N.W.A's message of social justice still resonates today 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - straight outta compton Plans for a biopic on groundbreaking West Coast rap group N.W.A were announced this week. N.W.A member Ice Cube is seen above.
  • Shutterstock photo
  • straight outta compton Plans for a biopic on groundbreaking West Coast rap group N.W.A were announced this week. N.W.A member Ice Cube is seen above.

Who cares about the Grammys?

An extended red-band trailer for Straight Outta Compton dropped last week and while everyone over the age of 35 is for a throwback to the cars with hydraulic lift kits, big gold chains, and straight-up gangsterism of late '80s early '90s Los Angeles hip hop, there is a pretty important social tangent as well.

The film outlines the roots and rise of N.W.A rappers living in South Central Los Angeles who spat brutally honest lyrics about the abusive authority of police and a racist system that seemed designed to keep African-Americans subjugated, imprisoned and entangled in violence. They spawned gangster rap, helped hip hop cross over to white audiences and literally changed the world (probably for the better but maybe not).

Straight Outta Compton, the album, came out in 1988 and every track was a banger, but "F*ck the Police" was the one that drew the most attention. Police and the FBI hated it enough to open files on N.W.A and attempted to ban them from performing the song live. Which of course made everyone want to hear it, even white kids living in ski towns in Canada. Hip-hop music was still pretty niche in white suburbia but this new "gangster rap" held instant appeal — heavy metal and punk were both over 20 years old and we needed something new to piss off our parents.

What few of us fully realized was that the music of N.W.A also carried the torch of social protest songs that dated back longer than any of us had been alive. The Straight Outta Compton album preceded, by four years, the 1992 L.A. riots that erupted after five LAPD members were acquitted for beating motorist Rodney King, despite the fact that the act was clearly caught on video. Even as teenagers we could understand that everything you wanted to know about the riots was on the records that came out before the riots, partially because Ice Cube said those exact words on a sample/interview track on his 1992 album, The Predator.

The message in "F*ck the Police" is essentially the same as the one in Bob Dylan's 1963 song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol" or in Curtis Mayfield's 1964 hit "People Get Ready." N.W.A's delivery was substantially harder but the sense of injustice mirrored Dylan's 1976 song "Hurricane" or "The Message", released in 1983 by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

Decades had passed and people were still dealing with the same shit — it was no wonder those guys sounded pissed off.

Over 25 years have passed since N.W.A so eloquently summarized their problems, yet it seems not much has changed in America. The police are still shooting young (unarmed) African-American men and people are, rightfully, even more pissed off. The Straight Outta Compton movie is a historical biopic (directed by the guy who made Friday), but the themes resonate in our current cultural reality. Whether that is why people are psyched for the flick, or whether it will give those themes the screen time they deserve, remains to be seen. Straight Outta Compton is set for an August 2015 release.

A lot of people are definitely psyched about the 50 Shades of Grey adaptation that opens this week in Whistler however. Unless you've been frozen in a block of ice under Pauly Shore and Sean Astin's backyard pool for thousands of years, you probably know this film is based on a super-best-seller book of "erotic romance" (aka: tie-me-up housewife smut) that I haven't read. Jian Ghomeshi name-checked it in his pre-emptive letter of defense for allegedly choking/punching numerous women though, so that creeps me out enough. Early word is that the writing in the film is better than the book but chances are it will be more softcore than fans expect. They'll be sure to go see for themselves though, so buy your Valentine's Day tickets early.

Also opening, Kingsman: The Secret Service, a new-kid-on-the-old-block spy flick that's based on a comic series, starring Sam Jackson as a super villain, and is directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, Layer Cake). It's a fun flick, slickly made that also plays it a bit too safe — this one doesn't tread any real new ground and instead substitutes creativity with violence and the occasional anal sex joke. So yeah, pretty fun.

The Download of the Week is Encino Man, for obvious reasons.


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