On this day, August 8, in hip-hop history…
1988: It’s not an overstatement to say that Straight Outta Compton changed the face of music. Five street kids from inner-city Los Angeles scared America to its core with its brand of uncut, profanity-laced street rap that was often deemed “pornographic” to mainstream sensibilities. “Gangsta rap” existed before N.W.A but they were the group that launched the music into the national conscious and transformed it from nascent subgenre to a global phenomenon.
Released in August 1988, Straight Outta Compton felt like a Street Sweeper shotgun blast to chest of America. N.W.A challenged social norms, good taste and basic obscenity laws as their album caught fire on the national scene. N.W.A’ s music was violent, overtly sexual and did not bother to hide behind a wall of linguistic nuance. The album was as raw as the nerve it struck. They cursed, they posed with guns and draped themselves in the colors of America’s growing gang problem. Most importantly, they did not bother to care who they offended in the process. The album’s popularity bred controversy who deemed the album’s violent and sexual lyrics to be profane and inappropriate for children to listen to.
Controversy only helped the group sell more records. Straight Outta Compton was a commercial smash selling two million records largely independent and without the help of major radio play. The album is loaded with some of hip-hop’s most signature songs including the highly controversial protest song, “Fuck The Police,” Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Express Yourself.” Although, the album is noted for its violent imagery, its cloaked in mask of social protest. The group was a bunch of impoverished kids living in the drug-infested, inner-city Los Angeles of the 1980s and the music they made reflected that reality. It made sense that the talented writers of the hip-hop generation would make music that were about the world that surrounded them. Violence was omnipresent thus violence was present in their music.
25 years later, N.W.A.’s influence still reverberates not only in the on-going popularity of gangster rap but the influence of the members themselves. N.W.A. consisted of a star-studded lineup that went on to become the face of popular music over the years. The group’s leader and diminutive loudmouth, the late Eazy E started Ruthless Records that housed such acts as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Above The Law and The D.O.C. Ice Cube would go on to be a movie star and have a multiplatinum solo career, himself. The group’s lead producer, Dr. Dre would become arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all-time and launch the careers of too many hip-hop stars to even name. Even MC Ren and DJ Yella would have records that would on to gold records in their career. Its an enduring musical legacy that makes them arguably rap’s greatest group of all-time.