Watching Straight Outta Compton was a dream come true. To my knowledge, this is the first real attempt by Hollywood to speak about hip-hop history. That is a big deal and that alone is why this film is extraordinarily important.
That is why I watched this film with conflicted eyes. The hip-hopper in me wanted to love it wholeheartedly and forgive the flaws, while the film-geek wanted to judge it like any other movie.
So here is what I’ll say, Straight Outta Compton is a very good film and that is frustrating because it could have been great. I admit that the problem could be me – just me – I feel like I know too much about the history of NWA to just sit back and enjoy. If you know little about the group then I think you’ll love this film, but I personally couldn’t accept the way the film took artistic liberties with certain events.
For example, my favourite rap song of all time is Nuthin but a G thang and the way the film suggests that song came about is just laughable. Like, I actually spat out laughing in the cinema.
There is another part in the film where we meet 2Pac and he’s recording the iconic song Hail Mary. Dr Dre walks in and plays him the instrumental to California Love. Again, I laughed out loud because that moment felt so contrived and manufactured. It felt like it was only there to remind the audience that Dre was behind that great song.
In fact, the way the film deals with the powerful music of NWA disappointed me greatly, apart from one noticeable exception. The scene where the group performs Fuck tha Police gave me chills. Watching that moment in the cinema, on the big screen, was just… magic. Everything about that scene, from the build up where the police brief the group on what not to perform, to the way they handled Ice Cube’s speech before the performance and the performance itself… perfect.
Where the film shines most is the way it makes NWA’s story relevant to 2015. The ever harassing presence of the police hangs over the whole film. It’s never far away and it’s haunting. You can’t help but make comparisons with what has been going on in America the past couple of years and it paints a bleak but telling picture.
There were many other rap groups who made more eloquent and sophisticated arguments regarding inner city violence, race relations and police harassment but NWA’s brutal and hyper-violent message still holds weight today. Sometimes when the world isn’t listening, there is a lot of satisfaction in just saying… fuck it.
I hope this film leads to Hollywood exploring other great stories in hip hop… the most obvious direction is Death Row Records’ story but I’d love to see a film about Public Enemy or The Fugees. It’s just a thought.