Last updated on August 21st, 2015 at 11:57 am
In a new film about the origin and impact of the revolutionary iconic rap / hip-hop group N.W.A., viewers will be transported to the mean streets of the black ghettos of Los Angeles in the mid-1980’s through the mid-1990’s. During this tumultuous period of time, various cultural influences coalesced into a meeting of the minds among several young men in Compton, California. Who needs the Fantastic Four in film this summer when you have this Phenomenal Five — Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren, along with original member Arabian Prince.
A relatively historically accurate but dramatically embellished teleplay describes how they met and formed a group that challenged the authority of an out-of-control police culture in southern California, one that still exists across the country in many communities,e.g. Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.
The rise and fall of the group that electrified and unified (African American) youth across the nation with their anthemic “F… the Police” along with “Gangsta, Gangsta” and the title track “Straight Outta Compton” is a compelling ride that never fails to satisfy with truth and humor, along with nudity and profanity, as it touches on issues of family, loyalty, corruption, police brutality, gang violence and the undeniable, irrepressible genius of the protagonists.
As the film progresses, we meet icons Suge Knight, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg and others who played roles in the saga of Cube, Dre, Eazy-E and Ren. Knight’s role in influencing the trajectories of the protagonists is a fascinating look into one of the genre’s most notorious figures. Tupac and Snoop are merely tangential to the storyline, but their brief appearances are a welcome respite and offer moments of comic relief.
This film is true to the language, misogyny, violence and power of the times it portrays. It deals frankly with the emergence of AIDS and the Rodney King beating, verdict and its aftermath, as well as the rampant sexual and drug “activity” that are part of the culture — not just the rap / hip-hop genre, but basically “groupie” pop / rock music fan culture. It briefly touches on the fact that the drugs and guns originate outside the U.S. and are brought in and supplied by people who are not native to the ghettos they use them in, a fundamental aspect of the destruction of black society imposed by outside influences. For more on that, attend the presentation at Fisk University on August 27 by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing profiled elsewhere in this issue of the paper.
Another interesting portion of the teleplay is its portrayal of the Jewish manager who rips off the group from Day One, blindly helping them dish out lyrics that seemingly glorify drug abuse, misogyny, gang-banging, casual murder, etc. but he gets bent out of shape when lyrics by a rival rapper mention his Jewish roots and reference his misbehavior. The long-standing tradition of white and/or Jewish managers who rip off their black clients is laid out in a somewhat sympathetic fashion. Kudos to Paul Giamatti for his performance in the role of Eazy-E’s manager Jerry Heller.
Speaking of performances, another standout performance is turned in by O’Shea Jackson, Jr., who stars as his father, O’Shea Jackson, best known as Ice Cube. Cube’s coming-of-age story is one of three that show how he, Dre, and Eric “Eazy-E” Wright formed the nucleus of the groundbreaking group. Their life experiences, particularly Cube’s and Eric’s, inspired the group’s song lyrics, most specifically in “F… the Police” and “Dopeman,” respectively. The other young actors are outstanding in their roles, as well; especially Jason Mitchell as Eric “Eazy-E” Wright and Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre; I expect award nominations.
The film runs almost two and a half hours, but actually leaves you wanting even more when the film ends. Be sure to stay in your seats during the credits for minor epilogues on the main characters and an awesome music listing of tracks used in the film. The film deserves its ‘R’ rating (for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use), and I suggest leaving small children at home unless they are accustomed to harsh vulgar profane language and explicit sexual situations with nudity. See it soon at your local Carmike Cinema.