Updated: Jun 5, 2020
At around the same time that east coast Hip-Hop group Public Enemy would release It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (read our review of that one here), the west coast scene was also beginning to stir. Within two months, another record arrived that would make history for the genre - N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton.
Featuring names that continue to be big to this day, including the likes of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, Straight Outta Compton painted the picture of what life was like for many black people in LA. Though more popularly known as "gangster rap", the group themselves used the term "reality rap", implying that all these lyrics were a true reflection of the reality they lived in.
The album is full of tremendous tracks. The title track, the funky 'Parental Discretion Iz Advised', 'Gangsta Gangsta' and, of course, the evergreen 'Fuck Tha Police' all knock it out of the park, mixing kickass beats with heavy, uncompromising lyrics and making songs with little instrumentation sound absolutely huge. Alongside them, 'Compton's N The House' and 'Express Yourself' also stand out.
'Fuck Tha Police' is obviously the album's highlight. Raw, unadulterated and still painfully relevant, the strong lyrics prompted a response from none other than the FBI, though according to the band's manager, it wasn't the whole corporation so much as a "single pissed-off bureaucrat". Nevertheless, the song remains in an exclusive club due to this action, and what with recent events, the FBI don't really have much of a leg to stand on. The song still catches the ear, not only because it's damn good, but because the story it tells is still far too familiar.
However, where there's greatness, there's also often strife, and that can be heard on this record. For all the real, hard-hitting lyrics this album can be praised for, there are also songs such as 'I Ain't Tha 1' which are horribly, unapologetically misogynistic. Portraying women, specifically black women, in a horrendous light, songs like this demonstrate a darker side to N.W.A, a side which shows that to them, and particularly Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, women are simply objects for sexual pleasure. Dr. Dre's history of physically abusing women is well documented, and it's difficult not to ask how he can protest police brutality, whilst he himself also inflicts brutality.
The misogynistic lyrics are a stain on an album which is otherwise a force of nature, one that raised the game again for Hip-Hop. The stupendous power of 'Fuck Tha Police' is mixed with the funkier, dancier 'Parental Discretion Iz Advised', but not once do they soften the lyrics. Not one for the faint of heart, it's yet more evidence that black America is a different place altogether to the America that white people experience. Straight Outta Compton was a game changer, putting the west coast scene on the map, and that's simply because it is a great, if problematic, album.
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