If You Build It, They Will Compton.
That title is of course is a riff on the Kevin Costner standard Field of Dreams (it’s actually ‘If you build it, he will come.’), that fantastical league baseball movie about a man being inspired by the voices he hears. The same could be said about rap group N.W.A. in the early 80s except the voices they are hearing are racist police as they and their friends are de-humanised and brutalised on a seemingly daily basis (so not much has changed). What they subsequently built may not fit the Americana version of what the good old US of A likes to believe it is (the power of advertising/delusion eh), but their ‘gangsta rap’ has far more integrity to reality than Norman Rockwell white picket fence mantra’d out across the airways, and it changed music forever.
It’s the sad fact that the music they were compelled to create seeped up from the blood on the over masculated streets to the pages of Ice Cube, MC Ren and crew’s notepads, dark reportage diaries from their everyday Compton reality. If Toto was visiting from Kansas, he’d probably be gunned down in a drive-by shooting. It’s also stunning how their music was so controversial at the time (apparently causing riots, well according to da police) when it’s actually quite tame in comparison to some contemporary lyrics. For that we can no doubt thank their admirable defence of their anthem ‘F*ck the Police’ under the banner of free speech and censorship by the state, as there’s nothing more dangerous than an informed voting populace. And attempts to ‘protect’ and sanitise the simple minded folks by placing Parental Advisory stickers on such works only made them absolute must buys for any youth around the world. Straight Outta Compton was THE album you HAD to have.
There is zero doubt that the release of this biopic movie Straight Outta Compton (2015) directed by F. Gary Gray arrives in a similarly tense time in certain states of America. Police brutality and apparent murder of minorities is rife, it’s almost daily, with no evidence of a solution. As such the movie to one extent plays as an extended visualisation of ‘F*ck the Police’, there are no redeeming qualities presented for the men in blue in this presentation, none at all. And if you know your history or that is your experience, that’s a somewhat justified view. It’s not offering any solutions, but it’s not arrogant enough to try, openly talking about it and bringing it to the fore is an essential start.
With such creative ability in word play on their tracks, it constantly hangs in your mind throughout the entire movie how much creativity and rewrites were involved in what we see. For all their stance against censorship, you can’t help but feel that we’re not seeing the whole truth, to a detrimental level. Especially with ongoing revelations about beat & Beats man Dr Dre and his treatment of woman, what is shown on screen comes across as a PR mission of damage limitation. At least they didn’t put a halo around him in the later parts of the movie, that’s probably on the extended Bluray version. But the fact that Dre, Ice Cube and Tomica Woods-Wright (Eazy-E’s wife) were producing the movie brings both credibility and questions of validity.
It’s not a bad movie at all. The music is fantastic, cast are really good (especially O’Shea Jackson Jr. playing his dad Ice Cube) and it’s absolutely right that it needed to be made and the (a) story told. The ethos that you don’t dig your way out of a bad place, but build instead (Express Yourself) is an inspiring universal theme. There’s a lot to fit in, and the earlier moments of the movie have some great scenes and brutal reality. As the movie progresses and the crew start to make money (to MASSIVE varying degrees) the integrity seems to wane, where truth costs and people prefer spending their dollars on soul lard or logo emblazoned headphones. This isn’t so bad until you start feeling like you’re a frog being slowly boiled alive, and after the genuine/thoughtful credit to Eazy-E you end up thinking you’ve just watched a two hour advert for Beats.
Straight Outta Compton is out 28th August.