F. Gary Gray's STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON Is Straight Up Gangsta

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STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON opens 8/14/15.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long to me, but it was way back in 1988 when a gang--as they called themselves-- of musicians changed the burgeoning hip-hop genre forever. The artists were from Compton, a hard-times neighborhood in Los Angeles where the infamous LAPD could, with little provocation, drive a swat tank through your front door and harass you on the streets just for being black. If you don’t think things have changed much, I won’t argue with you. Things have, however, changed for those pioneers of reality-based street rap, the N.W.A. And no, I’m not talking about the old National Wrestling Alliance either.

I’m talking about Eric “Eazy- E” Wright, O’Shay Jackson aka Ice Cube, Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson, Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby and mix maestro, Andre Young aka Dr. Dre. You may not be a fan of their style, profanity laced tirades about living with the Bloods and Crips waging war on the streets while the police were arresting you for having been born black. I defy anyone to deny that these men not only changed the music scene, but the very culture of America. They are the classic example of rags to riches, and along the way they made some shrewd moves and bad mistakes.  They lost money, loved ones, even one of their own. It’s a story that deserves to be told, to be enjoyed, and to garner considerable nominations for gold statues next winter when awards season kicks into gear again.

F. Gary Gray (FRIDAY, THE ITALIAN JOB) is the helmsman for STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, starring O’Shay Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube (yes, that’s his son), Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E (casting approved by Eric Wright Jr. aka Lil Eazy-E, who declined to play his father on screen), Aldis Hodge (LEVERAGE) as MC Ren, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, and Marlon Yates Jr. as The D.O.C. Paul Giamatti, one of the most versatile actors working today, plays the N.W.A.’s manager and R. Marcus Taylor plays the towering  Suge Knight.  I don’t need to rehash the plot here for you, because it’s a matter of public record. You can read about it on Wikipedia, listen to it on Ice Cube’s early solo CDs or just enjoy the film. From the early day at Compton High to their personal and collaborative highs and lows n the music business through the LA riots and Rodney King to Eazy-E’s unfortunate early passing, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON covers all the bases.

Gray did a remarkable job recreating the late 1980s, with clothes and cars all spot-on. While nearly everyone gets their big moments, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O’Shay Jackson Jr. really stood out. I deliberately avoid trailers and early leaked reviews before I go to a screening so I was floored by the young Ice Cube I was witnessing on the screen. When I caught his name in the credits I thought, “Well yeah, no wonder that kid was so good—he’s been able to study Ice Cube’s mannerisms his whole life!” Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella for comic relief, but from what I’ve read since seeing the film Yella was never one to get wrapped up in “beefs” anyway. MC Ren himself is not pleased with how his character is marginalized somewhat, seen as a writer and a rapper but not quite on the same level as Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Considering Aldis Hodge was the only actor amongst the N.W.A. cast that I’d heard of coming into this I was a tad disappointed that Hodge wasn’t given more to do. To be honest, even a mega group like the N.W.A. will have certain stars that shine a little brighter than the rest, deservedly so or not. Dre, Eazy and Cube were those stars. MC Ren may be something of an unsung hero in the rap game, and there’s something to be said for that too. While it may not be completely evident in the film, anyone who listens to Straight Outta Compton or Eazy-Duz-It should soon recognize that MC Ren was truly one of the founders of gangsta rap. Despite glossing over MC Ren’s contributions, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is a must see and easily the best film I’ve seen this year. It’s a shame the Academy Award voters tend to have such short memories, because this film deserves nominations in numerous categories.

If you’re worried about going to the theater to see something potentially explosive, as I’ve read on a few websites already, I can’t promise you that there nothing will happen. I can tell you I watched it just a few miles west of Ferguson, Missouri (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) very close to the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, and not only did nothing happen at my sold out screening but you could hear a pin drop from the moment the house lights went dark until the end credits rolled and enthusiastic applause erupted. I have read that there will be beefed up security at many theaters for this film, and frankly I find that very disheartening. I hate to say it but you’re just as likely to be a victim of a violent crime at a mostly white superhero movie as you are here. Hell, anyone who suffers through that horrendous FANTASTIC FOUR fiasco will be more likely to act out in rage than anyone who watches this excellently crafted and marvelously acted biopic. I’m not sure which the bigger shame is: “The Man” not trusting presumably black majority audiences to conduct themselves peacefully for a couple hours, or that some people still give The Man reasons not to. Everybody needs to chill out, watch STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and maybe, just maybe, come away with a better understanding of what gangsta rap culture is all about. If you grew up in mid 1980s Compton, you wouldn’t trust anyone with a badge either. Events in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland among others this past year prove that the rest of the country isn’t all that different. I’m not indicting police, far from it—crime is crime. But there is still all too often a bias against blacks in law enforcement. The N.W.A. was trying to tell you this 27 years ago. Maybe this time people will listen.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0