Aggressive, Combative, And Relevant As Ever, 'Straight Outta Compton' Turns 30 Years Old
On August 8, 1988, artists Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and the rest of the crew collectively known as N.W.A. released their blistering debut album, Straight Outta Compton, and changed hip-hop forever.
The record ushered in the era of gangster rap, and although it’s combative and controversial, it’s also considered among the most influential albums of all time.
WFDD’s Sean Bueter spoke with Winston-Salem State University professor Jack Monell to find out more about the lasting influence of the album.
On how Straight Outta Compton was different from much of the rap that came before:
They were using their experiences to express what they witnessed every day. And quite frankly it wasn't pretty. It wasn't fluffy, it wasn't jovial. It was raw, uncut and unfiltered. But the reality of it was: so were the repercussions of what we saw in their community during that period.
[Content Warning: The following video contains explicit language.]
On how N.W.A.'s use of incendiary lyrics affected how the group's message was received:
So you had, I would arguably say initially urban youth, but you even had suburban youth who gravitated to the music and the message, so to speak. But then you had the elders or the leadership – political or otherwise – who were offended by it. And the lyrics were incredibly inflammatory [and] misogynistic. And people interpreted the message as [if N.W.A. was] promoting the [gangsta] lifestyle. And I think, particularly when we look at politicians at that particular time, they were fighting the usage of how they described women, or talking about selling drugs, or shooting people.
And then of course the hit, ["F*** Tha Police"], quite frankly, was really where many thought they crossed the line.
On why the album is still relevant 30 years on:
[It's] incredibly relevant. And you've got to remember, hip-hop artists, in theory, are griots, they're poets with music added...I mean, sadly, look at what we see today in our society. Racism is not a new phenomenon. It's always been there, whether it was hidden or suppressed or covert. We're seeing, unfortunately, African-American males being shot by police officers, [and] not even police officers: by civilians.
So all the issues they were covering then, sadly, are still relevant today.
[Ed.: This transcription was lightly edited for clarity.]