by Alan Yudman
I recently had a fairly intense discussion about rap music with someone on Facebook. His contention was that it is not music and that anyone who listens to it is an idiot. His argument was mainly about the violence and foul language that make up the lyrics. I argued that he may not like it, but to deny the truth of the lyrics or the experience of those who write them is to deny that any of what they sing about ever happened. That is what makes STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON such a powerful film. Yes, it is filled with foul language, naked women, misogyny and violence. But that is the truth of the lives of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren. Those five young men made up the groundbreaking rap group NWA. This is their story and the story of so many young men in Compton or Chicago or Detroit. Harassment at the hands of police, drugs, and death. This music was their way out. It was also their way to shine a light on what was going on in their neighborhoods. It was their way of speaking truth to power, similar to the way anti-war protesters did in the 1960’s. The cast is perfect. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays his father, Ice Cube. it is a brilliant piece of casting because after a while you forget it is Junior up on the screen and get involved in his story because he is Ice Cube. Corey Hawkins is Dr. Dre, the young DJ with the vision to get out and onto something bigger. Jason Mitchell is an absolute dead ringer for Eazy-E, the drug dealer who is convinced by Dre that the future is with his hand wrapped around a microphone rather than a weapon. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is also a cautionary tale about success, friendship and the despicable ways of the music business. NWA was defiant. They did not heed warnings from Detroit police that if they performed “Fuck the Police” they would be arrested. They were, but it all to make a point. No one could tell them what to do. Their first amendment rights would not be abridged even with threats of violence and arrest. R. Marcos Taylor is Suge Knight, the founder of Death Row Records who has been in and out of jail for years. He is portrayed as a violent gangster, and Taylor’s performance is spot on. The movie is about 2 hours, 30 minutes long and it still feels like it races past some moments in order to move onto the next. Such is the problem with trying to cram all this history up onto the screen. But director F. Gary Gray keeps it all humming along very nicely. In one interview portrayed in the film, Ice Cube says he is a journalist, but he’s just more honest about what he is reporting. Journalists are historians and gangsta rap chronicled a dark time in the 1980’s when parts of Los Angeles were a war zone of gang violence and police tactics that were wrong headed, but right hearted (at least on their face). STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the perfect film companion to that music. It will shock you, outrage you and tug at your heart and conscience. This is a film that must be seen if you want to even begin to understand where these young men were coming from.