Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics
You’d rather see, me in the pen
Than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o

Fuck tha Police by NWA 

I avoided watching this film because it is too close to home. I grew up about less than one hour away from Compton California but it might as well be another planet. The children of the middle class suburbs of California know of a place called Compton but it’s to be avoided at all costs. Nice middle class children have no business going to Compton. Anyone who has ‘business’ or acquaintances in Compton is seen as suspect. You only go to Compton for nefarious reasons, you are asking to be mugged, carjacked, shot or killed.

The stereotype of Compton as a gang infested place where it’s an open battle field between the various gangs, when in truth the biggest gang out is the Los Angeles Police Department. As middle class and rich kids were getting high and getting up to no good in the suburbs and behind mansion gates, the LAPD chose to go after poor black families in Compton. Compton is an urban wasteland. Jobs are few, high school drop out rates are high, teenage pregnancy rates are high and premature death rate is also high. A great many people in Compton depend on some sort of public assistance to get by and high school students are often bussed to better school districts to attend high school. O’Shea Jackson (aka Ice Cube) , member of NWA was one of those students. It was a place where people went to rot or be killed, either by gangs or police. There are no hopes and dreams for the residents of Compton, except to get out of Compton and move on to greener pastures. It is no different with NWA.

NWA (Niggaz with Attitude) were born of this environment. They were all boys who were forced to grow up too fast and saw too much in their young lives. In order to survive they adopted the gang culture, the rules of their society. It’s not always pleasant or pretty but it was kill or be killed, there’s no middle ground. While rival gangs battle it out on the streets, they knew who their real enemy is, who the real gangster is. And that’s the brutal fascist force known as the LAPD. Their environment was not such if you stayed out of trouble cops will leave you alone, no, the cops went out of their way to look for trouble when there was none. But the boys of NWA are lucky, they lived to tell the tale. Michael Brown of Ferguson Missouri wasn’t so lucky, neither was Laquan McDonald of Chicago. The cops in Los Angeles during the late 80s weren’t so brazen to open fire and kill people in broad daylight, yet. They have no problem roughing them up, pushing them to the ground, smacking them around, maybe break a few bones; but to put bullets in the back of someone’s head as they are running away? Not yet. As a result, the members of NWA: O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube) Andre Young (Dr. Dre), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby), MC Ren (Lorenzo Patterson) and Arabian Prince (Kim Renard Razel) lived to tell the tale and released their controversial and brilliant album Straight Outta Compton. We all recognize the jam of Fuck tha Police when we hear it, but few really took those words seriously.

Straight Outta Compton doesn’t glorify gang life or made it seem like one easy cake ride or even seen as anything cool or to aspire to. It showed the gritty heartbreaking side of living in gang infested neighborhoods, where no one cares if you lived or died. But it fell short in driving home the radical message of the convergence of capitalism and the necessity of the police state. Ice Cube being the most radical member of the group, had no problem giving it straight, telling it like it is. He doesn’t sugar coat his words or actions. He was accused of anti-Semitism when he mentioned the ethnicity of their former manager in a response to a ‘diss song’, when asked if he was “anti-Jew” he said no, he’s just anti the one Jew Jerry Heller. When a record executive failed pay Ice Cube his royalties at the promised time, after releasing a successful album and after informing the executive that he’s just purchased a home and has a child on the way, and after trying to reason with the record executive and only to get blown off with corporate bullshit (“I am sorry, I love to help but my hands are tied”), Ice Cube comes back with a baseball bat and smashed all of the glass office furniture in the record executive’s office. Ice Cube saw him for what he was, just another thug in a fancy suit inside a fancy office suite, so he reacted like a thug from the streets of Compton not to be messed with. He got his check.

Dr. Dre showed his entrepreneurial side early. He saw the potential for rap music going mainstream before the other group members did. The others originally wanted to make music for the ‘hood. Dr. Dre in Eazy-E saw raw lyrical talent, who could write and produce great rhymes. The members of NWA were a gang of brothers, childhood friends from a rough neighborhood, who were going to tell people outside of Compton what it was like growing up in Compton. But like every monkey wrench in a movement, someone always comes in to divide and conquer. Talent agent Jerry Heller spotted Eazy-E’s talent right away and decided to be his manager only. Through that arrangement Heller could take a bigger piece the pie and he convinced Eazy-E to stall the other guys for as long as he can so they can keep the early profits of the album Straight Outta Compton to themselves longer. Immediately Ice Cube and Dr. Dre knew something wasn’t right, but being a businessman Dr. Dre didn’t want to rock the boat at the wrong time, in the middle of the rise, Ice Cube got into a few verbal confrontations with Heller about a management contract where he would see a piece of the royalties as he’s also wrote a lot of lyrics to their most popular songs including Fuck tha Police; but he was blown off with “it’s being worked on”. But he also bid his time, taking Dr. Dre’s advice.

