“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”
The importance of the rap group N.W.A’s influence on the development of rap music is well known. Popularising the genre of gangsta rap, and forcing America’s eyes onto the condition of black Americans living in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Director F. Gary Gray does a solid job of setting the gritty scene of late 1980s Compton. The guns, drugs, poverty and police brutality are all introduced alongside each member of N.W.A. These themes occur throughout the film, showing that even though the group has managed to make out out of the ghetto, that escape does not necessarily translate into the freedom they imagined. This portrayal of the hardship faced by African Americans is particularly poignant when the recent events in the U.S. are considered. The tragedy that befalls Dr. Dre midway through the film is one that will be too familiar to dozens of families even today.
However, the film is not without its problems. This film is set during a period of huge social upheaval in America, the beating of Rodney King and the following L.A. Riots was a defining chapter in the story of race relations in America. However, this is a subject that the film largely chooses to gloss over, choosing the follow the members of the group in stead. It is understandable as this film is a biopic of the group, rather than social commentary, but it strikes me as such a wasted opportunity. Not only could we see who these men were, but to understand why they sang songs like “Fuck That Police”, and why songs like that meant so much, so so many millions of people.
Missed opportunities aside, the film stands out for positive reasons in many other ways. The casting is excellent, the actors chosen to portray the members of N.W.A are convincing in their execution, as well as looking and sounding exactly like their real-life counterparts. A special mention for O.Shea Jackson Jr. playing his father, Ice Cube, halfway through, you forget you are not in fact watching the real Ice Cube, such is the striking resemblance.
The concert sequences are a treat especially if you are a fan of the group, like I am. Hearing “Straight Outta Compton” through a theatre-quality sound system is a bone crunching experience, the song still hits you in the chest as hard as it did when released in 1988.
Overall, the film was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The director has managed to make the character’s story involving, without it being boring, and if anything, the musical sequences are more than enough to keep you entertained. Whilst I feel that the film could have been so much more in terms of developing the story outside of N.W.A, this shouldn’t detract from what was a good story.