June 28, 2008

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (August 8, 1988)

If you'll recall our last N.W.A. gathering, their unofficial debut album, N.W.A. & The Posse, which was a haphazard attempt by Macola Records to capitalize on the early success of the first singles released by the N----z With Attitude, had sold tons of copies, even though none of the crew members recognized it as a valid representation of their work. As terrible as that album was, though, its success proved that the world was ready for Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and (to a much lesser extent) Arabian Prince to provide socially conscious gangsta rap that showed true musical ambition.

So, Straight Outta Compton was born. Most hip hop heads consider this disc to be the group's true debut album anyway, considering that the group had full creative control this time around (except when it came to handling their funds; more on that subject at a later date). It ended up selling millions of copies worldwide, based primarily on some unorthodox marketing techniques that were borderline brilliant back in the day.

Straight Outta Compton was one of the first albums to sport a variation of the Parental Advisory sticker on its cover, which to young white male teenagers (that were the core audience, if history has proven anything) basically meant that this disc would be the perfect way to piss off their parents, thus earning a couple million in sales right there. The video for the title track was also banned from the major music outlet of the day, MTV, but for the life of me I can't remember why (I'm sure it had something to do with violent content, but, you know, some older Metallica videos were pretty violent and those got played). Finally, in a stroke of luck, N.W.A. managed to piss off, of all organizations, the fucking F.B.I. with their "Fuck Tha Police", who proceeded to write a very terse letter to Ruthless Records, one which is apparently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

All of those factors, combined with the fact that Dr. Dre (and, to be fair, DJ Yella, although nobody seems to remember this) had advanced his production skills light years ahead of his own work on N.W.A. & The Posse (which wasn't hard; that disc was made up of a lot of his old, pre-N.W.A. work), resulted in The World's Most Dangerous Group, as was the name of their bowling league, dominating hip hop for a time in the late 1980's, and residual effects are still being felt today: N.W.A. inspired scores of West Coast copycats, most notable among them Dre apprentices Snoop Dogg and The Game, and, oddly, also provided the motivation Q-Tip needed to complete The Low End Theory, which was recorded in response to Dre's craftsmanship on Straight Outta Compton.

I know, that last fact is kind of bizarre, but it's true.

Who needs a rap album intro? Cube pretends that N.W.A.'s first few singles never existed and essentially redefines the terms of his crew with his verse. MC Ren doesn't slouch, either, and Eazy at least reads his lines very well, but for me the true appeal in this track lies in Dre and Yella's beat, which sounds nothing like any of their previous tracks and leaves you gasping for air.

Younger hip hop fans may be thrown off by the corny-ass courtroom skits used as a framing device for "Fuck Tha Police", but once the song hits, its controversial-at-the-time-but-today-not-so-much-as-eyebrow-raising subject matter will bleed into your mind. This shit was incendiary at its time, and the overall message still hits home, thanks to the resiliency of crooked cops everywhere (*cough* Sean Bell *cough*).

Cube's line "We don't get any play from the ladies/With six n----s in the car, is you crazy?" still makes me laugh today. With his three verses, this comes off as an Ice Cube solo track, but after he finishes up the song itself takes a left turn, with Eric Wright batting cleanup.

I always felt the beat here was too simplistic, but it's just right for MC Ren to demolish during his solo turn here. I also always felt that MC Ren was severely underrated, and I always felt bad that Ren was the one guy from N.W.A. that doesn't seem to get any work today. I mean, hell, even Yella still works in porn. (I also like using the word 'always'.)

For younger hip hop fans expecting an entire album of "Fuck Tha Police", it should be obvious at this point that Straight Outta Compton is just a regular gangsta rap album with some above-average production values and some seriously lucky publicity. (If MC Eiht or Spice 1 had these lucky breaks, for instance, they probably would be running shit like Dre and Cube are today.) That doesn't mean that the other songs should be discounted, however. This posse cut is pretty fucking awesome, and The D.O.C. sets up expectations for his own solo album pretty well.

