In the brief period between its inception in 1986 and their disbandment in 1991, the rap group N.W.A. made both a controversial reputation and legion of fans through its music. The group’s lyrics often were explosive, raw and in-your-face to many people, but to the group’s members, “Our music is a reflection of our reality.”
Now, their meteoric rise to fame is the subject of the film “Straight Outta Compton,” which shares the same title as the group’s debut album.
The story starts out with members Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing his iconic father), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), Mc Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) writing songs from their own experiences living on the violent, gang-infested streets of Compton, California. Eventually, the group is discovered by manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who instantly signs them to his record company, and they begin work on their debut album.
Much of this film takes a very conventional and straightforward path, including the rise to fame, coupled with addictions to drugs, money and women. It was the group’s lyrical content that sparked hostility amongst many people — in particular, law-enforcement officials. This is evident in one scene where the group is banned from singing one of its more expletive-titled songs in public in Detroit.
I called their music explosive and raw, and the movie is no different. The film is admirably direct in its approach and tells a brutally honest portrait of these men both personally and professionally. There are some scenes between Dr. Dre and Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) following the breakup, and the group even responds to the Rodney King attacks through some of its lyrics.
I admired the film in its engaging performances, its confident direction from F. Gary Gray, its poignant and insightful commentary about both the world these guys grew up in and their detailed-oriented process about making music and the feeling of authenticity provided throughout.
“Straight Outta Compton” may or may not win new converts to the group’s music, but it’s the most potent and thoughtful musical biopic I’ve seen in years. You are now about to witness the strength of one of the year’s best films.
(Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.)
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.