Friday, June 3, 2011

N.W.A. -- "Straight Outta Compton" (1988)

Straight outta Compton
Crazy m*therf*cker named Ice Cube
From the gang called "Niggaz With Attitude"
When I'm called off, I got a sawed-off
Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off

With those lines, Ice Cube kicked off the first cut on the first album by N.W.A. -- which stands for Niggaz With Attitude.  Straight Outta Compton was the first great gangsta rap album, and it achieved double platinum status without much help from radio airplay or MTV exposure. 

Compton is an incorporated city in Los Angeles County -- close to the city of Los Angeles, but not part of it.  It was virtually all white until 1950 or so.  Compton is now identified with youth gangs and rap music in the minds of many people, but it has also produced a number of famous athletes -- including tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

Ice Cube
N.W.A. was formed by Eazy-E (Eric Wright), a former drug dealer from Compton who started a record company with some of his ill-gotten gains.  The other members of the group were Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson), Dr. Dre (Andre Young), and DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby).  MC Ren (Lorenzo Patterson) joined the group shortly after graduating from high school, just in time to contribute to Straight Outta Compton.

N.W.A. didn't last long.  Ice Cube, who wrote most of their debut album's lyrics but didn't think he got his fair share of the profits, left the next year.  He went on to have a successful solo rap career and an even more successful movie career. 

Dr. Dre
After the group's second album was released in 1991, Dr. Dre left.  His first solo album -- The Chronic -- was a huge hit for the new Death Row Records label.  Dr. Dre later started his own record company, Aftermath Entertainment, and produced albums for rap superstars Snoop Dogg, Nas, 2Pac, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z.  N.W.A. never released a third album.

"Straight Outta Compton" is an angry song.  Each of the group's three main MCs (Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy-E) contribute a verse, and it's hard to say which one is the most violent and offensive.

The most controversial song on the album was "Fuck tha Police."  An assistant director of the FBI wrote to N.W.A.'s record label about that song, taking exception to what he perceived as the group's advocacy of violence against law enforcement officers.  (That letter is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

I think the best song on Straight Outta Compton is "Express Yourself," which doesn't talk about AK-47s or use profanity.  Dr. Dre handles the vocals, and shows he is as good an MC as he is a producer.

Straight Outta Compton is included on a lot of "Greatest Albums" lists.  It was the first rap album to get a 5-star rating from Rolling Stone magazine, which subsequently called it a "bombastic, cacophonous car ride through Los Angeles' burnt-out and ignored 'hoods."  (Sounds a little like my son's "Grand Theft Auto" video game.)  Comedian Chris Rock rated it the best hip-hop album of all time.

Kid Rock paid tribute to the album in his 1999 hit, "Cowboy":

I ain't straight outta Compton
I'm straight outta the trailer

And an anonymous guy with a can of spray paint paid tribute to it on the approach to the bridge that takes the Cape Cod Rail Trail over Route 6 in Harwich, MA.  A very weird coincidence -- I discovered the message and took this picture while riding that trail the day after writing the first draft of this post.  

(Note how the artist ran out of white paint and switched to purple for the last several letters.)

Here's "Straight Outta Compton":

Here's a link you can use to buy it from iTunes:

Straight Outta Compton - 'Straight Outta Compton'

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

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