Before you start reading this blog, understand that Straight Outta Compton is a biopic movie based on a music group. There are no spoilers here; it is based on real life. So if you want to keep the events a surprise, close this tab and go outside.
In 1986 when N.W.A was formed, I was still a little kid. I must admit, I was never a huge fan of the group, but I was always a huge Eazy-E fan when he was solo. When I did get into rap/hip-hop in the mid 1990's, I was cruisn' down the street in Dover and Forest Lawn in Calgary in my buddies 1984 Toyota Celica G that had two 10" subs and we'd be blasting Outkast, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Cypress Hill, Psycho Realm, Goodie Mob, Notorious B.I.G, Snoop Dogg, Mase, and the Fugees.
Straight Outta Compton is a biopic flick on the hardcore rap/hip-hop group from Compton, California called N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes). But before I hit the movie review, let me shoot some N.W.A knowledge your way...
N.W.A was started in 1986 by five twenty-something year old G's, and ran a span of five years that produced three albums before they disbanded. Labelled as the world's most dangerous group, their music was raw, real, and gritty - their art was a reflection of their reality. It from a time when the Los Angeles police department was extremely corrupt and the groups lyrics are representative of the violence of street life in inner-city communities. They invented the gansta rap genre and changed the rap game, putting Compton on the map. N.W.A consisted of some very talented members that influenced the music industry immensely:
Eric Lynn Wright is known as the godfather of gansta rap. He was the business man and brains behind N.W.A. He created the group under his own record label named Ruthless Records. After Dr.Dre and Ice Cube left the group, he had a brief career in the music business and went on to father seven children with six different women. In 1995, he became ill and was admitted to a hospital and died 11 days later from complications stemming from AIDS. He wrote a goodbye letter to his fans before he left this world. Read it here.
O'Shea Jackson was the lyricist behind most of N.W.A's songs. Cube was only in N.W.A from 1986 to 1989 and he left because of royalty issues and started his own solo career. He went on to have a great career in music, film, writing, producing, and even a clothing line. His music has left quite a contribution in the industry and some of his films are classics such as the Friday trilogy and Boyz n the Hood. Although now he's soft as a teddy bear starring on Sesame Street with Elmo and in family films such as Are We There Yet and Are We Done Yet. Gangsta!
Andre Romelle Young was the producer of N.W.A that took Cube's 'reality rap' feel and created the west coast G-funk style. After he left N.W.A, he went on to produce Death Row Records with Suge Knight and later formed Aftermath Entertainment which he sold to Interscope Records for $52 million. He's produced rap acts such as Eminem, Xzibit, 50 Cent, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar. Just recently, he sold his headphone company Beats Electronics to Apple for $3.2 billion in which he made $620 million.
Lorenzo Jerald Patterson was childhood friends with Eazy-E. He joined Ruthless Records in 1987 and wrote most of the tracks on Easy's Easy-Duz-It record while he was still in high school. In 1988 he joined N.W.A and in four weeks, helped create Straight Outta Compton. In 1992, MC Ren released his first solo album called Kizz My Black Azz. With very little promotion and almost no airplay, the album surprisingly still went platinum in two months. MC Ren got his stage name from the middle letters in his first name (Lorenzo).
Antoine Carraby was N.W.A's turntablist and along with Dre, co-produced Eazy's Eazy-Duz-It album and all three N.W.A albums. After N.W.A's breakup, Yella remained close with Eazy and stayed on production duties with Ruthless Records. Yella was the only member of N.W.A to attend Eazy's funeral. Yella also dabbled in film like Cube, however his choice of genre was a bit different; adult films. Over a 12 year span, he produced over 300 movies including H.W.A: Hoes With Attitude, I Candy, West Side Stories, and of course, Str8 Outta Compton 1 and 2.
Early on, there was another member of N.W.A who's name is Arabian Prince (Kim Renard Razel). He was a founding member of N.W.A and was on a collaboration album that was produced by Dre and released in 1987 called N.W.A and the Posse (it was marketed as an N.W.A album but wasn't technically N.W.A). He had left the group due to financial improprieties - much like Cube and Dre later in N.W.A's future. Arabian Prince on leaving N.W.A:
"I'm a businessman first and foremost, and I was a solo artist before, so I knew how much money we were making," he says. "And I'm like, 'Well, we just sold a million records,' I knew we were supposed to get X amount of money we weren't getting. And you know what, we've gotta split the money anyway, and we're still not getting paid what we're supposed to get paid. I'm going to go back and do my own thing, and I'll make more money than all ya'll, myself."
Unfortunately for him, N.W.A gained nationwide attention right after Arabian Prince left, and surprisingly, Arabian Prince was not mentioned in the 2015 film at all. Remember kids, you are just one decision away from a totally different life. Read more about Arabian Prince and his thoughts on N.W.A here.
The final arrangement of N.W.A consisted of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren as the main performers, DJ Yella as the turntablist, and Dr.Dre as the producer.
So there's a bit of a history lesson on N.W.A. Now on to the movie review...
First off, casting was immaculate! Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr. played Cube. There were times when I actually thought it was a younger Ice Cube. O'shea Jackson Jr. prepped for two years to prepare for this role and Cube set him up with both Nicole Kidman and Will Smith's acting coaches. At first he was not comfortable playing his father when he was cast, but after the training and help from his coaches, he said that he is the only one that should portray his father in this movie, no one else.
Eazy-E was played by Jason Mitchell and that was a striking resemblance as well. Lil Eazy (Eazy-E's son - Eric Wright Jr.) was in the running to play Eazy but the producers wanted someone a little more polished.
