“Straight outta Compton, crazy motherf***er named Ice Cube/ from the gang called N***az With Attitude”.
This is the explosive first bar of the opening track of legendary hip hop group N.W.A’s classic debut album, which gave the mainstream music audience its first ever taste of “gangsta rap”.
Nearly 30 years later, Straight Outta Compton tells the story of how Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella became cultural icons.
The film focuses on the group’s three most famous members Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jnr) and the late-great Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell).
SOC starts in 1986 with the struggling DJ Dr.Dre bringing his talented friend Ice Cube to a night club to rock the mic. Watching in the crowd is drug-dealing hustler Eazy-E, who likes what he sees and is persuaded by Dre to invest some money into making music. The trio then form the N.W.A along with MC Ren and DJ Yella and are discovered by music industry veteran Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who becomes their manager and gets them signed to a record label.
After recording and releasing their debut album the group then go on a nationwide tour where they indulge in their meteoric success.
All this happens in the first hour or so which has you well and truly hooked. Director F. Gary Gray (who helmed 1995’s classic stoner comedy Friday starring Ice Cube) pulls off a splendid job of taking you on a journey with the band as they go from rags to riches.
The studio scenes, which see N.W.A recording some of their hit songs, are tonnes of fun to watch as they are filled with raw energy and hype as you feel the fire and intensity behind every lyric rapped.
You get the exact same feelings in the concert scenes, especially when the group are playing in Detroit. When the camera slowly spins around Ice Cube performing his venomous verse from “F**k The Police” in Detroit, the audience are instantly immersed into the concert as you are taken out of you cinema seat and planted right into the frenzied crowd with their middle fingers in the air.
Not only does SOC show you how N.W.A attained their iconic rap status but it also explores the fuel which fired them to superstardom as the reasons behind their ill willed lyrics towards law enforcement, which was of course part of their mainstream appeal, are made crystal clear.
There are a number of scenes that highlight the outrageous abuse and prejudice that young black men faced at the hands of the police seemingly once upon a time as the group are both individually and collectively unfairly harassed by the boys in blue.
These scenes are expertly laced with tension and rage as the audience are made to feel the burning frustration and horrible sense of helplessness that engulf the group when they are being victimised. After the sickening events in Ferguson last year along with other recent counts of police brutality, these scenes take on extra cultural significance.
While the film deals with some serious issues, there’s also lots of laughter to be had. Scenes such as Eazy-E’s failed first attempts at rapping on beat or Ice Cube ruthlessly rejecting a trouble-causing groupie from a hotel room should have you in stitches.
After the mostly fun-filled first hour the second half of the film takes a dramatic turn as betrayal over fair pay means that close friends turn into foes. Whereas the first half deals with the rise of the N.W.A, the second half delves into the fall of the group as Ice Cube and Dre both split leaving Eazy to pick up the pieces.
The relatively inexperienced trio of leads do exceptionally well as they all successfully embody the parts they play. Corey Hawkins is great as the beat-maker Dr. Dre whose main focus is the music.
O’Shea Jackson Junior (Ice Cube’s son) is perfect casting as he looks, sounds and acts just like his dad – he even has his trademark snarl.
While Hawkins and Lil’ Ice Cube’s performances are spot on, Jason Mitchell steals the show as Eazy-E who’s easily (no pun intended) the heart and soul of the film.
Mitchell’s Eazy is a small man with a big personality and bags of charisma which lights up the screen when he appears. He shows terrific range as you’ll laugh and cry along with Eazy.
While SOC is a fantastic film, it’s not perfect as it attempts to fit in 10 years of history into 2 hours 20 minutes, which means that some important moments – Eazy visting the White House, his public beef with Dre, Dre beating up a woman due to N.W.A’s feud with Ice Cube – get overlooked, which is kind of understandable but if you know the N.W.A’s history you do wish that they show these things in the film.
Also the film loses a bit of steam in the last 20 minutes as it has to wrap up the storylines of its three leads, which again is understandable but it shouldn’t really affect your enjoyment of the overall film. There’s an unintentionally hilarious cameo from a certain rapper which may take you out of the film as he looks NOTHING like supposed to!
Still, with a soundtrack that will have heads nodding and toes tapping, SOC is a must see for hip hop heads as it showcases the humble beginnings of a group that helped put rap on the map. It’s also an emotional roller coaster which you never really want to get off from. Straight Outta Compton scores a:
Check out the trailer here: