Straight Outta Compton


Ruthless Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Back in 1988, NWA was the Richard Clarke of its day. True, Clarke probably never considered writing "life ain't nothing but bitches and money" in his book, Against All Enemies, but both Clarke and NWA were broadcasting alarms about a terrible event that was not too far away -- and both were broadcasting their warnings on essentially deaf ears.

When NWA's groundbreaking debut, Straight Outta Compton, debuted, it was shocking. If Public Enemy's It Takes ANation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was the equivalent of a leftist militant political rally, Straight Outta Compton was the equivalent of a stickup. Much has been made about the album's immediacy -- it was recorded on the cheap and came from firsthand experiences in life in South Central Los Angeles.

The highlights come early. The leadoff track features a 'pass the mike' introduction to three or four emcees that would forever change rap: Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and MC Ren. The beat and flows of the rhymes have woven its way into virtually every aspect of pop culture. From Kid Rock's declaration that he's "straight outta the trailer" to bands like Straight Outta Junior High to all-too numerous "straight outta" punch lines in sitcoms, the song was absorbed into the mainstream almost instantaneously, and with virtually no airplay.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Of course, the next song, "F*** Tha Police" is the song that put NWA on the map, for all the right and wrong reasons. The song was like a match to a gas can and resulted with NWA getting in trouble with the FBI. For free speech advocates, there was a lot to defend in Straight Outta Compton. If you were conservative, the album was public enemy No. 1, because it attacked police and glorified violence. If you were liberal, the album was public enemy No. 1 because of its rampant sexism and glorified violence.

Despite all of the violent-ridden, misogynistic lyrics, there are some moments of Straight Outta Compton that are extremely disciplined musically. Remove the lyrics to "Parental Discretion Iz Advised" and what remains is a sophisticated beat that would sound right at home on an Earth, Wind and Fire album in the late '70s. Even on his first album that landed him major exposure, Dre showed, even at that young age, that he had the ear and talent to eventually become the Phil Spector of rap and hip-hop in the '90s and well into today.

The beats of Straight Outta Compton are stark and dense. For the most part, the album has held up fairly well considering how much rap has evolved since it was released. "Express Yourself" can still bring a laugh with its old-school sampling and the second-half of the album remains strong, with the exception of "Something Like That" and "Compton's N The House."

Of course, it's hard not to look at the events that took place after Straight Outta Compton was released: the 1992 LA riots (which, despite what cultural snobs say, NWA did NOT cause), Eazy-E dying of AIDS, Ice Cube going from Amerikka's Most Wanted to a movie star who can make a $100 million movie and Dr. Dre, who has had to settle for merely sculpting what rap, hip-hop, R&B and even rock sounds like today. And most shocking, the album began the uneasy blur between fiction and reality that ultimately resulted in the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. Listen to Straight Outta Compton today and it's likely you're not going to learn anything in terms of sociology. But if you want to get a sample of how it all started, this is the album to start with.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ruthless Records, and is used for informational purposes only.