Heller sand bagged until the other members of NWA were so desperate for a paycheck and that was when he presented each member with a paltry check along with a ‘contract’ of their future earnings. To get the check, all they had to do was ‘sign the contract’. Every one of them signed except for Ice Cube. Dr. Dre knew better than to sign but he had a young child at the time he needed to support and saw no other option. Ice Cube left the group after the promotional tour for Straight Outta Compton and signed with another label and became a successful rapper, actor and producer in his own right. Dr. Dre enlisted the help of the notorious and infamous Suge Knight to look over his contract and realized that he’d been screwed. Suge Knight used his muscle to get Dr. Dre out of that contract and he and Dr. Dre started Death Row Records. While Eazy-E may have looked like he got the best deal, we later find out that wasn’t the case either, his funds were mismanaged by Jerry Heller and he was signing checks and documents without reading them. Eazy-E for a while lost touch with his best friends, which is hard for the sensitive Eazy-E to bear and he later finds out Jerry Heller had been misusing his earnings too, he fired Jerry Heller before his death. NWA, for all their street smarts and raw artistic talent and even natural business acumen, had no knowledge about how contracts were enforced and executed. Never mind not having a law degree, most of them didn’t even graduate high school. When they wanted to consult their own lawyer before signing, Jerry Heller talked them out of it.

Jerry Heller is the sleazy capitalist, dividing and conquering the solidarity of the workers for his own benefit and gain. One of the most compelling scenes in the movie is when they were recording the Straight Outta Compton album in Torrance (a middle class neighborhood of Los Angeles) and while on a smoke break someone called the cops on them, saying there were suspicious gang member looking men loitering outside. A black sergeant showed with with 2 other white cops. The black cop, perhaps he is showing off to his white colleagues and decided to ride the boys of NWA even harder than the white cop. He demanded that they face down on ground and be cuffed and patted down and verbally abused the boys. It was none other than Jerry Heller who came to their rescue. A white man rescuing young black men from the jackboot of a fascist black cop. But that same white man is scheming against young men he’s trying to rescue at the same time. The workers face oppression from both ends, the capitalist and the police force which enforces the capitalist system.

The first half of the movie carried the message of how capitalism doesn’t foster creativity and growth, it kills it via divide and conquer. The climax of the movie is when NWA was warned by Detroit PD that if they perform the song Fuck tha Police, they’d all be arrested and jailed for inciting a riot. The police were more concerned about their reputation and not about keeping the peace at the concert venue. Of course no one in the audience was going to incite a riot over that song, the police was going to incite a riot and make it look like NWA did it. No self-respecting artists would adhere to those demands, so not only did NWA perform Fuck tha Police, they performed with extra passion. In that sequence we see  police departments for what it is, just another cog in the capitalism machine. Soldier men carrying out orders for the capitalists to protect their interests and property. The authority of the police only work if the general public accepts and respects the authority, otherwise they are just a bunch of assholes with a gun and badge and someone else with a gun can overpower them retaliate. Police departments do not exist to protect and serve the general public, just the rich against the poor.

The second half of the 2 hour and 30 minute movie went against what the first half was trying to portray. The second half of the movie depicts how Dr. Dre started his own successful label after leaving NWA with Suge Knight, but when things went really wrong with Death Row Records (due to illegal activities of Knight) he was smart enough to walk away with nothing. He let Suge Knight keep all the artists, their contracts, masters and future earnings. The movie didn’t say so, but Suge Knight is long known to be a LAPD informant, a snitch; going against him can bring on serious trouble for yourself. Dr. Dre decided it was better to start over than to get dumped in a ditch somewhere. Fast forward to 2017, Dr. Dre is a superstar producer and multi-millionaire, Ice Cube is a well respected actor, rapper and producer and a millionaire. Eazy-E tragically died of AIDS in 1995 but before he died he reconnected and made up with his old friends from the hood, after he fired Jerry Heller and reformed NWA.

One note about the actor who played Ice Cube in the movie. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the real Ice Cube, even the timbre of his voice, the way he spoke, down to the minute mannerisms; it was as if Ice Cube himself went back 25 years in time to play a younger version of himself. When the movie was over and the credits rolled, it turns out it was O’Shea Jackson Jr aka Ice Cube Jr who played the role of his father. Jackson Jr didn’t just mimic his father in the movie, he transformed into his father.

The members of NWA didn’t set out to be radicals or even controversial, they just wanted to tell their truth to the world. They warned us about the abuses of police in 1988, many didn’t take them seriously, dismissing them as a bunch of thugs and that’s why the police targeted them. Fast forward to 2015 when the movie was released, after the deaths of Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice and countless others; “Fuck tha Police”.

2 thoughts on “Straight Outta Compton (2015)

  1. I need to watch this film again. I’m a little hazy on whether I thought Jerry Heller was self-consciously manipulative or just deluded by his own greed.

    Your description of the attitude people have about Compton reminds me of New Jersey. People in the rich suburbs tend to look at the cities in the same way. You could grow up in Meryl Streep’s hometown of Summit, New Jersey, and never even see downtown Newark, which is only a few miles away.

    I’m interested now in your reaction to City of God. The City of God is the post-graduate level of Compton.

    Like

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