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
“Here’s a li’l somethin’ ’bout a nigga like me...”
When N.W.A dropped Straight Outta Compton 20 years ago, their hood reportage functioned as art from the Negro underbelly always has: pulling back the curtains on the realities, dreams and unyielding nightmares of a subset of this country’s African-derived have-nots. With droll black (as in folks) humor, it made deft (should that be def?) performance of hood truths and ghetto fantasies. That combo struck complicated chords because truth and fantasy were trickily overlapped, blurred. It was vent and vindication for many, but jolting news flash to multitudes who weren’t already in the thick of it: the black middle and upper classes, many of whom lived — and still live — half a paycheck away from brutal niggerdom; white folks and non-Negro minorities clueless as to the realities of modern-day native sons. Its greatest and most unfortunate legacy may be that it folded neatly into a lot of folks’ (including Negroes’) long-standing fetish for dysfunctional niggers. It opened some doors of social dialogue and set the template for countless rap careers, but it also helped pave over other avenues of black expression, stoking a global market for shrunken, restricting notions of “real” or “valid” blackness.
Technically, the first words spoken on the now classic album are, “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” What follows are biting political anthems (“Fuck tha Police”), irresistible social commentary (“Gangsta Gangsta”) and gender wars as cultural critiques (“I Ain’t tha 1”). The tales are told through detailed but no-frills street vocab, through raunchy call-and-response and poetry rife with off-the-cuff homophobia and misogyny. Compton reflects and embodies the discomfiting and the infuriating, the illuminating and the cathartic. Today, Straight Outta Compton not only holds up, but blows away most of the rap released this year. Dre’s studio handiwork is clearly from many hip-hop cycles ago, but it’s far from dated. His blood-raw beats and shrewd samples (“Here’s hopin’ you sophisticated muthafuckas hear what I gotta say...”) ably illustrate one of the disc’s most famous lines: “I’m the typa nigga that’s built to last.”
To help the consumer feel this new collection is worth her time, digital wizardry has been performed (remastered; the sound is great), and bonus tracks include covers by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Snoop Dogg & C-Murder, Mack 10 and WC. They’re all fine, but what really makes the collection relevant is... just how relevant the record remains.
Nooses are in this season, hanging from dorm-room doors of black college students, office doors of black professors and a famous statue of Tupac; black children are incarcerated at an alarming rate, given sentences far out of proportion to whatever knucklehead antics they get up to. In this new gilded age, gentrification, a fucked housing market and population shifts have black folk vanishing from San Francisco, D.C., New York and parts of L.A. that were once buh-lack and going... where? The list goes on and yet there is no serious conversation about any of this.
Turn up the music.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION | N.W.A | Priority Records/Capitol
In 1989, Jonathan Gold profiled N.W.A for the L.A. Weekly. Here’s an excerpt. February ’89: On the morning his solo record was certified gold, Eazy E stood blinking in the well-kept backyard of his mother’s house in Compton, 15 minutes south of downtown. He is tiny, his neat Jheri curls just so beneath a black Raiders cap, the gold chain around his neck thick as his frail wrists. He slouched, eyes puffy, as if his body couldn’t believe it wasn’t still in bed. He and his friends in N.W.A had hung out at a Bobby Brown gig, holding court, until late. Two days earlier they had hosted a segment of Yo! MTV Raps (though MTV would refuse to play their video); later that afternoon they will be interviewed by Word Up!, a black-teen pinup magazine; the next day they will fly to New York for something called the Urban Teen Awards.
Eazy, who signs checks as Eric Wright, is sole owner of Ruthless Records, an independent hip-hop production company that releases music through Atlantic, Elektra/Asylum and Priority, a compilation label run by a former K-tel executive who had never before dealt with an act, unless you count the California Raisins. The Ruthless touch, the raw, danceable Compton street sound, is hot, and each of the label’s three Dre-produced rap albums — by Eazy, N.W.A and J.J. Fad — is certified gold, well on its way to platinum. This spring there’ll be three more, plus an unexpurgated N.W.A video album and, for squeamish retailers (and the armed services), a self-censored version of Straight Outta Compton minus “Fuck tha Police,” half the violence and all the cuss words. (The censored version of Eazy-Duz-It reportedly accounts for close to 200,000 of the roughly 900,000 copies sold.) The final figure hasn’t been released yet, but Ruthless is rumored to have shopped around the Dr. Dre–produced album by rapper D.O.C. for a cool million, and Sylvia Rhone of Atlantic A&R snapped it up. When this summer’s projected tour with Ice-T fell through last week, Eazy arranged a 60-city Compton Posse tour himself, with N.W.A headlining over MC Hammer and Too Short.
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