"He’s an up-and-coming actor trying to do it," Cube said about Lil E, "But we needed somebody who was a little more polished to play Eazy, because he goes through a lot in his life. He goes from selling dope in Compton to fighting for his life in a hospital bed. So we needed to find an actor with a lot of range. And we just couldn’t use just anybody. We gave him a shot, and it just didn’t work out."
Lil E was upset at first, but he ended up coaching actor Jason Mitchell, who portrays his father in the film. The actors who played Dr.Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) were spot on too. Plus with the added features of the Jheri Curl style wig, L.A. Raiders and SOX caps, leather jackets, over-sized medallions, pagers, and low-rider cars, it was definitely 1991 Compton re-created.
Also, they had a brief appearance of 2Pac (Tupac Shakur) in the film who was played by Marcc Rose. This was his first acting gig ever according to IMDB. He was most likely cast because of his striking resemblance to Pac:
The acting was surprisingly solid from a group of no-name actors. Their striking resemblances upheld the suspension of disbelief and it felt like you were right there in the 90's following the young thugs through their success.
From the get-go, the film goes from the beginning of the bands conception, to their involvement with their alleged corrupt manager Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giamatti), to their rise to fame, the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots, their inevitable break-up, Suge Knight's involvement with Dre, and Eazy-E's brief and tragic battle with AIDS. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, the first half of the film is a lot of fun and keeps a pretty good pace. About half way it slows down and really drags. The original cut was three and a half hours and was a 150 page script! Compton meets Lord of the Rings.
Straight Outta Compton was directed by F.Gary Gray. He's the director of such films as Law Abiding Citizen, Be Cool, The Italian Job, and Friday (in which he directed Ice Cube). There are two pretty neat references to Friday in Straight Outta Compton: The first shows Cube sitting down and writing the script for Friday, and the second has a brief appearance from Felica. If you are a Friday fan, you'll love it.
F.Gary Gray does an a'ight job considering his last movie was Law Abiding Citizen six years ago. Although I was annoyed throughout the film, as a LOT of shots were out of focus. Drives me INSANE! This film had a budget of $25 million and they can't get a focus?! WTF! I've recently finished watching the television series Friends and Seinfeld and they both have the same issue of focus. Ugh.
What's very interesting about this film is the amount of drama involved in making it. Straight Outta Compton took 11 years to produce and they had quite a bit of problems. Firstly, they had calls and threats from the real Jerry Heller and Suge Knight. It's been rumored that Dre never asked permission to use Suge's likeness for the film. Suge even tried to visit the set. When he left, he got into an altercation with a few other people and peeled off in his truck, killing one person and injuring another. The 50-year-old Knight pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder, and hit and run. He is awaiting trail at the time of this blog post. Damn that Suge is one crazy motherfucker. Check it out:
Another issue was that Dre didn't want to make the film. "I actually did not want to make the movie," said Dr. Dre on set during the shooting of the film last fall. "I was against it 100% because I thought it might be a blemish on our legacy. But Cube really quarterbacked it and got the script to a place where I read it and thought it was something we could work with. Then we brought on F. Gary Gray and boy, Gary is a longtime 20-year friend of ours. Not only is he from L.A. but he's a fan of our music. That's when I decided to come on board."
Then Cube, Dre, and Bill Straus (as producers) had to get Eazy's wife, Tomica Woods-Wright, to release the rights to N.W.A's music. "She had a reputation of being guarded," says Straus. "I think a lot of people had come at her, right after Eazy died — she'd inherited a lot of money. And I think that experience, like, sort of frayed her a little bit." Straus says one of the writers invited her to meet. "The first hour, she seemed sort of guarded, but after a while it just became this love-in. She told us so many stories about Eric. She took her shoes off; by the end of the meeting she was crying."
She was probably crying because she knew all the money she'll make.
And then, just to make it a little more gangsta, on August 12th 2014, a drive by shooting took place while the cast and crew were on set. No one was hurt, but a civilian was injured.
Also, the whole Eazy-E death makes you think (I do love a good conspiracy)... did Suge kill him to get Dre out of his contract? Eazy was making a LOT of money on Dre after he left Ruthless. Check this video out about Eazy-E dissing Dre:
Then a drunk Suge Knight appeared on Jimmy Kimmel just after he was released from jail talking about how to kill someone with a new method. "The Eazy-E thang y'kno." Insane! Check it here:
The movie was an interesting biopic of brotherhood, loyalty, and a rags to riches tale. Think of it, Dre started spinning beats in his parents garage to becoming a multi-millionaire by selling a company for billions. But that fact that it was released 20 years after the death of Eazy-E is a little bit behind the times. This movie would have been a lot more interesting 20 years ago when there was actually good rap out there. Not like today's shit; Drake, Wiz Khalifa, and Pitbull (I will not hyperlink these 'artists' cause they're straight up shit).
The film cost $25 million to produce (each Jheri Curl wig cost $15,000 each), in it's first day it made $24.2 million (almost the entire budget back), and in it's first weekend it made $56.1 million - doubling the investment. That made it the biggest opening ever for a musical biopic and the largest R-rated August opening in box office history. So they did something right.
I won four tickets to the premiere and got to see it on the Wednesday before it was released. I also scored this sweet t-shirt.
Overall, I'd give Straight Outta Compton a 7 out of 10. Not a film you NEED to see in the theater, but it was fun to follow the rap group through their claim to fame. It's a good flashback to the 90's, solid acting, and has a nice touch of humor throughout the script to humanize the OG's. Besides the out-of-focus parts and that fact that it does fizzle off at the end, it still holds it's own. For a group that went double-platinum, this film does them justice.
Here's a few of my favorite N.W.A / Eazy-E songs:
Word to the motherfucker, straight outta Compton.
Damn that shit was dope!
* All the photos, videos, and songs included are not mine.