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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Straight Outta Compton | Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown, Jr. | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Straight Outta Compton | Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown, Jr. | Review

I’m telling you, it’s dope and I don’t mean narcotics; I mean the adjective, as in, “fly”, “slammin”, “smokin”, “tight”, “fleek” or any other slang for epic fabulousness.  You’re going to hear that word – a lot – within the 2 ½ hour running time of this film.

In the late 1980’s, five young men from the dangerous, crime-filled streets of Compton, California revolutionized the music industry with a very personal  form of expression that came to be known as gangsta rap.  A devastatingly honest and gritty portrayal of life on the marginalized edge, filled with rage at the rampant discrimination, profiling, and harassment of law enforcement, specifically, the LAPD, the group cut its first , now iconic album, Straight Outta Compton.

Introductory and autobiographical in nature, the album hit the music industry like a clenched fist, one wrapped around a microphone and attached to voices that spoke for the disenfranchised.

Culled from real life experiences and adversarial encounters with LAPD officers, who stopped them repeatedly, often for doing nothing more than being present on the scene, the five young men coalesce into the beat-driven, graphic/hardcore lyric laden N.W.A when DJ/Producer Andre Young – Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) convinces Eric Wright – Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) to invest in start-up Ruthless Records, adding O’Shea Jackson – Ice Cube (Ice Cube’s real life son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) Lorenzo Patterson – MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and Antoine Carraby – DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.).

 Eazy has a bundle of ready cash from the sale of certain substances, the kind that have police in tanks fitted with battering rams breaking down the side of a house to try to confiscate.  Yeah, that stuff.  Eazy bankrolls the group’s first project and even takes a shot at rapping, no pun intended, donning his trademark sunglasses.  N.W.A’s titular album, with additional lyrics and performances by by Ice Cube, is a huge hit, especially the notorious F*ck Tha Police, a song that garners the group an actual FBI warning.

There’s no stopping them now, not even when police at a Detroit concert warn them that they can’t play THAT song under threat of arrest.  Despite this, the police get F’d, and loudly.

Music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) persuades the group to sign with Priority Records, an outfit that proves profitable for Heller and Eazy – to the frustration of other group members, most notably Ice Cube, who defects to form his own label.  Rap wars commence and antagonistic lyrics fly, as in Cube’s No Vaseline, an indictment of Eazy and Heller’s management style.

In-fighting and back-stabbing accelerate when bouncer-turned-record-producer/music producer Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) inserts himself into N.W.A matters, courting Dre away from Heller and employing strong-arm intimidation tactics that alienate his own artists. Dre and Suge clash, Heller and Eazy clash, Ice Cube has a solo career and clashes with all of his former group members.  Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) make an appearance as occasional Dre collaborators.

Eazy’s sudden illness becomes a catalyst for the former members of N.W.A to start considering a possible reunion, a proposition cut short by Eazy’s death from complications of AIDS at the age of 31, just one month after diagnosis.

Producer/director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, Friday) whose own hometown is South Central L.A. ,  just a few miles from Compton, received  input from all four surviving N.W.A members as consultants on the film.  Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were also producers, as was Tomica Woods-Wright, Eazy’s widow.  The group’s journey from obscurity to cultural revolutionaries is paved with hedonism, defiance, success, violence, excess, betrayal, and enough F-bombs to flatten whole sections of the west coast, but it’s a wild, fascinating ride in a six-four (1964 Chevy Impala, the ultimate gangsta car).

The soundtrack features the actors’ voices as well as those of the actual group members, and the film’s staged performances are loaded with simmering, passionate energy and vocal power.  Gray captures the spirit and the era, and a talented ensemble cast makes no apologies for the brash and brazen behavior, embracing the hydraulic cars, the thick gold chains, the Raiders gear and the Jheri curls.  They, as the phrase goes, bring it.

N.W.A left their fingerprints on a generation of music nearly thirty years ago.  Straight Outta Compton, the album AND the film, prove that they are still on the industry’s most wanted list.  


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