Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A and Various Artists  ‘Straight Outta Compton: Music From The Motion Picture’   (Universal Records)

I must confess. My sentiments back at High School in the late 80s and early 90s echoed those of the Boogie Down Bronx’s pit bull venomous spitting Tim Dog who once spat the infamous “Fuck Compton” diatribe in 1991. A barometer of cool in those days was my old pal Stacy Broad. The first to bring The Beastie Boys License To Ill into school and the first to jump ship to the west coast gangsta rap scene, Stacy was on it from the get go. However, in an age when the faux record company marketed rivalries between America’s coasts was in full swing, my own allegiances were towards the east: Boogie Down Productions, Native Tongues, Public Enemy, Juice Crew, the Marley Marl stable, Brand Nubian et el. As it turned out, these rivalries were mere banter orchestrated to sell records, and whilst a few individuals dished out fatal blows to adversaries, most of the rap acts on the west coast fell out with each other rather than their east coast counterparts. Of course the odd west coast act made it into my collection; albums from Digital Underground, Cypress Hill, Funkdoobiest and of course the progenitor of hardcore west coast Hip Hop, Ice T. But basically I allowed L.A.’s most controversial and incendiary protagonists N.W.A to pass me by, and now decades later I’m regretting my hasty dismissal of the group as I listen to the Straight Outta Compton movie soundtrack.

Even to cursory fans of the Hip Hop cannon and specifically N.W.A, the soundtrack from the recent biopic movie is an unsurprising survey of the group’s own west coast bomb squad anthems and their funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk influences. Stalwart samples of the George Clinton/Bootsy Collins FunkadelicParliament cable that liberally pepper not just the N.W.A back catalogue but legions of other rap acts songs, are played out in their entirety. Their funk bastions ‘Flashlight’ and ‘(Not Just) Knee Deep’ feature alongside those old Roy Ayers and Steve Arrington’s Hall Of Fame familiars ‘Ubiquity – Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ and ‘Weak At The Knees’.

But you’ve arrived at this album hoping to relive or explore the N.W.A cult. And the selection pulled from the film not only blasts out those Glock smoking, tire-screeching riotous totems ‘Gangsta Gangsta’, ‘Fuck Tha Police’ and the signature L.A. psychogeography ‘Straight Outta Compton’ but also throws in solo efforts too. Though the seeds were sown a couple of years earlier with the group’s main instigator Easy E’s Ruthless Records output of west coast gangsta rap singles and compilations, it would take the experienced Dr. Dre – already part of the slick Californian electro World Class Wreckin’ Gru since 1983 – and the young scowl-faced upstart Ice Cube to blow shit up with the N.W.A brand. Whilst it lasted, before the acrimony, the group’s debut proper Straight Outta Compton arrived in a hail of police sirens. Soundtracking the resentment and ill feeling towards the authorities and especially the police, and following the release of Colors, N.W.A built on the seeds of discontent sowed by Ice T. Used as a slogan in later years, especially as L.A. burned in the 1992 riots that followed the infamous Rodney King trial, Straight Outta Compton isn’t just a rap album but a social document. Follow-ups never quite matched it; the 1990 EP 100 Miles And Runnin’ and ’92 LP Efil4zaggin both had their moments but were soon eclipsed by the group’s solo efforts and west coast peers. Infamous in Hip Hop and music circles, the split that would follow – mostly aired in public; a seething cauldron of foul-mouthed and hostile vitriol that threatened to boil over into psychical violence– between, at first, the group and Ice Cube, and later on with Dre, at least resulted in some of the scenes most artistically and creatively charged records. Cube easily took first blood with his duo of explosive albums AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Death Certificate, but Dre wasn’t far behind with his own seminal The Chronic: a solo effort that kick started his legendary production CV, producing and nurturing Snoop and Eminem.

 

The motion picture soundtrack is a reminder that despite the hype and fall out, Easy E was on the money. By no means the chief or the most talented, he had the concept and vision to steer it. N.W.A proved to be one of the most important incubators for Hip Hop talent, a catalyst and springboard for Ice Cube and Dr. Dre if nothing else, and the west coast’s only true rival to the bomb squad production of New York’s Public Enemy.




In the spirit of our west coast absorption here’s a ‘golden era’ playlist of players, antagonists, rebels and foul-mouthed rappers from California.


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