Label: Ruthless Records, Priority Records, EMI Records
N.W.A. has been credited for both the great and ill of hip-hop depending on who's asked. On one hand, they opened the eyes of listeners who were unaware of the insanity going on in the streets of Los Angeles. On the other, they were the mark of the hip-hop anti-christ who ushered in an era of self-destructive culture.
Straight Outta Compton wasn't supposed to be rap's booby trap and an unbiased re-listen proves it. N.W.A.'s narrative was blunt and biting in delivery. Songs like "Gangsta Gangsta" and "Dopeman" weren't gross celebrations of inner-city tragedy but a hard look into the crooked kingdom of drugs and gangbanging. Each song played out as a story told from a character in a twisted realm of street lore.
Unlike a lot of the gangster-inspired material of today, Straight Outta Compton balanced their brutal themes with songs that fell in line with hip-hop's core foundation with MC Ren's "If It Ain't Ruff," "Quiet on tha Set," and "Express Yourself." These were nods to the group's background in the art proving that they weren't just a bunch of newbies on the mic.
To the mainstream press and political axe grinders, Straight Outta Compton was the death knoll of morality. "Fuck tha Police" put N.W.A. in the crosshairs of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and fans loved it. Cops refused to provide security for concerts and fans wanted more. Straight Outta Compton was one of the first albums ever to get a parental advisory sticker and by the time it was all said and done, the album had sold over 10 million units.
As the rest of N.W.A.'s history played out, their method and message became a tangled mess. So-called reality rap leaned more towards shock value instead of actual content. Even with Eazy-E's Eazy Duz It, and N.W.A. branded releases post the group's break up, the street tales became more cartoonish with pearl clutching potty mouthing and gratuitous violence.
The albums after Straight Outta Compton did great sales numbers but it was apparent that something was different with vibe. There was a certain rebellious, desperation to be heard that was missing and will probably never be captured the same way N.W.A.'s landmark album did it. —Larry Hester