The last time director F. Gary Gray and Ice Cube collaborated on a movie was the 1995 cult classic Friday. Now 20 years on we have Straight Outta Compton. A hard hitting biographical drama following the lives of some of hip hop’s biggest players and arguably the most notorious gangster rap group to come out of the states: NWA.
Straight outta Compton is an exciting movie with great pacing. While it doesn’t spend too much time focusing on details like the production of the music or the contract issues with group members – or some of the group’s more controversial moments, completely glossing over certain negative events – it does a fantastic job of taking us through a kaleidoscope of memorable highlights of rap history. There are also some splendid scenes from the group’s live performances!
From the get-go Gray takes you on a enthralling journey kicking off straight away with a gritty opening sequence introducing the character of Eazy-E and the situation in Compton in the mid eighties. It also shows off one of the things that Straight Outta Compton does brilliantly: casting. I can’t think of another biopic movie that I’ve seen where they have managed to put together a cast that looks so much like the characters that they are portraying. This movie has done just that, with Ice Cube’s own son even playing the role of his father and naturally the likeness is uncanny!
Bringing the roles of the NWA crew to life is O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella and playing the part of their infamous manager is Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller.
The performances are great by everyone on screen. Jason Mitchell is brilliant as Eazy-E and looks very comfortable as he takes on the daunting task of playing one of the icons of rap music. O’Shea Jackson, Jr is perfect as Ice Cube, from the facial expressions to the way he delivers his rhymes. Paul Giamatti gives a solid performance and manages to have you both disliking and respecting the version of Jerry Heller seen onscreen. The chemistry is great between the group and they did a fantastic job bringing NWA back to life. R. Marcos Taylor also delivers a truly menacing and chilling performance as Suge Knight.
We kick off at a point where our heroes for this movie are about to embark on one of the most historic journeys of American pop culture history. Eazy-E is a dope dealer tired of run-ins with the law and thugs alike. Dr Dre is a talented and upcoming DJ, alongside DJ Yella, for a club owner that has no place for rap music in his business. Ice Cube, still in school at the time, makes use of his skills as a lyricist to pen his frustrations about life in Compton and the everyday reality they find themselves in.
Things start developing from this point after Dre has Cube join him at the club he DJ’s at to drop a few lines, much to the enjoyment of the crowd and Eazy, who is also a friend of Dre. It’s at this point that Dre entices Eazy to leave the game of dope slinging and use his unique set of skills instead to do some hip hop hustling!
Now it’s a little known fact that Eazy-E was not a naturally gifted rapper but after issues with the crew initially meant to make the hit song “Boyz ‘n The Hood”, Dr Dre convinces Eazy to have a go at it. With the direction of the young Dr Dre and the strong lyrics provided by Ice Cube the album gets released with much praise coming from the growing hoards of rap fans of the time and NWA is officially on the map as one of the best crews around – instantly making Eazy-E a icon in the genre.
Enter Jerry Heller, the opportunistic music manager played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti. He and Eazy form an unlikely partnership and he also ends up somewhat as a father figure to Eazy-E. Many believe that it is Heller that allowed NWA to get taken seriously by music execs and is responsible for the group getting the momentum that took them from obscurity and made them “The worlds most dangerous group”.
The second half of Straight outta Compton shows us the gradual decline of the group, with relationships starting to crack due to contract disputes and the relationship between Eazy-E and Jerry Heller causing a rift. Cube would be the first to exit the group to pursue a hugely successful solo career, followed by Dr Dre leaving to start his own label with the extremely shady bodyguard turned villainous music manager, Suge Knight played by R. Marcos Taylor.
F. Gary Gray does a great job of showing us the individual characters develop from here and how they start finding their own voices in the world of Hip Hop. He also gives us a look at the issue of police brutality and how bad it was when it came to how the youths of the ghettos were dealt with at the time. This is portrayed most relevantly by the historic reminder of the ruthless beating of Rodney King by four police officers that were all found “Not guilty” of police brutality, despite the clear video footage showing the brutal beating in its entirety.
All of this combined with their own fair share of constant harassment by police brought us the almost prophetic, iconic NWA classic “Fuck the police”.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. A lot! The dialogue is on point. You will find yourself laughing at the interactions of the group. You will laugh even harder at Jerry Heller’s reaction to Ice Cube’s diss track “No Vaseline”. It’s a journey that will take you on highs and lows, with you loving the characters, then hating them and then loving them again. With a soundtrack that has been waiting for this movie for decades.
Will you enjoy Straight Outta Compton even if you are not a NWA fan? Yes! I can guarantee that you will walk out of the cinema feeling a lot more gangster!
Also I have to mention that the appearance of Tupac, played by Marcc Rose, even though a small part is so on point, its scary! See for yourself.
Last Updated: October 2, 2015