Straight Outta Compton is a biopic about Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre, who started the gangsta rap group N.W.A. and changed the face of popular music.
Clocking in at over 140 minutes, Straight Outta Compton has a lot on its plate. It mainly focuses on Cube, Dre, and Eazy, but also includes DJ Yella and MC Ren. Ice Cube is a young poet, Dre is starting out as a DJ, and Eazy E is a legitimate gangbanger. Having all grown up in Compton California, the three end up meeting, and Eazy E helps them start Ruthless Records. It’s interesting to see how, according to the movie, the original plan was for Eazy to provide the financial backing, Cube was the lyricist, and Dre would lay down the beats while they would hire other rappers to do the vocals. There’s a scene where the hired rappers walk out of the studio, not wanting to do the hardcore lyrics. Eazy E reluctantly fills in the vocals, along with Dre and Cube, and the rest is history.
After some initial success they get the attention of music manager Jerry Heller, who does bring them to a national stage, but at the same time is cheating the members of N.W.A., having favored Eazy E. This is a running plot point throughout the movie.
From the films beginning we see the hard life people in Compton live, including racial harassment by the police. After one scene where they are harassed at the studio, Cube writes the song Fuck tha Police, causing a national controversy. During once concert the police warn them not to play that song, so they do and a riot starts.
Tensions between the group, mostly around the management, come to a boil, and Ice Cube breaks off on his own and makes a solo record. The remaining members of N.W.A. diss him on a song, but are no match for the gifted lyricist as Cube fires back. Perhaps the funniest scene of the movie is the N.W.A. crew listening to the diss track, which is so good that even their own groupies are laughing at it.
Cube however ends up having his own problems with management as well, and in one scene trashes his management’s office over a dispute over money.
Dre too eventually leaves and starts Death Row records with the infamous Suge Knight, Comic book fans might see Suge as a real life Wilson Fisk, as he has violent outbursts over minor infractions like someone parking in his spot. Suge clashes with Eazy E over Dre’s contract, leading to a clash of ideologies between the thug culture these artist have come from, and the business world of contracts and lawyers. In one interesting scene Eazy E talks about killing Suge, but Jerry talks him out of it, explaining if Suge is killed his problems are over, but Eazy E’s would be just beginning.
Toward the end of the movie it is suggested that the N.W.A were talking about getting back together. However, throughout the movie it is hinted that Eazy E is having more than his share of women, and subtle hints are dropped that he is getting sick. In a very moving scene a Dr. reveals that Eazy E has contracted AIDS. Dre goes to visit him in the hospital, but at this point Eazy E is unconscious. Eventually he passes, and we see the outpouring of grief from his fans.
The film ends with a montage about the success of Cube and Dre. Dre particular has brought a lot of rappers to the forefront, like Snoop Dogg and Eminem. Probably no one person has influenced popular music in the last 30 years as Dr. Dre.
On a personal note, I watched this movie as an outsider, not having listened to N.W.A. as a kid, and not knowing much of the story. I’ve had conversations with friends who know the story more about how accurate the film was, but as a movie itself it was very effective. It has a lot of plates spinning with different plot points and characters, but manages to keep them all afloat.
Straight Outta Compton is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. It makes me want to see other music bio pics of acts I’m more familiar with like Black Sabbath and Guns and Roses. There’s already talk of doing a follow up movie about the rise of Snoop Dogg and Tupac (who both appear briefly in this film). If the Straight Outta Compton film crew were to produce this, that would surely be a great film as well.