There is a LOT of talk around the social media universe right now about the movie Straight Outta Compton. Most of the posts I’ve seen are by Millenials who weren’t even alive when the group NWA made their start. They rave about the movie and the lessons they feel they’ve learned about the entertainment industry (namely shady managers). This gets to me mainly because I have watched the music industry and hip hop especially change over the past three and a half decades, this movie seems to perpetuate the negative side of a style of music that is intrinsically linked to a culture that I am a part of. This group is a small part of my personal overall experience with rap music and yet they seem to have been the harbringers of the lower common denominator that appears to have taken over the mainstream aspects of the genre.
I was a teen when NWA first hit the music scene. At the time I was 18 and just out of high school, going to community college. In spite of that, my primary friend group was gang bangers. I was the “little sister” among the social circle even though I was older than all but two of them. I was the Christian, virgin, school girl. I remember that summer when I heard the guy my cousin had tried to fix me up with was shot. He lived, but the news at the time was devastating before he was well enough to leave the hospital.
Back then I absolutely HATED all the hood/gangsta/ghetto rap that my friends listened to. This music wasn’t like Sugar Hill Gang playing over the speakers at the roller rink when I was in elementary. This definitely wasn’t Grand Master Flash telling a harsh truth about the ghetto like when I was in junior high. It wasn’t Kurtis Blow rapping Basket Ball or any of the other wonderful things I had before. This was the dark side. This was the beginning of the end as I see it now.
In the summer of 1989, “F*** the Police” was the anthem as we cruised 6th in Tucson, Arizona.. Yes, you read that right: TUSCON, ARIZONA. The total inundation of the “gang culture” in the media via movies, music, and news had spread west to Arizona (soon to be the nation).
NWA was the logical next step after the movie “Colors” had half the wanna bes in my school wearing red or blue (“Flue” as my Blood former associates would correct me back then). It wasn’t just the Black kids either. I watched lower middle class white, Asian, and Latino kids (some of whom I had known for years) transform before my eyes when the lyrics “Ruthless / My style as a juvenile” were on the player (thankfully back then the radio had not taken up the “radio edit” madness that it does now). They flocked around the 18–25 year old “OGs” that had been sent away from their momma or grandma in Cali to live with their uncle or auntie or whomever that had settled in Tucson.
This is why I hated the “artists” NWA, Too Short, Too Live Crew, and others like them. I may not have been raised where they were from, but even living with poor whites most of my childhood did not hide from me the fact that Black people needed better representation of what life was and could be — DESERVED better.
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I went to a lot of concerts and had opportunities to meet all of the men who originated NWA. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Eric Wright and didn’t even bother to speak to him because I hated what he put out THAT much. I didn’t bother to speak my mind either though because, frankly, I wasn’t trying to get beat down. It would have been just another court date for Eric, but for me I would have ended up just like Dee Barnes and her contemporaries.
NWA’s music shaped a large number of young people’s minds at the time. Unfortunately the profit margin for managers and labels for this new music was so high that it has festered and grown into the huge soul sore that it is today. I see far too often young non-Blacks listening to stories of the hard streets that they have never seen. They many times internalize this subliminal with extremely repetitive play and then end up with attitudes and thoughts about a whole group of people that is wrong for the majority.
Some would like to take the stance that people who bend or change because of music are just weak, but remember that we are talking about TEENAGERS. No matter how grown a 13–19 year old person thinks they are, they are still VERY pliable mentally. I will allow that some of these teens that I knew came from the notorious parts of the Los Angeles area that I would later see for myself. They led hard lives with rough streets and sometimes just as rough home lives, but these are NOT the whole. I know just as many people who grew up in Inglewood or Compton or South Central who did NOT fall prey to the hopelessness that sinks so many minority children and teens from poverty stricken neighborhoods.
The bottom line is that even today “It’s not about a salary / It’s all about reality” is a LIE for those men. It was then, and it is now. Andre and Oshay are cashing in after the fact, which I suppose with how they were shafted at the time it feels like vindication to them. Regardless, I don’t support them in their watering down of the harshest parts of their story. The women who were abused by them probably are glad they didn’t have to rehash the incidents, but that doesn’t mean that we should celebrate these men.