.
The tour takes visitors down the same streets that were home to the the Rodney King riots in 1992, and past the house where Eazy-E grew up. N.W.A recorded its first album in the garage attached to the house where Eazy’s mother still lives. There is a stop at the bullet-proof, drive-through funeral parlor, as well as a visit to Tam’s Burgers. The burger joint is a favorite of rapper Kendrick Lamar and is the spot where the Notorious Suge Knight allegedly ran over two men in January of this year, killing Terry Carter and injuring Cle “Bone” Sloan. The men were working on location at Tam’s while filming for the N.W.A. movie.
While the city has made progress, it is still a rough area. Tours through the city require a bit of caution. Sababu told Examiner that he prefers to take groups no larger than seven or eight to what he calls the Mecca of West Coast hip hop. He avoids certain areas when different gangs are at war.
“It’s very discreet, I try to be very respectful,” Sababu said. “It’s not a safari, it’s more of a celebration. It’s like going to Liverpool or Graceland. Compton is mythological and probably even more so after the film.”
The members of N.W.A. went in varied directions, after the group split up in the early ’90s. Eazy-E died of AIDS in 1995. While MC Ren continued on as a rapper, DJ Yella began a career directing pornographic films. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube who share producer credits for the film, continued to rap, but have found success in other areas. Ice Cube has had a successful career in Hollywood films while Dr. Dre sold his company Beats Music to Apple for a few billion dollars. Many hope that “Straight Outta Compton” will have a positive impact on the community, including Mayor Aja Brown, who said “It’s a great opportunity to have a second look.” The film’s director Gary Gray shares a similar sentiment.
“We don’t depict it in a negative manner. There are no murders, no shootings. We didn’t go there,” Gray said. “I think people will walk away feeling inspired.”
According to Sababu, the film has brought an influx of tourists, a trend he thinks will only continue to grow. “Straight Outta Compton” premieres in the U.S. Aug. 14 and will be accompanied by a soundtrack from by Dr. Dre that may feature original music, giving visitors of Sababu’s tours something new to listen to while rolling through Compton.