As a hip-hop fan the news of Straight Outta Compton’s creation was strangely empty to me. I mean what new stuff could this film tell me that even a basic knowledge of NWA’s brief career hadn’t already.
I was dubious but decided to go anyway. But before I left home for the cinema I jotted down my knowledge of the infamous rap group Niggaz with Attitude:
They were poor black youths from a notoriously dangerous area (i.e. Compton Los Angeles) who formed a rap group and became famous for their lyrics, which were full of profanity, violence and confrontational themes.
Ancient people over 25 hated it, the disenfranchised youth lapped it up. Ancient people decried it over the radio waves and across the dinner table, more kids determined to buck the system purchased the EP.
(As an aside, I was 16 when ‘100 miles and runnin’ was released. The biggest moodiest kid in my school latched on to it and would drive his car to the local basketball court, open the door and play the cassette at top volume on a loop. As a kid who was at the court after school every day, I heard that tape a hundred times, which is perhaps why it never really shocked or elated me at any stage.)
Back to NWA’s career – the OGR version.
They get famous, they make money. They adhere to an outfit of black shirts and baseball caps. A couple of the songs are great, a few good, the rest forgettable. Ice Cube (to me) seemed the best rapper among them. Eazy E had a whiny voice but seemed to get the biggest ‘look at me!’ lines.
Ice Cube cracks the shits and goes solo. Dr Dre releases an album. Eazy E dies of an AIDS related illness. Dr Dre remains a producer. Ice Cube becomes an actor (of dubious quality). Dr Dre invents headphones (apparently). Both of them make squillions.
Here’s what the movie told me that I didn’t know: NWA were discovered by Jerry Haller (Paul Giamatti), who according to the film were responsible for the group’s breakout and success, but more importantly seemed to stitch them all up when it came to contracts and revenue sharing. This lead to disharmony between Eazy E, who was a Haller believer, Ice Cube, who was certainly not, and Dr Dre who was somewhere on the fence.
And what of MC Ren and DJ Yella you ask? Were they not in the group also? Well yes they were, but they might get ten lines between them. This film gives them as much respect as the promoters in the 90s. The film spends far more time namechecking the identities that the group subsequently came into contact with; Tupac, Eminem, Snoop and Suge Knight – who certainly doesn’t come up looking like roses here.
The acting is fine I guess. Let’s just say no one performance jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. This probably won’t prevent Ice Cube’s kid from starring in ‘Why Aren’t We There Yet Bitch?’ in a few years.
But let’s be honest, this was never an acting tour de force, this was an exercise in selling reminiscence to middle aged folk and to kids who want to at least appear to embrace the danger of the old school.
Straight Outta Compton is a biopic in every sense of the word, though perhaps the ‘According to Ice Cube’ version. It reinforces what you already know and (perhaps) care about, and touches on some new information that isn’t especially interesting or captivating anyway. Clocking in at an over-long two and a half hours, I’d rather spend my time reading the liner notes of the group’s Best Of CD, although might I be pessimistic enough to suggest NWA’s Best Of might actually begin and end with their first album…?
Final Rating – 6.7 / 10. This is only worthwhile for completists and those with little knowledge of the story in the first place… and most certainly Ice Cube’s accountant.