An improvement to the already-decent original, which appeared on N.W.A. & The Posse and on various street corners in Compton. A little bit too long, though. It still sounds to me like Dre was listening to Licensed To Ill in his car and decided to make Eazy perform in that style.

The beat is even more elementary than "If It Ain't Ruff", but Ren and Dr. Dre, in his first rhyme-spitting appearance, have a back-and-forth that is infectious.

The most radio-friendly song on here, and also, coincidentally, the most positive. The video, which received a ton of play on MTV, featured Dr. Dre on a horse, random bodybuilders for no fucking reason, and some of the most ineffective jail cells in history: what's not to like? Oh, and yes, this is the infamous track in which Dr. Dre claims that he "don't smoke weed or cess, 'cause it's known to give a brother brain damage/And brain damage on the mic don't manage". And yet...

This song doesn't hold up. That's all I got.

10. I AIN'T THE 1
I'm not surprised that Cube found success after he went solo. When you listen to Straight Outta Compton, you'll notice that the tracks that feature O'Shea Jackson seem to sound completely different that the songs with just Eric, Lorenzo, or Andre. I'm almost convinced that Dre did this for his old friend on purpose, as a makeshift demo tape that just so happened to sell millions of copies.

Another remix of an earlier single, which was also originally featured on N.W.A. & The Posse. This song is okay, and sounds better than the first version, but pales in comparison to the best songs on Straight Outta Compton.

The beat isn't very good, but Ren, once again, proves his worth to the crew. Not bad for a guy that was a late addition.

Arabian Prince's lone contribution to Straight Outta Compton, which only appears because Eazy-E felt sorry for him, sounds completely out of place on the disc. N.W.A. as a whole was dominating gangsta rap, a genre which they may not have invented but quite possibly mastered, while Arabian Prince was stuck doing the electro-tinged party tracks that Dr. Dre and the like did early on in their careers. This isn't bad, but it makes sense why Arabian Prince wasn't long for the group following the disc's release. This is just a goofy way to end an album such as this.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Straight Outta Compton kind of stalls in spots today, and Dr. Dre's production isn't as consistent or hard-hitting as I remember, but the lyrical performances of both Ice Cube and MC Ren make this project the classic that it is today, as do the relatively small doses of Eazy-E. Not very often does an album come along that redefines its genre, so when it actually happens, it's almost like an event happening in your brain. Not bad for a bunch of guys from Compton that recorded music as an alternative to fucking around in the streets.

BUY OR BURN? Fuck yes, you should have already bought this album. You need to support your hip hop elders, especially since nursing homes cost a lot of money, and if they don't already have that money, you know whose house they're going to stay in? Your house, that's who.

BEST TRACKS: "Straight Outta Compton"; "I Ain't The 1"; "Parental Discretion Iz Advised"; "Gangsta Gangsta"


N.W.A. - N.W.A. & The Posse


  1. It was about time, Max, for "Straight outta Compton" review of yours...

    This album is a very good one and except "SOMETHING 2 DANCE 2" it's still holding up today.

    "GANGSTER, GANGSTER" is a brilliant example of a clear and fine drum programming and a rough and fit keyboard bassline... This particular type of bassline is what Dr. Dre used later on his "Chronic" and changed the West Coast sound once and for all.

    MC Ren is a fine and dope MC. To my opinion, he is 1 of the Top-3-All-Time-Mc's ever!!!!


  2. this album inspired the "N.W.A. Maddafucka" graffiti in the bathroom at my old high school...i was that moved...that dubbed tape went round like the flu and i remember youts started rocking black raiders hats and ice grilling trying to get that cube scowl ...thank God we'd mostly moved past the jherri curl at that point..

  3. I met Arabian Prince at Burger King two years ago. He said that he actually had verses on the original cut of Fuck Tha Police and Gansta Gangsta.

  4. LOL i like your reference on Dre's Damage to manage on weed and yet.. prolly the best west-coast hip-hop album. What more can i say, great review!