By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
There were two triumphant sold-out shows at the Celebrity Theater in March; although they were sloppy, N.W.A outperformed Ice-T for the first time. The audience knew the words to the songs well enough to rap along. During “Dopeman,” Ice Cube brought a cute white girl on stage from the front row. A few seconds into the song, while band members humped against her, 2,000 people merrily pointed and chanted, “She might be your wife and it might make you sick/To come home and see her mouth on the dopeman’s dick.” Later, the mob shouted “F-Fuck the Police!” in unison. Ten minutes later, a melee broke out on center stage and the cops were called in even as Eazy strutted among the turmoil, grinning, finishing out the set. There were stabbings that night.
Most rapping used to promote the rapper’s indomitability, his invincibility: “I create; I am.” When Public Enemy has Chuck D in a prison cell, it is only so that he can break out; when an L.L. Cool J rhyme includes a policeman, he is only there for L.L. to outwit. A rapper, whose implicit statement is always “You want to be like me,” is a role model whether he sets out to be one or not. If nobody wanted to be like him, nobody would buy the record.
Many whites and blacks find N.W.A frightening; mainstream black leaders hate them because of their distorted image of the black community. They celebrate the gangster life and reinforce racist iconography. Yet if you get past the language and violence — a line like “Fuck you, bitch” serves the same purpose here it does in an Eddie Murphy routine — you’re struck by the powerlessness the first-person lyrics project: “I can fuck you up; I am.”
When a policeman appears in an N.W.A song, he’s got Ren face-down on the pavement in front of his friends. In the course of an N.W.A song, crimes are punished, women are faithless, and somebody else’s stupidity inevitably leads to retribution, which leads straight to jail for keeps. N.W.A choose not to live out the omnipotence that rap is all about .?.?. their most controversial song, “Fuck tha Police,” is the ultimate expression of hip-hop weakness in the face of police power, the sort of snarling anti-cop rant left unsaid until the black-and-white is around the corner and safely out of earshot. “Fuck tha Police” isn’t a metaphor for anything.
N.W.A call themselves “street reporters,” another phrase parroted by journalists. “We don’t tell no fiction,” Ice Cube says, “so N.W.A can’t get any harder unless the streets get harder, know what I’m saying? If somebody blows up a house and we see it, we’ll tell you about it.
“If we were all for gangs, we’d be going, ‘Yo, go out and Crip.’ We’re just telling them what the gangbanger shit is like. And what would happen. At the end of the song, you might end up in jail or dead. If you get away every time, you’d be a super hero.”
“We’d look stupid trying to be political,” Ren adds. “The street’s political enough. We’d lose all our fans. I don’t really know about Mandela and Malcolm X and people like that. It would be like Public Enemy rapping about 8 Ball. You’ve got to stay what you are from the jump.”
“Straight Outta Compton,” the title track from N.W.A’s first album, is violent even before anyone says a word, a strong backbeat overlaid by a nervous repeating snare fill that palpitates like coffee jitters, like a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, like an itchy trigger finger. The beat is scary all by itself in this song — too intimidating to dance to, really — not an in-your-face sort of deal like Public Enemy or Big Daddy Kane, but somehow ruthless, quietly intense. Under this, a single quarter note repeats, plucked on an electric guitar, and a thick, long tone — roughly sampled tenor saxophones, it sounds like — is deliberately underblown and brought up to a sour, wavering pitch, as if on a tape machine low on batteries. The sound fabric breathes, creepily alive. Faint cries can be heard in the background on the offbeats of three and four, as on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two,” although they seem less cries of passion here than distant cries for help. An AK-47 shudders and, horrified, you can sense the beauty in the sound.
The rhymes on the album are clean, aggressive and profane — tropes on the word “motherfucker” and riffs riding on hopped-up 12-guage adrenalin. Alone among rap crews, N.W.A has four equal rappers, each with a characteristic voice and a distinct writing style. Ice Cube is an angry young man with a dusky tenor flexible as a viola, an intelligent but damaged hothead likely to go off randomly; Ren is the deep-voiced enforcer, loyal, violent and thorough; Eazy is laid-back and vicious, in control, funny as hell; Dre is clever, forceful yet tentative.