Amsterdam News Staff
Last weekend marked the opening of the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” in theaters nationwide. With Dr. Dre releasing a new (and critically adored) album inspired by the film, a lot of pop culture talk has centered around N.W.A., their legacy and the legacy of gangsta rap as a whole.
For starters, you have to admit one thing about the group before doing anything else. N.W.A. and the album “Straight Outta Compton” managed to display and portray the hypocrisy of pop culture fans, America at large and you.
Afrika Bambaataa once pontificated on the “negativity” West Coast emcees brought into the rap world. While those from his generation saw hip-hop culture and rap music as a means of escaping the harsh realities of their neighborhoods and gang life, groups such as N.W.A. decided to use it to provide the soundtrack to what they saw going on around them and exaggerate a little bit. And it’s not like misogyny wasn’t a part of classic New York-based hip-hop. Anyone who’s listened to “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” could tell you that.
Make your way to YouTube and look up the MTV News special report on gangsta rap from 1994. Narrated by Abbie Kearse, the report talked to pundits and fans of the genre to get to the bottom of what drew people to this rap subgenre. At one point in the report, Kearse states, “MTV has very strict standards regarding images of gratuitous sex and violence as do other video outlets.” But MTV made its mark in the 1980s with gratuitous depictions and references to sex courtesy of hair metal and pop music artists. Those guitar shredders, like the gangsta rappers after them, reveled in their rebellious nature and the fact that they could rile up the establishment so easily.
It’s hard to admit that something that many consider revolutionary is also flawed, but adults should be able to engage in nuance. “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” were special television programs, but the man behind them, Bill Cosby, has been revealed to be a notorious sexual predator. Michael Jackson is still the No. 1 entertainer of his time, but the child molestation allegations have to be mentioned when discussing his life and legacy. “Birth of a Nation” is considered to be a technical breakthrough in filmmaking, yet most Americans can see it for the ahistorical, racist bile that it is.
Without N.W.A., there are so many artists the world would’ve never known or heard on a smaller scale. Snoop Dogg, Coolio, Del the Funky Homosapien, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar and many others have a direct link to N.W.A., right down to the messy politics of some of the individuals.
What makes the legacy of N.W.A. so controversial is how much their music bled into their life outside of the studio. Dr. Dre’s well-chronicled beatings of women, such as former “Pump It Up” host Dee Barnes, and his lack of apology in subsequent interviews back then have resurfaced. Ice Cube’s legacy as the main lyricist for the group, along with his solo output, have been put back on display and labeled problematic.
But this isn’t new. These are the same discussions we’ve had about N.W.A. since the group reached national prominence. James Brown and Miles Davis were notorious abusers of women, yet people still fawn over their musical contributions. Mafia movies became so prevalent in Hollywood that there once was a compilation released featuring the music used in those films. The same people wagging their fingers at the “Straight Outta Compton” film loved “What’s Love Got to Do With it?” to the point where Larry Fishburne’s portrayal of Ike Turner became a source of jokes for many.
We rile against misogyny in rap music but don’t discuss it in the rest of society with as much fervor (although the public’s gotten better in that aspect). This doesn’t mean that misogyny in rap music shouldn’t be examined, but let’s make sure we use that fine-tooth comb everywhere. It speaks to the power of a group such as N.W.A. that they can still rub people the wrong way two decades-plus after their last recordings.
So when you make your decision to see “Straight Outta Compton” in theaters, realize that you don’t need qualifiers to explain your reasons why or why not to go. Just make sure you examine all of the art and entertainment you enjoy the same way.