Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic produced by founding members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, broke box office records this weekend, opening to an estimated $56.1 million — nearly double the film's budget. The film's success has also led to a spike in sales for the original N.W.A. album that started it all, Straight Outta Compton . Two versions of the album — the original 1988 release and an expanded cut that came out in 2002 — are currently sitting pretty at numbers four and five on iTunes' Top selling albums.
Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray and producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre appear to have consciously put the original album front and center by not releasing an official film soundtrack, which makes Straight Outta Compton the only place to go for fans introduced to N.W.A.'s music through the film. And that's not a bad thing. So, join me in revisiting N.W.A.'s most infamous and iconic album, Straight Outta Compton.
N.W.A. released the 13-track album in 1998, and it's now regarded by many as an originator of "gangsta rap." Listening to the 27-year-old album, it's not hard to see why songs like "F--k tha Police" and "Straight Outta Compton" became instant classics. Other tracks, like the appropriately titled "Gangsta Gangsta" and "I Ain't Tha 1," are more of what you might expect from popular rap released today by 50 Cent or Lil' Wayne, glorifying the rappers' ability to spit (sometimes derogatory) rhymes.
N.W.A. may have birthed "gangster rap," but that's not why Straight Outta Compton should be remembered, nor does it explain why the film it inspired is a hit. Ice Cube said that he hopes that seeing Straight Outta Compton will help listeners better understand the album, telling Rolling Stone, "You had to see why we did the music. You know, not just 'we were young, angry n---as out of South Central,' but why did we make those kind of records? We were living in the middle of dope dealing, gangbanging, police brutality, f--king Reaganomics, and there was nowhere to escape."
And though the film might provide a visual to what is described in the more frivolous songs on Straight Outta Compton, the most honest tracks on the album are still eerily relevant today, with or without the release of the movie. Most notably, "F--k tha Police," a loud and unapologetic expose of police brutality, is sadly just as poignant 27 years later. Other standouts from Straight Outta Compton include "Straight Outta Compton," which opens the album and sets its fun, yet rebellious tone.
"Express Yourself" is another notable track that sums up N.W.A.'s desire to create music that spoke to their truth, to their reality. The song samples Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's track of the same name, and is absolutely infectious.
So after you see Compton, be sure to revisit the album that started it all and remember why N.W.A was so iconic.