Day two of the hip-hop domination, and today we have “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. This album garnered all kinds of attention and controversy for its confrontational and explicit take on the gang world of Los Angeles, and its epicenter in Compton, CA. Despite the video bans, warning labels and overall hype, which is exactly what they were striving for, N.W.A. served as the launching pad for the West Coast hip-hop contingent, and shined the spotlight directly on Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E among others as future stars in their respective solo careers. Receiving as much acclaim as it did negative press, this album is now rated as #70 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and #7 on the Top Ten Greatest Hip-Hop albums as rated on definitivedose.com. As a straight comparison, I do prefer yesterday’s Public Enemy album to this record, but there is a bunch to like here, particularly for me with the deeper you dig into this album.
The record is front-end loaded with the title track, as well as “Fuck tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” opening the record. Honestly, as much attention as these tracks received, they are probably among my least favorites on the record. Not because I have some over-arching moral objection or resistance to the topics here, I just think the hooks and samples get better the further we go. Living next door to two retired cops, I did pause for a moment to make sure my sound system wasn’t working too hard this morning.
M.C. Ren lays a smooth track on “If It Ain’ Ruff” that takes a bit of the harshness out of the album openers. The slow funk continues with “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”, as five different members of the group rotate through the vocals. “8 Ball” is Eazy-E, who suffered a unique sad fate not too many years later when he died from complications from AIDS. All kinds of speculation and accusations swirled at this time, but even as the most blatantly abrasive and misogynistic lyricist in the group, we have all thankfully figured out that it doesn’t matter how or why someone contracts a deadly virus, what matters is how we prevent and treat it to help all who are affected in any way.
Of all the songs on this record, I think my favorite is when they reshape “Express Yourself”, heavily sampling the 1970 R&B hit by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Dr. Dre takes the mike for this hit, and it is fun to hear how relatively young he sounded here, as well as the rest of the album. Every song from this point until the end of the album, with the closing track “Something 2 Dance 2”, creates a little separation from the anger and rawness of the first two tracks, and for me, are a lot more enjoyable. “I Ain’t Tha 1”, featuring Ice Cube, is another awesomely funky track.
N.W.A., particularly Dr. Dre’s production house, served as the roots for the west coast hip-hop tree that continues to grow to this day. In case you didn’t hear, Dre and his proteges Snoop Dogg and Eminem will be in this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, along with Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar. It’s been a long journey from the hood to the mainstream, and Dre and his peers from N.W.A. have created a lot of great music along the way, starting with this highly visible debut.