Two scenes being shot today at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for the major motion picture Straight Outta Compton effectively sum up the divide N.W.A had on the world in the late ‘80s. In one scenario taking place outside the concert venue, a group of angry protestors bands together in hopes of stopping this gangsta rap movement they’ve deemed a menace to society. Inside, fans rejoice with almost religious zeal as they rock along to the performance of the fictional N.W.A on stage. 

The contrast between the two sides becomes clearer in between takes. The extras posing as protestors try their best to relax. A few of them sit on the ground, visibly tired. The fans inside, however, buzz with energy even during breaks in the action. Many of these extras don’t look like they were born yet when The World’s Most Dangerous Group was causing chaos in real life. Considering how mainstream rap music has become it’s possible they might not entirely grasp just how shocking N.W.A was. 

So much about the group was confrontational. There was the volatile name, Niggaz Wit’ Attitudes, which even today can easily offend or make people —both black and white—uncomfortable. They wore clothes that fell in line with gang affiliated attire. It was a simple yet striking look that made people who saw them have an immediate reaction. 

The controversy they generated was unforgettable. It was startling to witness how news spread (without the benefit of Twitter) that the FBI had sent a letter condemning their song, “Fuck Tha Police.” Then just a few years later when video footage of the Rodney King beating was broadcast everywhere it became apparent to those in denial that the song’s stance against police brutality was a real issue. 

The music itself was powerful. Dr. Dre’s early production reflected his DJ roots and sounded like an extension of the mixtapes he made and then sold at the Roadium Swap Meet in Gardena, CA, with the help of his record dealer friend, the late Steve Yano. His already dope tracks then evolved (with the assistance of studio musicians) into sophisticated madness. Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren spit lurid, explicit, and sometimes darkly humorous rhymes that incorporated slang like “cluck,” “bellin’,” and “hoo ride.” It was language that spoke directly to their ‘hoods. 
They were not the first to speak the n-word on wax, but the majority of rap records released before them usually refrained from using it. By putting the word in people’s faces, it opened the floodgates. There’s no question that hip-hop, and particularly N.W.A, popularized the taboo word amongst white kids. Ice Cube agrees, to a certain point. 

“It depends on how far you go back because [white people] was saying [the n-word] before N.W.A came on the scene,” he says with a laugh.

Although many of their early hits never had music videos due to the temporary ban of the “Straight Outta Compton” clip (“This was pre-Internet, so it didn’t make no sense to spend $70 [to] $100,000 [on a video] and have nowhere for it to be shown,” says Cube), the songs were still highly visual. Who can forget the Chicano rapper Krazy D vowing to bust a cap in Eazy’s ass at end of “Dope Man,” or the crooked white cop (voiced by Ice Cube) screaming for justice during “Fuck tha Police”’s frenzied finale? In a way, N.W.A were always making movies. 

Video via <a href="">Universal Pictures</a>