Cruisin’ down the street in my 6’4!
For most of us black Brits, that line pretty much sums up the best cinema release most of us have seen this summer, if not, in years! The record-breaking, notoriously exciting adaptation of the ascent and fragmentation of the widely criticised 1980s rap group “Niggaz with Attitude” which included the likes of acclaimed star of the “Friday” franchise – Ice Cube, Beats creator Dr Dre and the late hip hop legend that was Eazy-E.
Starring as the members of the group were (thankfully) a bunch of actors I’d never seen before. A passionate Corey Hawkins played producer Dr Dre, a stout, jheri-curled Jason Mitchell played Eazy-E and the highly resembling, O’Shea Jackson junior played his very own dad, Ice Cube, making the movie more eerily lifelike than you can imagine. The actors were unfamiliar to us so there was nothing to connect with but their talent for acting, and boy were they talented. So talented, at points the movie felt like an introspective docuseries all jam-packed into a neat, exciting 2 and a half hour running time.
The beginning was totally unsuspecting. I arrived at the cinema late – just in time to see the adverts fizzle out and the opening scene to appear and I can tell you the first scene sent shockwaves across the whole theatre. None of us were ready for what we saw. Spoiler alert! The resounding crash of an armoured tank storming through a drug house was far from the vision most of us cinemagoers expected when we bought our tickets. Yet here it was, a sideways view of a tank plunging what I can only describe as a metal trunk through the front wall of this house, obliterating the infrastructure. Then Eazy-E legs it out of view, short legs sprinting as he jumps over walls and roofs to escape the police on his trail.
Then the screen goes black and the white words STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON materialise.
The movie reverts to a lit scene, and suddenly there are snippets on the beginnings of Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E before they are unified in the studio and NWA is born. Their rise to the top is frank and immediate and disturbingly similar to many a rapper’s tale I’ve heard not only in the 20th century but the 21st. Hotels, drinks, drugs, violence and women, women, women. All types of women: black, white, Latina, Asian, slim, large, curvy, average – all equally and horrifyingly nude (I say horrifyingly as this movie is rated a 15 in UK cinemas so it’s rather nauseating to realise that pubescent little year 9 boys are watching this also). Nonetheless, there was something endearing about the frank, realistic imagery of it all which I came to appreciate thoroughly. The sincere inclusion of racial profiling, FBI meddling and police brutality these men faced, a disturbingly familiar echo of the home truths many black men face today in this climate of “police vs us” not only in America, but internationally also. Yet it was these rough circumstances that birthed the ridiculously real, raw and ragingly ferocious lyrics that made up the revolutionary anthem “Fuck the Police.”
From the outside looking in, the whole world had it in for NWA and they were a unified force, vocalising their struggles on beat and on tempo. And with a pandemonium that was eerily reminiscent of The Beatles’, and like with most celebrities, it appeared that the more controversial they became, the larger their fan base grew. But with fame came misfortune, and like most music groups, disputes about contracts and money forced cracks to materialise in this union of musicians. And suddenly outsiders were rearing their ugly heads to further corrupt the trust that initially glued the group so closely together.
There was an inevitable fragmentation and NWA soon broke up, but unlike many biopics of music groups, the group’s fragmentation is documented and we see the inevitable rivalry that sprouts between the former group members. To those who are unfamiliar with NWA – perhaps due to omission of 80’s rap, dislike of their sound or just not being a part of that music era – this breakup was known to have flagged perhaps the most fanatical part of the Hip Hop movement and was essentially very healthy to the genre. Name-drops, codes and illicit information slid into Ice Cube’s lyrics as he went on a rapping rampage all on his own in what was now a bitter embroil between he and NWA, namely Eazy-E who stayed glued to the manager that founded and later shamelessly betrayed him – Jerry Heller. Whereas Dr Dre kept a remarkably low profile, instead choosing to scout and produce shameless anthems like “California Love” and the slick, summer classic that is “Gin and Juice.”
Gray’s account of the aftermath quite literally demonstrated the polarised forces that were now Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Eazy E. In parallel, it appeared Eazy E’s one-of-a-kind star quality paled with the loss of the complementation that came with his fellow members’ expertise. Ice Cube capitalised off of his own ferociousness, igniting from the NWA diss “No Vaseline” and forging his own path of individual greatness whilst Dr Dre dealt professionally with the likes of the sassy OG that is Snoop Dogg and the late gem of a rapper, Tupac Shakur.
Towards the end of the 90s, the three devolved from their positions of supremacy to discuss the inevitable comeback that every music group pioneers. But NWA’s comeback came with an unlikely twist, cemented by Gary’s subtle account of what would be Eazy E’s subsequent demise in health. Suddenly, Eazy-E’s constant medley of coughs and slick forehead in the latter part of the movie can no longer be put down to smoking or too much hair gel when the camera suddenly zooms in on his face and the best videography of the entire film occurs. The camera narrows in on Eazy-E’s features and in a full frontal camera shot, the audience follows his glossy eyes roll back into his head as he collapses straight into the piano intended to produce the sample that would back the NWA’s comeback.
Gary never clued in on the source of Eazy-E’s contraction of HIV, instead choosing to graze over a disturbingly frank perception of the disease amongst the American community not only then, but still perceptibly now.
After being told of his ridiculously low T-Cell count, Eazy-E responds with a phrase that accurately summed up the attitude of many who did not know nor understand the origin of the disease HIV and how it came to be AIDS.
“I ain’t no faggot,” he retorted.
A verbatim quote that quite accurately encapsulated the misconception of the origin of AIDS without being patronisingly educative. Instead, it was a way of intricately outlining the not so rosy side of the 1990s without totally depressing the audience or overshadowing the enlightening hysteria that NWA’s artistry established when together (and even when broken up.)
And I know I was not the only one to have felt like this simply by the wave of tweets that referred to the movie, the artists, the actors or the music, all in positive acclaim. Not to mention the timely commemoration on what would have been the late Eazy-E’s 52nd birthday on September 7th being a niggling reminder of the film’s phenomenally factual basis.
Like clockwork, interactivity with the movie spurned and memes proclaiming where people were “Straight Outta” began circling – some comedic, others offensive.
The directorial legend that is F .Gary Gray effectively reinvented himself from Friday and Set It Off to direct what is doubtlessly one of the best movies of this year (not due to a slow box office week, yes that’s shade to Entertainment Weekly.)
The movie has made waves and changed the game without any indication of dwindle and can no longer be taken lightly.
The hype is genuinely afforded.
This film is not overrated.
(Oh and a huge shout-out to Mc Ren and Yella and the guys who played them! Even though they weren’t leading stars, their characters did NOT go unnoticed. Mc Ren’s lyricism was always on point and DJ Yella’s witty humour had me in stitches more than any other character in this movie.)
So to all whom enjoy good movies, watch this movie in cinema, watch it again and then buy the DVD for keepsake, for inspiration and of course, to watch it again in the nearby future.
You will not regret it!