Before there was Tupac and Biggie, there was Ice-Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. Together, the trio revolutionized hip-hop and became symbols for both a region and a culture.
We’ll start with Eazy-E (newcomer Jason Mitchell), the “talent.” I use that term loosely because all three are talented but Eazy-E was the voice. The front-man. But like all great front-men Eazy-E is the most trouble, and concern, for the group. He’s introduced to us by way of escaping a drug raid via being chased by a pitbull onto a roof. In short, he’s the show-pony.
The contrast between E and the other three members of the group is an overall passion in music. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is first seen lying on the floor surrounded with vinyl and listening to Roy Ayers. He’s not listening to the music just to listen to it, he’s studying the science behind making a good song. To him, it’s all in the beat.
For Ice-Cube, it’s the words. Ice-Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson, Jr. is so perfect for the part not just because of the striking resemblance but because of his overall performance. When he performs onstage, there’s this energy that only comes from someone who believes in the dictum, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Is this pure talent or hard work? A mix of both? Does it matter?
Director F. Gary Gray portrays Cube and Dre as being the work-horses of NWA who eventually get screwed by their manager Jerry Heller – Paul Giamatti in a white wig. There’s the trope of the businessman getting in the way of the artist and Heller does this by putting more energy into managing E than the other two. He isn’t able to see beyond the recording that the genius is in the content. As a result of the combination of E’s ego and Heller’s lack of insight, the group disbands. It isn’t until after E fires Heller that they are once again united.
“Straight Outta Compton” is two different films in one. The first is an appreciation of hip-hop.
Look at Dre’s introduction. It’s veneration, aspiration and meditation all wrapped into one. I am reminded of “Almost Famous” when William first listened to The Who for the first time. He is transformed into proxy Cameron Crowe a lover of rock ‘n’ roll. Imagine William Miller and Dr. Dre sitting down and talking about music all day. Wouldn’t that be cool?
The other film is a commentary on the relationship between police and the black community. Not since Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” has there been a film that tells the truth about this relationship. The group is stopped by two Torrance cops just because they look like gang-bangers. The truth cannot be farther from their assumption. Dre and Cube just live in the hood. They’re not causing any trouble, they’re just trying to live their lives. For the cops to call them ganger-bangers is codeword for black.
The drug bust in the beginning that included SWAT and an armored car really bothers me. Couldn’t that have been done with a squad car? Was SWAT really necessary in addition to a tank? Why does the LAPD have a tank? I understand arresting them, but destroying their house does… what? What’s there to gain? The drug bust isn’t fighting crime. It’s just the cops waving their dick around just to be assholes.
END OF RANT:
In the film, when asked why their music is so violent, Ice-Cube states that it is a reflection of their reality. It made wonder if the question would have been asked if they were white.