Straight Outta Compton
I write this on September 7th, what would’ve been Eric “Eazy- E” Wright’s 52nd birthday.
Hip Hop is the culture that binds us all, and has for decades operated as the probable chief influencer among youth. And yes — in 2015 Hip Hop has undoubtably grown to represent much more than anyone could have initially intended, but it’s roots will forever remain.
Hip Hop gave the world an eye into the ghetto, helping open the ears of the world to the voice of the street; sequently helping many lay claim to a struggle outsiders had no clue of. Hip Hop when founded was understood to include 5 essential cultural pillars: MCing, Bboying, Dj-ing, Graffiti, and Knowledge, Culture and Overstanding. Whilst all five elements hold a unique importance in the birth of the culture, MC-ing (Rap) quickly became the most publicly celebrated of all five elements, and gave way to a surge in the culture’s mainstream popularity; one that few could have seen coming.
Rap is poetry, raw and direct; it’s a brash and earnest way of informing the world of the ongoings of the street, and it appeals to the instinctive need for honest storytelling that lives within us all. Some look for it in the nightly news, some crack open a book, or enjoy a film; the inner city just decided to do its storytelling over a beat. Raw as ever.
With the 80’s coming to a close, young men and women from the hood had grown tired of looking to the music of their parents for entertainment and inspiration; completely unable to see themselves in the music pushed on them. The streets needed their voices heard, and they turned to five of Compton’s finest to help get word on life in the hood to the masses.
Welcome to: Straight Outta Compton.
NWA represents the birth of gangsta rap. A groundbreaking new style that gave the world an unfiltered look into the ongoings of inner city America, through the lives of five young men from Compton California. It was something the world had never seen before, completely revolutionizing the landscape of black music, artistic expression, and thought; leading many in power to do anything they could to stop the the movement from gaining any traction at all.
I fully acknowledge that NWA was first in a long line of influential hip hop groups and artists — but let’s now go through my feelings on the film.
As we all know, many times films just don’t do the real story any justice, and with this particular film came very real concern for me. I didn’t want to see yet another disappointing Hollywood attempt at telling a story, especially one held to such cultural esteem. Hollywood has famously fucked up far too many a story for me to say i felt in any way confident entering the theatre: but it’s NWA, and knowing Cube and Gary Grey’s history helped get me into the theatre in the first place.
Much of my concern started with the death of Eazy-E: How would director F Gary Grey ensure he had all his bases covered? Especially considering the incredible success of Dr Dre and Ice Cube, and their subsequent involvement with the film. Would it be the Dre and Cube story?? or a film honest in its depiction, and true to events that are still remembered by many. (Seeing as the NWA story is really only a little over 25 years old.)
There’s no denying the film takes you back to a place in history, a time of low-riders, gangbangin, G-Funk, and Suge Knight being the undeniable scariest man on earth. And Gary Grey does an awesome job at leaving little to doubt in terms of the social climate of the time, especially that of the LAPD and the inner city. It’s also no secret Ice Cube and Dr Dre had a heavy hand in getting this movie made, and when watching i couldn’t help but think about it.
As plainly as i can say it — Dr Dre looks like a superhero in the film, and for much of it is seen as the lead character. Dre gets everyone together with the idea of starting a group, he coordinates most group decisions, stands up to gangbangers, goes toe to toe with Suge Knight; he beats dudes up, stands up to the police, and by the end of the film leaves unscathed and seemingly victorious — announcing confidently to Suge that he’d be leaving DeathRow to start his own label AfterMath.
Dre painted the victor, while Eazy the sad story of a failed rapper that could have had it all. I understand, history is always written by the victors. But it bothered me.
Anybody that knows anything about NWA and Eazy-E knows that Eazy was the gangster of the group. Eazy was the last one to leave the block, and actually used his street money to get the NWA ball rolling in the first place. Eazy was the leader, and was respected by both Crips and Pirus; although not a rapper in the purest sense, Eazy was the superstar of the group, and drew much, if not most, of the public reverence received by the group — especially initially. Jayson Mitchell did a FANTASTIC job playing Eazy, but i couldn’t help but object to moments involving him. In particular, the scene where he gets jumped by Suge Knight, and his posse of abnormally sized boogeymen. Many that knew Eazy-E personally called the scene impossible. I also thought jokes at his expense often had Eazy playing the part of comic relief, and by the films end Eazy is seen as the “loser” and Cube and Dre the effervescent victors.
Even with Eazy’s death, the film painted a picture of group reconciliation; regardless of the fact DJ Yella was the sole member of the group to attend Eazy’s funeral. In the film Eazy’s is seen sitting in his home stressing over his home’s foreclosure, when in reality there are no reports of Eazy’s house being foreclosed before his death. As the movie’s end grew closer, Eazy is seen more and more as the antithesis of Dre and Cube. This can be clearly seen when Eazy, in a Motel, calls Dre, in his Malibu mansion, about a possible re-boot of the group. Or when Eazy ( in a worn out grey hoodie) goes to holla at a obviously wealthy Ice Cube in Cube’s VIP section of a club, about the same issue. The film juxtaposes Eazy’s financial situation with that of Dre and Cube as if to illustrate that some sort of false belief in manager Jerry Heller led him to financial ruin, when according to Eazy E’s publiscist Phyllis Pollack, Eazy-E is said to have died with over $30 million in the bank.
The film paid little attention to Eazy’s consistent victories over Dre, at one point even showing Eazy in his car nearly in tears after seeing a billboard for Dre’s 92' album ‘The Chronic.’ Again, the scenes inclusion confused me, but it’s important to note Eazy was far from down and out when it came to his battle with Dr Dre.
Not to say Eazy won, just to reiterate the issue was much more level than ever implied by the characters in the film. Regardless of the fact Dre did his best in turning an upstart MC from Long beach, (Snoop Doggy Dogg,) into his new musical muse, and right hand man. (Turned out pretty good huh?)
Eazy’s Aids diagnoses has also always been a point of real contention, and the film only brought that discourse back to the forefront. Many point to Suge Knight as playing a role integral to Eazy’s eventual death, and the film to its credit eludes to this, specifically in the previously mentioned scene where Suge and his DeathRow henchmen beat Eazy up in hopes of having him sign papers that would release Dr Dre from his deal with Ruthless, and free him up to work with DeathRow. Suge says, “Don’t make me change you Eazy,” in what i believe to be a poignant attempt at alluding to what millions believe to be true: Suge Knight injected Eazy E with a virus that lead to the rapid deterioration of his health, and eventual mortality.
Not to directly imply anything further, i’ll let you come to your own conclusion.
Do i have my issues with the film? Obviously — But i remain extremely excited about what the success of this movie means for cinema moving forward. 10 years ago this movie would have never been made, it probably would have never left the ground. To this date the film has grossed over $150 million dollars, and its success will only open the eyes and ears of studios to the “urban” market (God, i hate that word.) There are so many of these stories that need to be told, and with news of the “Rise of Death Row/ DPG 4 Life” movie that’s said to follow the rise of Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Death Row, and the Dogg Pound already in the air, proof of this isn’t hard to find.
Straight Outta Compton even with its inconsistencies (that could be a whole other post) is by far cinema’s best ever biopic, and for the Hip-Hop community that carries a distinctly unique measure of importance. With the success of Dre and Cube we find proof in the prosperity of one of America’s most influential musical groups. It’s just my hope that the influence of the group’s first luminary Eazy — E is never forgotten, because with out Eazy, there is no Niggaz Wit Attitudes.
Happy Birthday Eazy.
Originally published at www.matthewhendrixx.com.