Straight Outta Compton isn’t your average biopic. It doesn’t just tell the history of N.W.A. It tells the history of America. Yes, it explores the origins of the legendary group’s six members, but what is standout is its attention to the social issues that plagued (and still plague) the world in which we live. The parallels are uncanny.
“We didn’t anticipate it being so relevant. It’s kind of sad that it is,” says director F. Gary Gray. “It has a strong message: the more things change, the more things stay the same.”
Police brutality, gang violence and drug infestation have remained steadfast throughout the years. And N.W.A tracks including “F**k tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” have helped bring those issues to the forefront, prompting outsiders to label their music as “gangsta rap.”
But that’s not how the icons described it. For them, it was “reality rap.”
“The media came up with that. We weren’t calling it that,” reveals Ice Cube, founding member of N.W.A. He and his rhyming partners are still rectifying misconceptions about them today. That’s one of the reasons they decided to put their lives on the big screen: to narrate their own stories. Besides, who knows it better that they do?
“The guys were saying, ‘Regardless of what you think, this is what’s happening, and this is how I feel, and we’re unapologetic about it,’ ” says Gray.
With the help of newcomers O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube’s son who plays him in the movie) and Jason Mitchell (who portrays Eazy-E), Straight Outta Compton delivers. Its grittiness and griminess honors the reality of the times and the group’s widespread influence.
“It’s not just about N.W.A to me. I understand that this is my dad, and this is what the film is circled around. But this also my family’s legacy, so this was a different level of importance to me,” Jackson Jr. says.
Jason Mitchell adds, “We had to nurture it. Some scenes may seem harder than others, so when you’re fighting feelings, you have to let loose and be vulnerable.”
Straight Outta Compton definitely takes you on an emotional roller coaster. Comedic but serious, sad but uplifting, it emphasizes themes of perseverance and passion. “It was a labor of love all the way through,” Ice Cube says. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, and we didn’t shy away from that. But we were able to pull it off step by step, scene by scene, meeting by meeting.”
Now that film has hit theaters (August 14), the filmmakers are hoping to evoke societal change and encourage people to firmly hold on to their beliefs just as N.W.A. did.
“It is more than entertainment,” Gray says. “We’re talking about the issues, and now we need to do something about it.”
N.W.A certainly did. No matter how radical or unconventional they were, they stuck to their guns, making their voices heard. Their nearly 30-year legacy will forever be an example of triumph and truth. N.W.A not only holds a space in hip-hop history, they've also have claimed a spot in American history.
“It’s a David vs. Goliath piece,” Ice Cube says. “It’s about brotherhood. It’s about the love for each other and the love for music.”