N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton: 20th Anniversary

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Straight Outta Compton: 20th Anniversary

Still epitomizing hip-hop at its most dangerous, even if we now know better

If you go back and watch the video for N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton," you will notice that not one of member of the group is carrying a weapon. It is the cops who wield the clubs and firearms. The Compton quintet, who don't appear to be guilty of anything other than possessing attitude, spend most of the video on the run. This may run against the grain of memory, which preserves N.W.A. as violent scourges to the genteel America of 1988. But for all their menacing glares and outlaw tales ("Gangsta Gangsta," "Dopeman"), threats to the police ("Fuck the Police") and neglect of social mores, they were merely playing a part — this was a revenge fantasy, posture as dignity, attitude as self-defense. Their 1988 debut is still bracing, thanks largely to the abrasive, raw funk of Dr. Dre's beats and the uniqueness of their personas. There is an unhinged glee to Eazy-E's barely-kempt boasts and Ren's cruel, heartless, intricate verses, while few rappers have cast as foreboding an air as Cube in his prime. It's a testament to the strength of their performance and the enduring power of their iconography that N.W.A. still epitomizes hip-hop at its most dangerous, even if we now know better.