1988 is considered by many to be the finest year in hip-hop, largely due to two important albums by two totally different groups, who ultimately covered the same ground (political and societal ills) from two different perspectives: The first, Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, and a few months later, the second, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton.
Back in the mid eighties,
drug dealer entrepeneur, Eric “Eazy” Wright brought fledgling producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, inspiring rappers O’Shea “Ice-Cube” Jackson, Lorenzo “M.C. Ren” Patterson, and DJ Yella (government name, Antoine Carraby) together to form “Niggaz With Attitude”, better known as N.W.A. They released their debut album N.W.A. & The Posse in 1987 on Macola Records (which was actually a collection of old material from N.W.A. group members as well as a few songs from some of their homies from around the way crew). Eazy and business partner/manager Jerry Heller would join forces a year later to form Ruthless Records, where N.W.A would release their infamous album Straight Outta Compton.
Straight Outta Compton was not only met with commercial (it sold over 3 million copies) and critical (it received 5 mics from The Source) acclaim, but it also stirred up a lot of controversy for it violent content. The FBI even sent Ruthless Records a nastygram due to the lyrical content on “Fuck The Police”.
But behind all the acclaim and controversy, there was the music. Let’s give her a listen.
Straight Outta Compton – The fellas don’t waste anytime with an intro but instead bust you right in the mouth with this hardcore in your face title song. I have to admit: it’s funny hearing a “gangsta” Ice-Cube again, after his conversion to the movie director who makes family movies. Cube and Ren sound convincing, and Eazy turns in a verse too. This is a bona fide classic, gangsta rap at it’s finest.
Fuck The Police – Yep, N.W.A.’s infamous love song dedicated to the boys in blue. Ice Cube sounds sharp and Ren turns in a solid verse over Dre’s minimal production. This song will always be remembered as the song that got the boys a letter from the FBI, informing the label they weren’t happy with the song’s content. That has to be a first in hip-hop.
Gangsta Gangsta -What appears to be an Ice Cube solo joint, throws in a unecessary guest appearance from Eazy E at the very end (which I’m sure was penned by O’Shea so it might as well be an Ice-Cube solo). Ice-Cube gets his “gangsta on” over this Dre produced track with the help of a funky guitar sample. Nice work, O’Shea.
If It Ain’t Ruff – Ren turns in the first true solo joint on Straight Outta Compton: but unfortunately he walks away sounding like an amateur. Through out the song he does this thing where he said a line and then repeats the same line in reverse (a la Smooth Da Hustla), which sounds cheesy and makes you want to stab yourself in the neck with a pen, similar to what Joe Pesci did to homeboy in GoodFellas. The empty (and boring) instrumental does nothing to help the song either. Maybe this a foreshadow to how Ren’s solo career would turn out.
Parental Discretion Iz Advised – This Posse cut was apparently the last song to be recorded for Straight Outta Compton based on the comment the D.O.C. makes at the intro. I love the live instrumentation, which D.O.C. sounds great over on his opening verse (love the plug for his forthcoming: nice self promotion). Dre bats second and sounds really good knocking it out the box (I’m sure D.O.C. or Cube penned his verse, so I shouldn’t be too generous with my praise). Cube sounds sharp as usual, and Ren sounds like a completely different emcee than what we heard on the previous song (giving credibility to my previous comment on Ren’s solo career). Oh yeah, Eazy gets a verse too. Next to “Straight Outta Compton” this is the second strongest song on the album up to this point. Very nice.
8 Ball (Remix) – Eazy’s solo joint: which is an ode to his choice of drink. Ice-Cube penned this one for E (as E proudly proclaims in the last verse), which makes sense when you hear him stumbles over three verses full of juvenile tales about his adventures while under the influence. This was pretty weak.
Something Like That – Ren and Dre tag team the mic over this drowsy Dre/Yella production, which also makes Ren and Dre sound tired, and ultimately put me to sleep while listening (*wiping drool from my chin*). Dre and Ren discuss song title ideas for this song, at the end, cementing my theory that this was probably a demo they decided to add to the album in the 12th hour. Should of left this one on the cutting room floor.
