A Little Bit of Gold and a Pager
Celebrating 30 years of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton
Considered one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop records of all-time, Straight Outta Compton was revolutionary for more than just popularizing the “gangsta rap” sound. Banned from most major radio stations, due its explicit andu somewhat controversial lyrics about guns, drugs and the corruption of law enforcement, the album was still an overall success that would help jettison five young artists to new heights.
N.W.A was assembled by Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, a Compton-born rapper and the co-founder of Ruthless Records, who recruited a future super-producer by the name of Dr. Dre. He was soon followed by his cousin, O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, MC Ren, and producers DJ Yella and Arabian Prince—the latter of whom left the group just before the release of their studio debut in 1988, due to royalty and contract disagreements.
While this was perhaps foreshadowing of the future conflict that ultimately caused the group to split, their debut album went on to receive widespread acclaim, peaking at No. 37 on the Billboard charts. It was eventually certified triple platinum by the RIAA in 2015 for more than three million copies sold.
Straight Outta Compton was significant for much more than the accolades… the album itself served as a depiction of the socio-political climate in Los Angeles during the late ‘80s. It was around the same time when former-President Ronald Reagan started to increase efforts to combat the “War on Drugs” by providing police with an arsenal of assault weapons, tanks, helicopters and SWAT gear, while simultaneously turning predominantly poor Black communities into full-scale war zones.
It is arguably one of the most culturally significant albums ever recorded, which might explain why it was the first and only hip-hop album ever inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2017 for being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of N.W.A’s crowning achievement, Rock and Roll Globe breaks down a classic from the “golden age” of hip-hop.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”
The opening salvo could heard on televisions and tape-decks all across the country as the group’s lead single, “Straight Outta Compton,” essentially put West Coast hip-hop on the map.
N.W.A channel their frustration with institutional racism and the use of excessive police force on urban youth at the time with their renegade anthem, “Fuck the Police.”
Because of its message, the song was the source of a lot of controversy. It was also an adequate gauge of the racial tensions in Los Angeles prior to the Rodney King scandal, which would lead into the L.A. riots. in April of 1992.
“Gangsta Gangsta” was released in September 1988 as the group’s second single. It is also believed to be one of the earliest examples of the G-Funk sound—a purely West Coast subgenre, heavily influenced by the use of samples of ‘70s funk music that was pioneered by Dr. Dre in the early ‘90s and later defined by artists such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Mac 10.
Censorship had already become a hot button issue in America at the time, thanks to the Recording Industry’s introduction of the Parental Advisory Label in 1985. The sticker essentially was placed as a warning onto any new music containing explicit language or references.
Despite channeling the frustration of urban youth, the album would not be sold without parental supervision, prompting the group to add a few choice words to the censors on the track, “Parental Discretion Iz Advised.”
Unlike the rest of the album, “Express Yourself” provides a positive message devoid of any profanity. Ironically, the group’s only radio-friendly hit focused on the freedom of expression and would criticize other rappers for purposefully avoiding cursing in order to get airtime.
Straight Outta Compton also reintroduced listeners to a couple of their previous tracks from their debut compilation, N.W.A and the Posse, including remixes of the tracks “8-Ball” and “Dopeman,” two of the group’s more controversial songs about drugs.
The album closes with “Something 2 Dance 2,” the first and only time we hear Arabian Prince along with Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella.
The Rise and Fall of N.W.A
Following the album’s release, inner squabbling over contracts caused Ice Cube to break away from the group and pursue a solo career. He later fired shots at Dre and Eazy with his diss track “No Vaseline.”
The group would have continued success with 100 Miles and Runnin’ and EFIL4ZAGGIN, before Dr. Dre parted ways due to discrepancies over his contract with Ruthless Records. Dre went on to team up with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, where he would release his 1992 debut The Chronic.
Eazy-E would also resume his solo career, while also signing new artists to the Ruthless label, such as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Unfortunately, any hope for a reunion was lost in 1995, when Wright died just one month after he was hospitalized and diagnosed with AIDS.
While N.W.A was short-lived, they would leave a significant mark in the annals of hip-hop history. So much so, in fact, that their story was recently brought to life once again in the form of a major motion picture biopic, Straight Outta Compton (2015), which would once again bring the 1988 Gangsta rap classic into the forefront of mainstream culture.
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