By Matthew McKibben | February 9, 2015
I watched the trailer for F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton about an hour after reading about how Kanye West crashed Beck’s “Album of the Year” Grammy win with his look-at-me theatrics and the trailer made me sad about the current state of popular music. At times, mainstream rock, pop, country, and rap music seems to be more about the gloss and less about real, substantive earth shattering music. Rebellion now seems to be more about stolen guacamole recipes and whether Beyonce wins Grammy’s, than about stuff that can truly gut punch people’s souls.
It’s hard to write about modern music without sounding like an old grandpa telling yet another “back in my day” story, but the 90’s seemed to be the last decade in which mainstream music could really be kind of brutally honest and overtly political. There’s no way someone like Drake would risk tarnishing his “brand” by making a song called “Fuck the Police.” If you were to make a list of bands that were groundbreaking, trend setting, and overtly political, you’d have to include N.W.A. (and Public Enemy) at the top of the list. Similarly to how Nirvana completely killed the hairband era, I think it’s safe to say N.W.A. kind of did the same with the Rick Rubin/Run D.M.C. hip hop era. Eazy-E wasn’t really all that interested in talking about his Adidas sneakers. N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” completely pulled back the curtain on what life was like in inner city Los Angeles and began a decade of music-as-sociology for a lot of people who up to that point had no clue what was going on in cities across America. Gangsta rap would eventually become a sexist, overly violent parody of itself (something I think the trailer kind of hints at), but its beginnings were so spot on.
Straight Outta Compton is directed by F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job and Friday), stars Paul Giamatti, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube’s son) as Ice Cube, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, and Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, and is set for release on August 14, 2015.