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I saw an advanced screening of “Straight Outta Compton” in Los Angles recently. The film depicts the rise and fall and lasting effects of the rap group N.W.A, in both music and auto-biographical storytelling. The guests of this screening were invited personally for some connection to the music or movie (my husband works in the music business) and yet, there were twice as many VIPs there as seats.

An additional theater had to be cleaned, opened and filled to capacity while people like myself all waited over an hour to watch the movie, which was shocking because people in Los Angeles don’t wait an hour for anything. We might sit in traffic for that long — but that’s only because we’re physically trapped.

But we waited. No one was willing to leave — not the 16-year-olds with their mogul mothers or fathers and not even 50-year-old moguls themselves who are the same age as the rappers now.

And I kept asking myself why.

The fact that the film was spectacular — a perfect fusion of music, history and humanity revealed in great story telling, with inexplicably deep performances — was not the reason.  That was unknown before it played.  But when it had, and I still didn’t want to leave my chair, I realized what we were all hoping for.  And that was what the producers — Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright — said they wanted to do by making the movie: Educate their audience on how and why gangsta rap ever came to be.

I was in college during N.W.A’s emergence and, truth be told, they were too hard for me. Shaming the police scared me. Tipper Gore’s efforts to prevent me from ever hearing “hard-core” music also worked since they were not played on the radio. But by the time Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg came together and the lyrics mellowed just enough to let me feel edgy but not unsafe, I was hooked.

I am a rap and hip hop aficionado in my circle of mostly white, highly educated female friends — and I’m not alone. A surprisingly large part of the hip hop business is made up of people like me. Most of whom, myself included, mostly missed out on what made today’s music what it is.

No less, I interviewed Ice Cube last year while I was co-hosting on “The View” and he was promoting the film “Ride Along.”  I audaciously asked him how he felt about portraying a police officer, given his history with them. He snarled at me, but he makes that face a lot. Then he gave me a perfectly coined answer that made the audience laugh and told me to move on. I wish I had known then what I know now.

“Straight Outta Compton,” which took 13 years to make, actually explained something about art. “Rawness” is the word most used to describe N.W.A, but aside from being artists who portrayed their reality without consideration of marketability, I would say what they had was edge. Which is why even entitled industry Angelinos were willing to sit for an hour to see how it happened … because edge is hard thing to quantify.

How much is exciting or provocative in art and how much is too much? That was the question during N.W.A’s debut and even after the group’s world dominance in the early ’90s. But just like all the other themes of the movie — the effects of the war on drugs, police brutality, white Americans not really understanding black Americans’ experience — the question of edge remains as well.

Only now, with this film, my generation and those coming up can see a perfect example of how success might happen when truth comes first. No matter how hard or raw it is.  And that edge is a commodity that will mellow overtime, naturally, in an artist through age and experience. It can then be transferred into multiple platforms.

No one seeing this movie is unaware that Ice Cube has had a 20-year movie career, or blind to the fact that Dr. Dre is not only part of the Apple brand but a giant at it. But “Straight Outta Compton” makes moviegoers a witness to how the most struggling members of Los Angeles society rose to the very top, with no airs about them, despite all the warnings from Tipper Gore.

 



  1. Nicole Baugh on Wednesday 26, 2015

    I was in elementary school when N.W.A. rose to fame. My parents wouldn’t let me listen to them at that time. Now, hearing all the rave reviews on this film, I’ve got to see it this weekend with my mom. :)

  2. Dan Mackey on Wednesday 26, 2015

    Hi again,
    This was another one of your articles I had to reread several times to sift out the main point out of so many that each opened a huge can of opinions for each point I found. From what I can gather the biggest question is the determination and quantification of “Edge” in artistic endeavor. Edge is an appropriate in my opinion because it illustrates the fine line between what is enough and too much or not enough. I found much of the music of that period difficult to listen to because the dark and hopeless ethos that came from the lack of harmonic richness and the unrelenting singular rhythms. In understanding more and witnessing the treatment of people of color especially from the vantage of my southern home now I can see where it is rooted. That is a whole other story of another topic. I do think the idea of edginess is elusive like lightning in a bottle. Fortunately we have another display of it from what you are saying about this movie. It sounds like one of the best things to come out about music in a very long time.

  3. Dan Mackey on Wednesday 26, 2015

    Geez I have to edit more before hitting submit…Sorry for the redundancies in my grammar…

  4. Lucas on Wednesday 26, 2015

    This was a great film. Great acting and production. I personally know Cue from bankrolling a tour of his in my country and was blown away to see his son do so well in this film. I can not believe all the time I have spent with Cube to never hear him talk about his young ones. He did good. Amazing considering where he has come from. If this film does not give people hope, then nothing can. I do not mean hope financially, I mean good character hope. It just goes to show that people need to open up about their passions and not keep them hidden.