Strayed Outta Compton

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Compton, California is not an especially glamorous city. Famous for its crime, gang violence, and drug dealing, Compton has established a reputation as an incredibly dangerous place. Additionally, Compton is the home base of debatably the two most notorious gangs in the U.S., the Crips and the Bloods.

Despite its reputation, Compton has generated an incredible artistic output. The city has birthed many of today’s most well-known rappers and rap groups. The most well-known of all, perhaps, is the rap group N.W.A., which began Compton’s flow of rapper success.

N.W.A. was created in 1986 when local drug dealer Eric Wright, AKA Eazy-E, met with music manager Jerry Heller and started Ruthless Records, a record label that would go on to produce the whole of N.W.A.’s discography. Over the next two years, N.W.A. (which had previously consisted of Wright and his friend Andre Young, otherwise known as Dr. Dre) adopted four more members: O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube), Antoine Carraby (DJ Yella), Kim Nazel (Arabian Prince), and Lorenzo Patterson (MC Ren). In 1988, N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, its first studio album. The album went on to become a critical and commercial success, as well as a point of extreme controversy.

N.W.A. was nationally praised and criticized for its work on this album. Many claimed the group’s music glamorized the lifestyle of a drug dealer and encouraged violence against law enforcement. The group’s popularity from that point can be heavily attributed to Straight Outta Compton. Unfortunately, by 1991, the group had disbanded over money disputes.

Each member became successful in his own right, but three, in particular, went on to have the greatest legacies. Eazy-E continued his rap career through 1995, when he abruptly died of AIDS. Ice Cube made several albums after quitting the group. He also starred in quite a few movies, and is today perhaps better known as an actor than a rapper. Dr. Dre, however, has had the most profound impact of all.

In 1991, Dr. Dre created Death Row Records with Suge Knight (also from Compton). By the time Dre left Death Row in 1996, the label had made the careers of an array of rappers, including Tupac Shakur, Kurupt, and Snoop Dogg. Dre went on to create Aftermath, a whole new record label that spawned a whole new set of rappers such as Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, and Busta Rhymes. In 2008, Dre released his own brand of headphones (Beats), which he sold in 2014 to Apple for $3 billion.

The rise and fall of N.W.A. and the subsequent careers of its members have been chronicled into a movie, Straight Outta Compton, which was released in August. The movie ties together their musical and personal history, and interweaves the struggles that the group faced, such as police brutality and gang rivalry. While it leaves out some significant negative details about some of the group’s members (namely, Dr. Dre’s notorious beating of Michel’le Toussaint and Dee Barnes), overall, the movie does a very good job of covering the entire history of the group and properly showing its impact.

N.W.A. undoubtedly changed rap music drastically. The group popularized what it referred to as “reality raps,” or rap songs about the realities its members faced growing up in Compton. Their fast, upbeat style of rapping was duplicated throughout the history of west coast rap.

They were also one of the first hip-hop groups to have an intense internal feud. The rivalry between Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube is one of the most legendary hip-hop rivalries of all time. Frustrated with Dre’s and Ice Cube’s departure from the group, Eazy produced incendiary diss tracks about both rappers. He went so far as to put Dre’s name into one of his albums, titled It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa. Dre and Ice Cube released diss tracks of their own, with Ice Cube’s polemical No Vaseline, and Dre’s Dre Day, which featured a caricature of Eazy-E called “Sleazy-E.”

The legacy of N.W.A. is echoed through the streets of Compton to this day. Despite their difficulties and disagreements, N.W.A. has been hailed as one of the best rap groups of all time. Their influence is still evident today with the release of Straight Outta Compton (the film), the hundreds of thousands of t-shirts featuring Eazy-E’s face, and the use of many of the terms first popularized by N.W.A’s first album.