Reviews: Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A

Straight Outta Compton is about where three guys are coming from and how they feel about things and the crimes they either have already committed or will commit if they feel they have adequate reason to do so. It’s the song that introduced America to N.W.A, but more specifically: It’s the song that introduced America to gangsta rap.

Background

Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. is the group’s first studio album, released in early 1987 in the Los Angeles County city of Compton. It was produced by Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and Arabian Prince of N.W.A., with lyrics written by Ice Cube and MC Ren and Ruthless rapper The D.O.C., and released on August 8, 1988 by Ruthless Records.

The lyrics constantly threaten to lead the street violence in Compton by attacking fellow students and even police officers. N.W.A. referred to themselves as “the most dangerous group in the world,” and an agent from FBI issued a warning for the song “Fuck tha Police.”

N.W.A was a gangsta rap group from Compton, California. They had a few different lineups, but the strongest version was the too-brief period when it was Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Dr. Dre. That’s the core group behind Straight Outta Compton, which has become the most impactful album within the gangsta rap subgenre. N.W.A was substantial for a handful of reasons, but they all wiggle back to the same premise: They were the first rap group that America actively tried to ignore, and then eventually tried to stop.

They were railed on by politicians and members of the media. They were blocked from the radio and TV and banned from performing in certain cities. They were just too crude, too aggressive, too mean; these were the main complaints, at least. 

Straight Outta Compton was the first gangsta rap album to go platinum in July 1989, although it received little radio play outside of Los Angeles. On the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart, the album reached #9, while on the Billboard Popular Albums chart (Billboard 200) it reached #37. The hardcore and gangsta rap movement in rap music was sparked by N.W.A.’s media attention. Although the breakup of N.W.A. and the successful solo careers of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre marked the end of the decade, their impact on rap, R&B, and popular music had a profound cultural impact.

The reissue of the album, released in September 2002 and remastered, included four additional tracks. It was released in December 2007, as the 20th anniversary of the album approached. Straight Outta Compton, a biographical film released in theaters in 2015, revived sales of the album, which went triple multi-platinum at the end of the year. 

In 2016, the first rap album to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. As a result, Straight Outta Compton was included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Record production

The album was recorded and produced in Torrance, California, at Audio Achievements Studio at a cost of $8,000. In a 1993 interview, Dr. Dre said, “I put this thing together in six weeks so we could sell it out of the trunk of our car.

In 1987, the police came up to the group outside the studio and told them to get down on their knees and show ID. Jerry Heller described this in his book, which was later shown in the movie Straight Outta Compton. Dre was initially hesitant to write “Fuck the Police” because he was still spending weekends in jail for traffic violations. Cube was so angry about what happened that he began writing lyrics to the song. When his sentence ended, he no longer hesitated.

Synthesis

Arabian Prince and DJ Yella produced the album. They used the Roland TR-808, which was rendered obsolete upon its 1980 release by the Linn LM-1, but cost about $1,000 versus $5,000. Their drum machine, used for kick drums, was the Roland TR-808, which was rendered obsolete upon its 1980 release by the Linn LM-1, but cost about $1,000 versus $5,000. In 1980, the Yellow Magic Orchestra used it, and then hip-hop famously used the “808”. 

Its deep bass sounds, audibly artificial, recall rap’s 1980s and 1990s landmarks, such as Run-DMC’s aggressive vocalizations from 1983 to 1984, Eric B & Rakim’s liberal sampling in 1986, Boogie Down Productions’ assertion of criminal mindset in 1987, and Public Enemy’s attack on mainstream authority and opinion in 1988.

Vocals

N.W.A’s Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote the lyrics with Ruthless Records rapper The D.O.C., who rapped alongside Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. In contrast, neither DJ Yella nor Arabian Prince rap on “Something 2 Dance 2”. In addition, each group member performs a solo rap as well.

In addition to “If It Ain’t Ruff” and “Quiet on tha Set”, MC Ren has two solo tracks. One of them is “Express Yourself”, which is dominated by Dr. Dre. Ice Cube’s song is “I Ain’t The One”. Eazy-E’s song is “8 Ball,” a remix of the track from N.W.A. and the Posse from 1987. In addition to The D.O.C., there is one other guest who raps the opening verses of “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”.

Aside from Ren’s own lyrics, The D.O.C. wrote some lyrics, perhaps mostly Dre’s lyrics, and Cube wrote nearly all of Eazy’s lyrics. Yet even Eazy and Dre, like Cube and Ren, each offer their own style and delivery, making N.W.A distinctive from imitators.

Critical reception

According to music journalist Greg Kot, N.W.A.’s music is more “full and funkier” than Public Enemy’s, and the lyrics are just as “unforgiving”. 

The Orange County Register’s Cary Darling, however, finds the album uninspiring, as it lacks the insight and passion exhibited by the best work by Boogie Down Productions, Ice-T, and Public Enemy. The Hi-Fi News & Record Review’s Peter Clarke further describes the lyrics as “unrelenting in their unpleasantness”. 

Clark rates this record as the lowest possible, saying, “The cumulative effect is like listening to an endless fight next door. It lacks any sense of dynamics or melody.” 

Sounds reviewed the album five out of five stars, calling it “rap’s answer to Slayer’s Reign In Blood – an album the majors weren’t willing to touch.” and that “This is rock made genuinely wild again”.

Beware, the pop jive of the current “Express Yourself” single will not prepare you for the Magnum beat that sets the mood here.

In 1994, British magazine Hip Hop Connection ranked Straight Outta Compton third among rap’s best albums, adding, “Straight Outta Compton sounded so exciting, insignificant details such as realism and integrity were overlooked.” The Source magazine placed the album 63rd among the 100 Best Rap Albums. VH1 ranked it 62nd in 2003. Spin magazine ranked it 10th out of the “100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005”.

Charting and sales

Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A’s best-selling album, released in August 1988, achieved gold certification on April 13, 1989, with half a million copies sold. Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart rated the album at #9, and the Billboard 200 chart ranked it at #37 on April 15, 1989. The album was certified platinum one million copies sold on July 18, 1989.

However, N.W.A and the Posse, the group’s unauthorized debut compilation, has reached gold certification since November 1987. A two-year project, 100 Miles and Runnin’ EP, was released in August 1990 and went platinum in September 1992. Straight Outta Compton became two-million-copy certified double-platinum that year on March 27.

The album reached number 173 on the Billboard 200 just before the August 2015 release of the film Straight Outta Compton. It climbed to No. 97 the following week, reached No. 30 another week later, and reached No. 6 a week later on September 5. The album’s title track, which entered the Billboard Hot 100, making it N.W.A.’s first song to reach the Top 40, held at No. 38 for two weeks.

Final Words

Straight Outta Compton was a rough-cut job—recording took six weeks and it was done on a budget of approximately $8,000—but that only seemed to confirm the rawness of the group.

In less than two months, the album sold more than five hundred thousand copies, later topping the three-million- copies-sold mark following the buzz of media talking about how nobody should be talking about the group. It was the first time in history an album had gone platinum without being played on the radio.

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