August 25, 2008

Making History Straight Outta Compton

By Steve Jones

Twenty years ago this month, N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton hit the music industry like a slug to the chest. The album by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella on Eazy-E's independent Ruthless Records had critics howling that it glorified gang violence, while others praised its unapologetic, hell-raising view of living in poverty.

It also turned the spotlight on West Coast hip-hop and soon had major labels scrambling to sign every kid from South-Central Los Angeles with a story to tell. Gangsta rap would become a commercially dominant force in hip-hop for years to come.

Straight Outta Compton incited everybody from law enforcement and legislatures to women's rights group and ministers with its profanity-laced rhymes. It also went double platinum without radio airplay or a nationwide tour. Still, it has been ranked among the greatest albums of all time by VH1, Rolling Stone, The Source, Time and others.

A 19-year-old Ice Cube was N.W.A's principal lyricist, and he says the World's Most Dangerous Group, as it was billed, "didn't lose no sleep" over the controversies. He takes a look back at the seminal album:

The album's influence. "It's incredible. I still think it's still influencing people. What's funny is how many people just bit our style. That was a no-no back in the day. But it's what (the music industry) does. They give you a duplicate, but it's never as good as the original. They took it and warped it."

Gangsta music. "It was what we saw all around us in Los Angeles. Gangsta to us didn't have anything to do with Al Capone and stuff like that. It's just about living your life the way you want to live it. And you're not going to let nothing stop you."

F--- Tha Police. "We were just tired of them. They take advantage of the communities they patrol, especially poor ones. So it was like: 'Enough is enough. We have to say something.' Before we did that song, the police could do no wrong. But after that song came out and the Rodney King situation reinforced what we were saying, their conduct started being scrutinized."

The complaint letter from the FBI. "We were naive to what we were really up against. We thought as long as LAPD and the sheriff aren't coming this way, we're cool. That just shows you how much those police agencies affect the 'hood. They blind you so you can't even see the big boys coming." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>