The release of N.W.A.’s biopic “Straight Outta Compton” has been a much anticipated moment for me. I remember the first time I heard “gangsta rap.” I was in 7th grade. This might have been before that was even a genre. Back then, it was just “rap.”
The first moment I heard it was on the school bus. My friend brought his radio/tape player (yes it was a ghetto blaster) onto the bus. He popped in Eazy-E’s, “Eazy Duz It” album and played “Still Talkin’.” We wore that tape out, repeatedly listening to lyrics and beats that were so new to us.
And for some reason the bus driver didn’t mind us blasting these explicit lyrics.
I later was introduced to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.” I don’t recall if I actually hid the fact I was listening to such raw lyrics from my parents. Then again, my parents have always been pretty open minded, and never really restricted what I listened to or watched. I’m certainly thankful for that.
But I was hooked. Let’s also not dismiss the fact I was an Asian American kid, growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by mostly white kids. Were were listening to music that was literally “straight off the streets of Compton.” We watched as Rodney King got beat up. We watched as riots spilled onto the streets of Los Angeles. We could only imagine what life in LA must be like, far from our rather calm Midwest surroundings.
N.W.A. may have been harshly criticized back then because of the words they used. Just the style of the music, rap, was already getting a bad rap -- pun intended -- because it was so different. For people that already subscribed to the idea that “rap is crap,” were certainly not going to be converted once they heard lyrics like “fuck tha police” and “taking a life or two, that’s what the hell I do, you don’t like how I’m livin’ … well fuck you.”
But as the members of N.W.A. have said all along, they were just talking about what they were seeing, what they were experiencing in their own neighborhood. They were bringing this to the surface, outside of LA, outside of Compton … they were shoving it in the collective faces of the rest of the country. And they were doing it though music, with clever lyrics and head bouncing beats.
It was brilliant. It was art.
The history of N.W.A. spans, off and on, between 1986-2002. During that time, they officially released two studio albums, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Niggaz4Life.” While I enjoyed the second album, it primarily was like many rap albums in the early 90s. Full of explict sexual content and diss tracks (they didn’t like the recently departed Ice Cube so much when this was recorded). Since it was sans Cube, who not only contributed vocally to “Straight,” but wrote many of the lyrics second album just was not the same.
To me, it was that first album that was a masterpiece. The one that balanced raw story telling with danceable beats. If I could only pick five songs to listen to right now, these would be the ones.
Straight Outta Compton: I want you to think about a different song for a moment. Conjure up in your head that beginning guitar riff from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. That was the sound of a whole new genre of music being ushered in … grunge. Same goes for those 11 words that started track No. 1 on the album, “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” Gangta rap was born.
Compton’s in the House: This could have been the unofficial Compton, California anthem. A gangsta rap beat personified and MC Ren and Dre flowing like a perfect wine.
Something Like That: The song starts out by asking DJ Yella to “kick me one of them funky ass beats.” And if there wasn’t so much cursing this would be a great dance track to play, even in 2015.
Gangsta Gangsta: This is when we really got to know the members of N.W.A. and their distinct rapping styles. With a great hook and a hard hitting bass beat, it basically was THE song what tested out the bass kick of anyone rolling with a 15-inch sub in their car. Remember when car stereos were a thing?
Something 2 Dance 2: A clean song that you could actually play at a high school dance. It was a departure from raw gangsta rap and showed that N.W.A. could even bust out with a freestyle beat. The sound was very Planet Rock. At the two minute mark I basically lose it every time when Eazy says “let the bass kick.” The beat that follows will have you standing up wherever you are and bouncing your head. Guaranteed.
Do you agree with my top 5?
Do yourself and favor and take a listen … maybe for the first time or the 100th. Just do it.
And yes, I listened to the entire album while I wrote this.