“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 debut album, which gave mainstream music audiences their first 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 signs them to a record label.
After recording and releasing their debut album, the group then go on a nationwide tour where they indulge in the excesses of their meteoric rise. From the first few scenes of the film, audience’s attention cannot breakaway from the screen. Director F. Gary Gray (who helmed 1995’s classic stoner comedy Friday starring Ice Cube takes you on a journey with the band as they go from rags to riches.
The studio scenes filled with raw energy and hype are some of the best in the film, bringing you closer to intensity and passion of every lyric sung.
This raw energy is felt again during the group’s performance 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.
N.W.A on in full effect on stage
Not only does SOC show 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 are made 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.
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.
Still D.R.E: Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre
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.
Like father, like son: O’Shea Jackson Jnr as Ice Cube
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, and Dre beating up a woman – get overlooked.
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.