NWA biopic 'Straight Outta Compton' emphasizes group’s musical and social influence

AddThis

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

When rap group NWA released their debut album in 1988, they became the voice for troubled neighborhoods across America. Twenty-seven years later, their biopic, “Straight Outta Compton,” solidifies their relevance and allows their songs to become anthems of injustice once again.  

In the works for over a decade, “Straight Outta Compton” was released Friday. The film follows the group's five members — Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson and Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby — from their beginnings in Compton to their dissolution and solo careers.

Newcomers O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell take on the roles of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy E respectively. Capturing the artists’ mannerisms and rapping cadence, the actors’ portrayals make it difficult for audiences to remember they aren’t the real thing. Striving for accuracy, director F. Gary Gray put the actors through boot camp, ensuring their performances would be as realistic as possible.

Honest and exciting, the film doesn’t glaze over the group member’s use of drugs and penchant  for violence. It’s clear from the beginning that their music was a way of speaking about the reality of life in Compton. While fans might know the twists and turns of the group member’s stories, it’s still exciting to see Dr. Dre experimenting with the intro to “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” or to live through the group’s infamous Detroit concert.

The film wastes no time setting up the group members' stories, but fans looking to learn more about DJ Yella and MC Ren won’t find any new information here. Their voices in the film seem noticeably absent with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, as executive producers. Their absence seems careless considering Yella and Ren played integral roles writing and producing many of the group’s songs.

Despite this, the film pays careful attention to the racial tension and discrimination they faced, which served as the inspiration for many of their controversial songs. Between scenes of the the police and FBI harassing the band, the film also includes actual footage of Rodney King’s beating by LAPD — an incident that angered the group members and incited riots across Los Angeles.

The decades-old footage isn’t only historic, it’s chillingly relevant. In a NewsOne Now interview, Gray said he wished there weren’t so many parallels between then and now, but felt police brutality was an important subject for the film to address.

It’s the inclusion of these social issues that prevent the film from being boiled down to a rags to riches story of five Compton boys. Instead, it’s a story about how they forced the country to pay attention to issues such as discrimination and brutality with their many of their songs, including “Fuck tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton.” With similar issues being discussed now, new life is breathed into the familiar songs.

The film is upfront not only about the group’s rocky relationship with police, but also their conflicts with each other. Power struggles between Ice Cube and Eazy-E, Ice Cube and N.W.A’s manager Jerry Heller and essentially everyone, and music executive Suge Knight are prevalent throughout the film.

In the film, tension escalates between Heller and Ice Cube, until Ice Cube departs from the group and performs a caustic rendition of his diss track “No Vaseline.” Dr. Dre leaves shortly after, and the group inevitably breaks up. The story continues, focusing instead on each individual’s solo careers. For Dr. Dre, that meant co-founding Death Row Records with Suge Knight, where they would sign Snoop Dogg and 2Pac.

With Eazy-E left behind, he finally realizes his mistake in trusting Heller, and attempts to get the group back together. Mitchell delivers the most powerful performance of the film, as Eazy-E tries to right past wrongs only to find out he has AIDS. In the aftermath of his diagnosis and death one month later, the group finally makes amends.

By the end of the film, the group’s impact on not only the industry but society is unquestionable. This summer, “the world’s most dangerous group” will become the most relevant.

 

  • “Straight Outta Compton”
  • Score: 8/10
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Running Time: 147 Minutes