Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A.

album cover

The First Great Gangsta Rap Record

With his 1985 declaration "Park Side Killers is makin' that green/One by one I'm knockin' 'em out," the Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D (Jesse Weaver Jr.) pushed hip-hop in the lucrative new direction that came to be known as gangsta rap.

When this brusque incendiary track reached the West Coast, and particularly South Central Los Angeles, it was all the kindling necessary to start a craze. Within a year, Ice-T had released "Six in the Morning," which borrowed directly from Schoolly D, and a loose-knit collective called N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitude) was creating music that described, in graphic detail, a reality much of white America never encountered up close.

Two years later, N.W.A.'s second album, Straight Outta Compton, tore the genre wide open. Writing in Rolling Stone, comedian Chris Rock called it "the British Invasion for black people," an apt analogy considering how much subsequent hip-hop was directly inspired by it.

Straight Outta Compton opens with an assertion: "You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge." That's no empty boast. In the course of thirteen tightly wound tracks, MCs Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Ren tear, round-robin style, through descriptions of turf wars, revenge fantasies, sour drug deals, and late-night street-corner confrontations that turn into bloodbaths. These are more than just inventories of violence and cruelty: They're an insider's dissection of ghetto socioeconomics, highlighting the desperation and futility felt by those who see few opportunities on the horizon.

This album sparked enormous controversies—one song, which denigrated the police, drew the ire of the FBI, while others were denounced for their lack of respect for women. Some of the raps are difficult to defend, but not the musical backdrops: The assault-rifle drum machine rhythms concocted by Dr. Dre remain an industry standard. Though they lack the menacing adornment of later Dre productions (notably his own The Chronic, see p. 236), the destabilized, eerie unsettled feeling he creates here makes it easy for the rappers to let their inner thugs loose.

Genre: Hip-Hop
Released: 1988, Priority
Key Tracks: "Gangsta Gangsta," "Straight Outta Compton," "Express Yourself."
Catalog Choice: Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
Next Stop: Dr. Dre: The Chronic
After That: Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
Book Pages: 557–558

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Comments:

#1 from ben, Baltimore MD - 11/04/2010 2:32

Mr.Moon,

While reading your review of this album I noticed your passing reference to Ice-T. It was the only time I came across his name while reading your remarkable book.

Judging by your incredible knowledge of music I am sure that you know that there are people who consider Ice T to have been an original innovator of gangster rap(even more so than Schooly D,and that he made a few recordings that some feel stand alongside Straight Outta Compton as pioneering the genre, such as Power and O.G. Of course, I highly doubt that you do not know about these recordings since you know so much about music, but reading your review made me wonder what your views on Ice T are.

I have heard Straight Outta Compton, but I have never heard anything from Ice T though I have read several reviews. I just want to know…

What is your opinion of Ice T as a musical artist?

Is there or is there not anything by him that you would consider essential listening?

How do you see his influence on rap music in relation to that of N.W.A.?

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