N.W.A., ‘Straight Outta Compton': Throwback Video of the Day
The title track from N.W.A.'s groundbreaking 1988 album Straight Outta Compton has come to define the group more than any record this side of "F--- the Police." If you watch it carefully, the video can also offer some insight into the personalities of the group's key members.
N.W.A. helped change the landscape of rap music with their abrasive street tales, which were often laced with unbridled rage at the oppression they faced via poverty and over policing in their community under Reaganomics and the so-called "war on drugs."
“Compton hasn’t changed,” Ice Cube told Rolling Stone back in 2015. “It’s wack. It’s pretty much the same thing as it’s always been, and that’s fucked up really…. You don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day, and it can go from cool, quiet and fun to somebody’s shot, arrested, murdered or whatever. You can die for no reason.”
Over Dr. Dre's and DJ Yella's crisp, pounding production, N.W.A. became a visual representation for what was going on in the streets of L.A., while also exploring the furious exasperation so many young black men felt at the time. This was the case on "Straight Outta Compton," a sometimes chilling ode to the city they called home.
The video, directed by Rupert Wainwright (of MC Hammer video fame), showcased the group— Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Eazy E and DJ Yella— in their element. Dre kicks off the song with a fair warning, "You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge."
From there, a young Cube, filled with righteous rage, opens the song as he stomps through the streets of Compton with his boys: "Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube / From the gang called Niggas Wit Attitudes," Cube opens his classic verse.
That imagery is interspersed with clips of local police rocking gigantic aviator shades, fingering the trigger on their guns, and just generally looking like they're itching to harass someone.
By the time Ren's searing verse ends, he's thrown into the back of police holding van with Cube. Dre introduces Eazy, who's signature voice takes the angry track up yet another notch. In the video, he rides alongside the police van in a convertible, taunting the cop who's driving.
In retrospect, the video is a great explanation of N.W.A.'s group dynamic — Ice Cube and Ren spitting enraged lyrics, unafraid of the consequences of sharing their truth, Dre serving as the calm director of the group, making sure everyone shines in their moments in the spotlight, and Eazy as the wild, carefree antagonizer.
“Music was our only weapon. But it was also fun, too, so it’s a crazy mixture of good times and bad times," Cube said. "Our music really displayed the good, the bad and the ugly. A lot of people can take the good and the bad, but they don’t want to hear about the ugly, and we didn’t mind putting the ugly right out there.”
The song is certified platinum, receiving a boost when N.W.A.'s 2015 hit biopic, Straight Outta Compton dropped. It debuted at no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 in Sept. 2015, making it the highest debut on the chart that week, and becoming N.W.A.'s first top 40 hit, 27 years after it first dropped. That was largely because of the popularity of the film, and also because in the 80s, when the song was new, their music was pretty much banned from radio.
“We were trying to make records that can go on the radio, and when we started doing mixtapes – which we knew wasn’t going on the radio – that’s when we really started to talk about the neighborhood,” Cube explained to Rolling Stone. “Talking about what really led into the style that we ended up doing, which is now called hardcore gangster rap. Back then we was calling it ‘reality rap’; ‘gangster rap’ is the name that the media coined. We was just talking about shit that we was going through."
50 Best West Coast Artists of All-Time