The Contemporary Relevance of Straight Outta Compton

By Brian Lucear

You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge…

When Dr. Dre uttered these words at the start of N.W.A.’s debut album Straight Outta Compton in 1988 he was not only introducing the world to its “most dangerous rap group”, but everything that the group stood for. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Eazy E entered the public eye by storm with force.

Niggaz Wit Attitudes’ necessarily explicit and gritty lyrics expressed an underrepresented community in the late 80’s – the black community from the streets. The rap group was met with opposition from media outlets and law enforcement. But 27 years after the release of N.W.A.’s album, a biopic based on the hip-hop group has been released and received widespread acclaim. Critics and audiences have praised the Straight Outta Compton film not only for its production quality but for its social themes of police brutality.

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For decades, African-Americans have had a sticky relationship with law enforcement. The 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police put police brutality and race relations between cops and civilians under a national microscope. Fast forward to 2014 when Michael Brown was publicly gunned down by Ferguson, Missouri officer Darren Wilson. Following Brown came the deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and more at the hands of those enlisted to “protect and serve”.

Many people who felt victimized, threatened, or unprotected by law officials are still united under a common soundtrack. N.W.A.’s unapologetic “Fuck tha Police” was the news station for the ‘hood in 1988. In 2015, the feelings expressed in those lyrics remain true for some.

In a 2015 Billboard review about the modern significance of the song, Ice Cube was quoted as saying “I think it just shows the problem at hand. The problem is, first of all the police are trained to win no matter what. Win an argument, win a situation — that’s how they’re taught. You add racism to that and it’s just an evil combination, and people are starting to recognize that.”

In this Sunday, August 2, 2015 photo, from the left, actor Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O’ Shea Jackson Jr. pose for a portrait in promotion of the new film “Straight Outta Compton" at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP)
In this Sunday, August 2, 2015 photo, from the left, actor Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O’ Shea Jackson Jr. pose for a portrait in promotion of the new film “Straight Outta Compton” at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP) 

The popularity of the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton is undeniable. After three weeks of being No. 1 at the box office, the movie became the highest grossing music biopic of all time and holds a 90% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If a movie that centers on hip-hop and sheds light on the abuse of police power can be this successful, does this mean that America is making steps forward in a new direction?

Are the days over where suburbia turns a blind eye toward police violence? It’s hard to tell. After all, we still live in a world where CNN reporters are baffled that there wasn’t violence at screenings of the film. But while some media outlets attempt to deter audiences from the films’ message, N.W.A. puts it right into audiences’ faces.

As Ice Cube (portrayed by real-life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.) tells an interviewer in a scene from the film, “I’m a reporter just like you”.

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