August 14, 2015

Straight Outta Compton


Grade: B
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Corey Hawkins, O’shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr. and Paul Giamatti
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hr. 27 min.

Straight Outta Compton, about a rapper named Ice Cube
And the group called “N**gas Wit Attitudes”
Their raps are still strong, though the film’s long
Only a self-serving second half goes wrong

Opens in Compton circa 1986
Drugs and gangs causing everyday conflicts
On top of that is police brutality
It's the Crips and the Bloods and the LAPD

Cube, Andre Young and a dealer named Eric Wright
Were N.W.A.’s founding members as it took flight
They were joined by MC Ren and DJ Yella
Along with their double-dealing manager Jerry Heller

Wright, aka Eazy-E, formed Ruthless Records
The label behind N.W.A.’s iconic efforts
With beats by Dre backing incendiary lyrics
The group’s stardom hit the height of hysterics

Their titular debut album struck a chord
With a marginalized minority that long felt ignored
Gave voice to struggles we still face today
“F**k tha Police” could have been written yesterday

Heller, as played by actor Paul Giamatti
A smart businessman but financially naughty
He promoted the group, even arrested in Detroit
Until Cube then Dre felt targeted for exploit

Heller’s portrayal is intentionally complex
Took ‘em worldwide but still bouncing Eazy’s checks
Speaking truth to power is how N.W.A. made good
Not too shabby for five “Boyz-n-the-Hood”
Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton, falters after the group breaks up
Battle raps fly and Cube’s album charts way up
Dre goes to Death Row with crazy Suge Knight
You parked in Suge’s space? Well, then, good night

Dre and Cube are rolling in the dough
Death Row and Lynch Mob make Ruthless eat crow
Eazy, Ren and Yella cast their lots with Heller
Then watch as their careers go into the cellar

Coincidence? I highly doubt it
Cube and Dr. Dre made the film, so they flout it
Director F. Gary Gray worked with Cube on Friday
Cube’s son plays dad, so it’s like Freaky Friday

The soundtrack turns into Dre’s greatest hits
It’s Snoop! There’s Tupac! Suge and Dre call it quits
But Dre got in Suge’s face and said go to hell?
I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that’s priced to sell

This is even a hagiography of the E
Who has an epiphany before HIV
Eazy’s girlfriend outs Heller as a user?
That’s because she’s also a producer

Despite the film’s depictions of debauchery
It never grapples with a legacy of misogyny
But questions about an attitude of defiance
Go out the window with the Rodney King riots

Quibbles aside, this is an epic about an epoch
A musical revolution, not some rap group relic
Even with all their fame and dead presidents
What endures is their multi-generational relevance
Straight Outta Compton