Express Yourself – Dre handles microphone duties (though O’Shea wrote the verses) as well as the production on this song that samples Charles Wright’s classic of the same name. Yes, this is the song that Dre denounces smoking “weed or sess” even though, a few years later smoking chronic would become his favorite pastime and be the substance that his legacy and best musical work would be bases on. Probably their most commercially successful single and it still sounds pretty good.
Compton’s N The House (Remix) – We get our second collaboration of the night, from Lorenzo and Dre, and unfortunately the result are the same as their first attempt. The beat is decent but both Ren and Dre’s lyrics sound dated (“wacky wack “? Really, Dre?), and if the lyrics weren’t bad enough they rap most of the lines in unison (which has always been annoying as hell to me). This is the remix and I’ve never heard the original. I wonder if the original version sounds any better?
I Ain’t Tha 1 – O’Shea get his “misogyny on”, on this solo joint: and while his flow sounds choppy at times, he gives us a taste of the strong storytelling skill he would perfect once he went solo. Dre provides a funky instrumental with a bangin’ bass line and dedicates this one to all the big booty golddigging women out there. I would love to hear a remix, a duet with Willie D. Though it sounds a bit juvenile today, it’s still entertaining.
Dopeman (Remix) – O’Shea scores two consecutive solo joints (I guess it not technically a solo since Eazy make a brief appearance on the last verse – but since Cube wrote his lines anyway, well roll with it). This a remix of the same song originally released on N.W.A. & The Posse (I’ve never heard the original so I’m not sure if it just a different beat or lyrics as well – if you have the skinny, hit me up in the comments). Cube uses this one to paint a tell about a drug dealer and the lives his occupation effects. Cube’s blunt delivery of said subject manner, bounces back and forth between sad and funny. The beat was decent and this turned out to be a pretty solid effort from O’Shea.
Quiet On Tha Set – Ren gets another solo joint (the instrumental sounds like the same track from his first solo “If It Aint Ruff”, just at a difference pace. I don’t remember anything Ren said on this one, other than his promise to come back over a funkier track next time, almost admitting himself that this track sucked, and it did.
Something 2 Dance 2 – This song was wrong in every way imaginable, very bad idea. Why didn’t anyone tell these fools gangstas don’t dance?
My copy of Straight Outta Compton contains the following bonus songs:
Express Yourself (Extended Mix) – Plays as it reads, but O’Shea makes a brief appearance (hell, it’s only right being he wrote the song) as well as a short cameo from the D.O.C. But if you never hear this version you’re not missing anything.
Bonus Beats – Skeleton instrumental for Express Yourself. Not sure why beat is plural in the song title.
Straight Outta Compton (Extended Mix) – Other than a few extra soundbites, lyrical adjustments here and there, and a few unnecessary pauses, this plays like the original.
A Bitch Iz A Bitch – This was included on the 1989 rerelease of N.W.A. & The Posse. Over a funky Dre beat, O’Shea get is “misogyny on” (again), on this solo joint. I was waiting for Willie D to pop up for a verse: he would have been hilarious, considering the subject matter (listen to “I’m Not A Gentlemen” from the Geto Boys’ We Can’t Be Stopped album). Even without Willie’s assistance O’Shea’s verses are still entertaining. And with that we’re done.
Straight Outta Compton is clearly a case of image over substance. N.W.A. grabs your attention (and even scares you) with the title song and “Fuck The Police” (which scared law enforcement); both songs helped validate their hardcore/rebellious image, which sparked the controversy that led to the commercial success of the album. The problem is after you get passed the three opening tracks, the rest of the album doesn’t carry much weight. “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”, “Express Yourself”, “Dopeman (Remix)”, and the comical “I Aint Tha 1”, are all solid song, but the other half is nothing but filler material : 2 which were previously released and a few that sound like unfinished demos.
Did The Source Get It Right? If you shave the album in half, then yes, you have a 5 mic album. But they didn’t, so you don’t. I understand the influence N.W.A. had on gangsta rap and hip-hop in general, but image doesn’t define a quality album. Regardless of how strong the singles were, there is absolutely no way you can give an album that is only effective half of the time a 5 mic ratings. Let the debating begin.