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.