Straight Outta Compton

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Straight Outta Compton
"They sang it as they saw it and in Compton that was not pretty"

The title is perfect for this biopic. Compton is, or was, gangland for L.A drug dealers. It's black, violent and poor. It's drive-by killings and ODing on crack and kids on the game and families with willful mothers trying the hell to stay alive and safe.

The word "outta" implies escape to the big money universe and a violation of language which had diminished to slug-it gutter slang, dominated by "mother******" and "n****r."

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It is the story of a hip hop crew in the 80s who caused controversy and fear amongst the white middle classes. They rapped about murder and rape, like it was cool. In defense they said they reflected what they knew, where they came from, insisting on their right to free speech - "This is the life we see."

Their name was NWA.

"What does that mean? No Whites Allowed?"

" Niggaz Wit' Attitude."

"That's good."

Was it?

In one respect the film follows a pattern of rock music cliches from success to excess, from breakdown to bust up, incorporating drugs, groupies, alcohol, contracts, houses, cars and gangsters. Plus racist cops and a middle aged white manager (another masterclass from Paul Giamatti).

NWA was where Ice Cube and Dr Dre and Eazy-E began. Their live shows became legendary. They weren't a resurrection of the Black Panther revolutionary vibe, demanding freedom from America's Klan mentality. They weren't political. They sang it as they saw it and in Compton that was not pretty.

Ice Cube was the writer. He broke the chain. Eazy-E was the leader who died young. Snoop Dog was waiting; Dre was leaving. The heavy mob, who had bullied their way in, used fighting dogs and muscle to control the company.

The performances are excellent. F Gary Gray directs with energy and respect. If the life NWA led with the money they made looks ugly/familiar it mirrors their fury and fame.

They were - from the blaze and the glory - the real, real deal.

Reviewed on: 26 Aug 2015
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Straight Outta Compton packshot
The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton, Los Angeles, in the mid Eighties and revolutionises hip hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
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