In August of last year, N.W.A’s very own feature film, Straight Outta Compton, earned hundreds of millions at the box office. The film, of course, featured the son of Ice Cube, playing his father at the height of his fame, particularly during the Straight Outta Compton album period. Furthermore, they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame just recently.
The album, of August 1988, itself arguably changed the face of hip-hop, bringing gangsta rap to a worldwide audience. Looking at that album cover, anticlockwise, you’ve got Cube; onetime collaborator with the group, Arabian Prince; DJ Yella; MC Ren and Dr Dre.
Far right is Eazy-E, brandishing a gun and pointing it at potential listeners. Above Cube, on the other hand, is the name N.W.A in red, like the smeared blood of Eazy’s victim or victims. Only Yella isn’t wearing a baseball cap. Put yourself in the middle of that group, and you’re surrounded by a gang of rappers, gangsta rappers.
The album, with its dark lyrical content is quite serious, though some of it is daresay, according to former manager Jerry Heller in his book, Ruthless, tongue in cheek. This reviewer will attempt at their best to understand when hardcore, expletive lyricism and when just comic violence.
The opening track, title track “Straight Outta Compton”, begins with heavy drums and sirens wailing. Horns punctuate Ice Cube’s verses. His signature voice booms, like a West Coast Melle Mel. The chorus production, in turn is like the West Coast Bomb Squad, the latter of Public Enemy fame. MC Ren shoves his way onto the track with seemingly equal authority to Cube. Eazy-E swaggers on, come his verse, and concludes proceedings.
“F*ck Tha Police” comes in with soulful horns as the group find themselves in court. Cube is the first up on the stand to give his testimony, and he reigns hell upon American law enforcement. Eazy-E’s indignant, scratched words in the chorus punctuate their despising of the police.
Ren then promises physical repercussions if forced to square off against authority. Eazy then appears to be relatively, compared to the previous verses, a peacemaker, just wanting to live his life. Only marginally, though. Their combined testimony puts, in a comedic way, the US police behind bars, whilst also touching upon serious issues of police brutality.
Track three, “Gangsta Gangsta”, is awash with funky licks of guitar, and is arguably one of the highlights of the album. It’s more or less a solely Cube track. His lyrical fisticuffs are matched with the team of Dre and Yella, scratching some knockout punches. Basically it details Cube going on a rampage on his patch, marking his territory with overt shows of masculinity.
Arguably nobody on this earth could get away with all he proclaims to do in this track, without being arrested or being shot dead. Perhaps a stab, even just a little bit, at the cartoon and comic violence the Geto Boys went on to make famous. A middle section reverses the beat, changing it completely for the addition of Eazy. The beat changes yet again, as he briefly ponders some relaxation, but the track still ends thoroughly hardcore.
Following track, “If It Ain’t Ruff”, is a totally Ren effort. The funky licks of the guitar get the listener in a good mood, and the way he changes up his flow proves there’s no way in hell he’s a two dimensional emcee. In fact, quite the opposite. Maybe a secondary figure in the group, he’s still top class. His variance in how he flows his raps captivate. The middle section of the track displays this in shovel loads, and the venom of his spitting somehow works with that laidback backdrop.
“Parental Discretion Iz Advised” features an opening verse from N.W.A affiliate, The D.O.C. He lays waste to potential competitors on the track, with his mixture of tongue twisting and Run-D.M.C enthusiasm. Even Dre appears on this one. Ren proves that this track was about the N.WA. crew having an internal battle to see who laid the best verse. Cube seeks to better all who precede him. Though Eazy, as performer of the last verse, was unlikely to come out top, he puts together, albeit written by somebody else, a finely spat verse of his own.
Speaking of the E, next track “8 Ball (Remix)”, for all intents and purposes is his solo track. The Cube written verses paint Eazy as a fun loving figure, though one not scared of confrontation. The beat is oldschool and huge, with slabs of keyboard and big scratches. It’s almost like an Eazy version of “Gangsta Gangsta”. There’s a cameo appearance of Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” guitar, huge like the rest of the song.
Crossover single, “Express Yourself”, begins with perhaps one of the most famous verses ever rapped by Dre. It’s like his solo slice within the album, though this reviewer prefers the more expansive music video/posse cut of this track, featuring Cube and Ren. You expect Cube and Ren to cut in any moment, like in the video, but it never comes. However, Dre’s last verse is rather impressive; even to enunciate, let alone write. It was more or less entirely written by Cube, of course.
“Compton’s In The House (Remix)” is oldschool in its makeup, but is appealing to see how Dre and Ren bounce off eachother. It’s worth it just to hear the change up of flow in, “So if you punks wanna make somethin’ of it; Step up, run up, get up; What’s up sucker; You want some of this; Then you’re a stupid mothaf*cka!” Following this is the equally satisfying, “Gettin’ busy because we’re cold stampin’; And we’re born and raised; And we’re born and raised; And we’re born and raised in Compton”.
Skip a couple tracks and you find “Quiet On Tha Set”. The overall speed and intensity is a tad faster than the majority of the fare on this album, at least initially. Maybe the backdrop is akin to something you’d here from the aforementioned Bomb Squad. Ren really owns this one, his rhymes are hard, fast and precise. It maybe just about topples his effort on “If It Ain’t Ruff”. He almost works himself breathless in the latter verse, but still manages to stay upright.
Closer “Something 2 Dance 2” was apparently not well liked by Dre, the story going that he didn’t want it on the album. It was too evocative of his days with World Class Wreckin’ Cru, but offers a rare insight, at least for the British into the more electronic based West Coast sound, before the so called G-Funk came on the go. For the reviewer it actually is rather appealing and quite catchy, though totally different to what that particular area would offer up, sound wise, only a few years later.
This album definitely can arguably put itself forward as the complete rap album. You go from the intensity of “Straight Outta Compton” and “F*ck Tha Police”; to the the comic drunken tales of “8 Ball (Remix)” and the positive and upbeat “Express Yourself”. Highlights are the likes of “Gangsta Gangsta” and “If It Ain’t Ruff”. Posse cut, “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”, is also worth a mention because of its outstanding contribution from the, as they say, slept on D.O.C.
As with even classic albums, there are some tracks you deem good, but largely filler compared to the killer. This reviewer has only left out three of them; so not that bad, on the whole. These are “Something Like That”, “I Ain’t Tha 1” and “Dopeman (Remix)”. The first has its moments, though it largely could be considered filler.
The second is a favourite of many, making its way onto greatest hits compilations, but is, ahem, a dig at the female dogs of the world. In other words it’s a tad more two dimensional than most of Cube’s moments on the album. The third and final track omitted from this review has booming vocals, more so than usual, from Cube, but the whole thing sounds a tad dated.
N.W.A is now in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, arguably based on the merits of this album alone. You can purchase the absolutely classic Straight Outta Compton on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson