N.W.A’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’: 12 Things You Didn’t Know
Gangsta rap was already a growing genre when N.W.A released their full-length debut, Straight Outta Compton, but none of the group’s peers inspired the same level of public vitriol or interest. Thanks to the notoriety around “Fuck tha Police,” which the FBI condemned, and their single “Straight Outta Compton,” whose video was banned from MTV, N.W.A quickly became not just the world’s most dangerous group but also one of its most intriguing.
Straight Outta Compton was made in a matter of weeks for a reported $12,000, and when it came out on August 8th, 1988, it slowly became a hit without much traditional music-industry support, going gold by the following April and platinum by July as momentum built. It was later included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and had a second act decades later, after its onscreen counterpart about N.W.A, also called Straight Outta Compton, came out in 2015 to blockbuster success. The album subsequently surged back up to Number 38 on the Billboard chart and was certified triple-platinum that year.
Despite being one of the biggest gangsta rap albums ever and putting Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and Yella on the map, there’s still much about this record that didn’t make it into the movie. As the LP turns 30, here are 12 things you might not already know about it.
1. The group didn’t call their music “gangsta rap” when it came out.
“We were trying to make records that can go on the radio, and when we started doing mixtapes — which we knew wasn’t going on the radio — that’s when we really started to talk about the neighborhood,” Ice Cube told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Talking about what really led into the style that we ended up doing, which is now called hardcore gangster rap. Back then we was calling it ‘reality rap’; ‘gangsta rap’ is the name that the media coined.”
2. N.W.A almost didn’t make it to Straight Outta Compton.
At the conclusion of the group’s autumn 1987 tour opening for Salt-N-Pepa, Ice Cube informed the crew that he would be going to college. At the time, all N.W.A had released was the “Panic Zone” 12-inch. “The rap game wasn’t looking too solid at that time, so I decided to go ahead and go to school,” Cube once said, according to the biography Attitude. The emcee went on to get a diploma in architectural drafting and design from Arizona’s Phoenix Institute of Technology. But he wasn’t totally disengaged. Before he returned in September 1988, he’d written two new songs for Eazy-E’s solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It.
3. Ice Cube wasn’t from Compton, but that didn’t stop him from writing about it.
The rapper was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. He’d met Eazy-E as a teenager and gave him the lyrics to “Boyz-N-the Hood.” When it came time to write the title track of the group’s debut album, he just decided to shout out his friends’ home locale. “It just felt silly yelling ‘South Central’ when everyone else was yelling ‘Compton,'” he said, according to the book Original Gangstas. “And Compton and South Central is two sides of the same coin, so to speak.”
4. The inspiration for “Fuck tha Police” is up for debate.
Dr. Dre has recalled a story where he and Eazy-E went around shooting paintball pellets at people waiting for the bus. “The cops caught us and we were face down on the freeway, with guns pointed at us,” Dre recalled in 2007, according to Irish Examiner. “We thought it was bullshit. So we went to the studio and created the song.” Ice Cube, who wrote the lyrics with Ren, remembers it as general social commentary. “At the time, Daryl Gates, who was the chief of police over at the LAPD, had declared a war on gangs,” Cube told Rolling Stone in 2015. “A war on gangs, to me, is a politically correct word to say a war on anybody you think is a gang member. So the way we dressed and the way we looked and where we come from, you can mistake any good kid for a gang member. … So it was just too much to bear, to be under that kind of occupying force, who was abusive. It’s just, enough is enough. Our music was our only weapon. Nonviolent protest.”
5. Dr. Dre was hesitant to record “Fuck tha Police.”
In early 1988, Dre was serving time on the weekends due to traffic arrests and he didn’t want to make matters worse with the song. “He didn’t want that song out while he had to go back and forth in the county,” Cube once said, according to Original Gangstas. “But when he was off of that little stint, when I brought the idea back up, he was down to do it.”
6. “Fuck Tha Police” means the same to Ice Cube as it did in 1988.
“That song is still in the same place before it was made,” Cube told Rolling Stone in 2015. “It’s our legacy here in America with the police department and any kind of authority figures that have to deal with us on a day-to-day basis. There’s usually abuse and violence connected to that interaction, so when ‘Fuck tha Police’ was made in 1988, it was 400 years in the making. And it’s still just as relevant as it was before it was made.”
7. Law enforcement flat out refused to protect N.W.A on tour.
After the FBI sent its infamous letter to the group in response to “Fuck tha Police,” saying the group urged “violence against and disrespect for the law-enforcement officer,” both on- and off-duty police in cities around the U.S. refused to act as security when the group went on tour. Their contract forbade them from performing “Fuck that Police” and “Straight Outta Compton,” according to the book Welcome to Death Row, but they chose to do so anyway at the last date of the tour in Detroit, leading to plainclothes cops storming the stage. Since nobody in the group had warrants out, the authorities let N.W.A go.
8. Lyricist the D.O.C. had to force himself to write “in character” for the group.
“I didn’t come from the West Coast experience, I came from Dallas and I was an introvert and a nerd,” the rapper – who co-wrote “Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Parental Discretion Iz Advised” – told Rolling Stone in 2016. “I was writing from my imagination and stories I got from those guys. When I wrote for Eazy, I wrote for the character. Everybody knew Eazy loved girls, so I would make him funny, even though it was somewhat misogynistic.” He also wrote a lot of Dr. Dre’s verses, not just on Compton but on N.W.A’s follow-up, Efil4zaggin, and the producer’s solo releases. “Dre wrote his own raps for two days when I first got to L.A., and then he never wrote his own shit ever again,” D.O.C. recalled. N.W.A repaid the rapper on “The Grand Finalé,” the last track of his 1989 debut, No One Can Do It Better.
9. Arabian Prince quit over a royalty dispute before Straight Outta Compton came out.
The rapper and writer on the album’s final track, the disarmingly upbeat “Something 2 Dance 2,” exited N.W.A over money long before Ice Cube famously did. “I was the one that was yelling and screaming about royalties,” he told the Huffington Post. “I was a solo artist first so I knew what royalty statements were. I knew that when you sell this many records, every quarter you get a statement, you look at that statement, you see how much money came in and you share the money. That wasn’t happening.” You can still see him on the album cover between Ice Cube and Yella.
10. The group saw MTV banning the “Straight Outta Compton” video as a major setback.
Although it only added to their mystique, N.W.A were upset about MTV banning their “Straight Outta Compton” video in the spring of 1989. An L.A. Weekly article from the time reported that they hoped the clip, which depicted police gang sweeps, would propel their career in a way similar to Tone-Loc’s. “The video ain’t half of a half of what go on for real,” MC Ren said in the article. “It’s just a little sweep, no guns. MTV’s into all that crazy devil-worshipping shit… To me there’s more violence on a motherfucking cartoon than in our music. Little kid see a cartoon character with a gun, he going to want to carry a gun, right? GI Joe, all that shit. But they aren’t even playing our video on the MTV rap show.”
11. The music was a mix of samples and session musicians Dr. Dre hired.
One track that got the group in trouble after it was released was “Express Yourself,” which replicated the groove in Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Rhythm Band’s like-titled song but without crediting him. Wright was upset, according to Original Gangstas, and got in touch with Priority Records who delivered him both an apology from Ice Cube and back royalties.
12. Dr. Dre is not a fan of Straight Outta Compton.
“To this day, I can’t stand that album,” he said in a 1993 interview, according to Original Gangstas. “I threw that thing together in six weeks so we could have something to sell out of the trunk.” Additionally, he said, “Back then, I thought the choruses were supposed to just be me scratching.”
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