Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Straight Outta Compton
There have been countless films about rap music and the realities of violence, but "Straight Outta Compton" by F. Gary Gray, (Set It Off, Friday) gets it right.
The film is an epic tale and a portrait of the beginnings of NWA, the infamous and famous rap group of the late 1980s. Most important and a rare thing in mainstream cinema, this is no glamorized depiction of a life in rap, money and luxury, but a thoughtful film about several musicians who push art and self-expression, alongside their own imps of Ego.
Though the scene is quite tense, the abrupt threat of this huge metal menace upon this little house is absurdist and surreal. Even the California night sky has it out for Eric like an all consuming curtain. We then see Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) who lives with mom and has a club job as a DJ. The pair meets up with O'Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube (played by Cube's son O'Shea Jackson) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.)
One day the four compile their notebooks together and spontaneously record a song. Dre and Ice Cube love E's immediacy. A track is born.
They meet Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who wants to manage them and they agree.
After witnessing numerous incidents of police brutality and being targeted themselves while recording a first album, the group pen a song titled "Fuck Tha Police" which is incendiary, aggressive and shocking making the force sweat by the very first beat.
During concerts they are forbidden to play the song, a parallel to The Doors' "Light My Fire" on Ed Sullivan. Venomous police scream at them, while the FBI threatens them with legal action.
All of the action in the film is throbbing and immediate. Danger lurks in every corner. Parties are shown with the hollow luxury of Ancient Greece as flesh wobbles like warm butter along crystal pools. Paul Giamatti sags in a lounge chair. In his emerald green and gold linen shirt, he is an iguana scaled over with five hundred dollar bills, lying in wait for his next lunge.
While E at first wants to settle with some spilled blood, Heller coaches him that the best way to attack is through the financial method of a lawsuit.
The men settle with the linguistic bloodletting of rap, the kind that destroys friendships.
Perhaps the most existential figure is Eric with beastly cops on one side and Emperor Shug Knight on the other. The very lights of LA conspire against him. After a hateful falling out with Cube, which produces some of the most fiery works, Eric alone reaches out for reconciliation.
The film to its credit spares nothing in authenticity and detail. No role is hyped or sanitized. One will get the visceral feeling that this is the late 80s thru early 90s as time passed, as if a fly on a wall.
These musicians are no saints, nor are they criminals or villains. Above all they are journalists who used rhyme instead of a word processor, driven to tell of their city experiences, despite everything nearly imploding around them during the sad horror of Rodney King and race riots.
"Straight Outta Compton" rolls smoothly along as a sizzling and intense kaleidoscopic journey that feels as anxious as the characters within. While many might see gangsta rap as a hostile form, its creation clearly gave these artists their peace and tranquility.
Curiously, the music score in itself is often an anodyne to the chaos throughout. Within the dark and bouncing rhythms one is impressed by the presence of this form, its vividness and its power to convey a self awareness, however gratuitous or savage.
Write Ian at email@example.com