Is ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Good Or Bad For Hip Hop?

Straight Outta Compton tells how gangsta rap took hold. Some of today’s top rap stars owe a debt to people portrayed in Straight Outta Compton. According to USA Today, it has held its top box office position for three straight weekends so far, and it’s already the highest grossing music biopic ever.

But Straight Outta Compton is more than a story about how a new take on rap music became mainstream. As Billboard reports, there are numerous other stories about society which converge here, including police brutality, corruption in the music industry, and artistic perseverance. All of these elements are catalysts for what N.W.A. eventually achieved. Straight Outta Compton gives you a broad picture for considering why and how gangsta rap could come to take root in the musical consciousness in the first place.

In a certain sense, gangsta rap was the opposite of where hip hop was headed. At its start, hip hop provided an alternative to gangs and other urban ills, or at the very least, it provided an escape. N.W.A. put that theory on its head by giving voice to all of those urban ills. In the midst of the 80s and early 90s rap music that was often a lot more lighthearted, N.W.A. decided to do away with any glossing over of the language and lifestyle which they saw perpetuating in real life. Straight Outta Compton, the album, when it was released in 1988, was a definite turning point for hip hop and all of music.

Artists like Schoolly D and Ice-T pioneered a form of rap which told stories of gritty urban reality. N.W.A was the first major group of the genre. N.W.A. would go on to spawn numerous other artists directly nurtured under Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E. Straight Outta Compton gives substance to the urban tales of the group’s start. It displays N.W.A.’s reason for doing all they did in music.

But did they actually take hip hop off the course it was going towards providing an alternative to gang culture? In New York City, at the start of hip hop, it provided a creative outlet for urban youth. It didn’t eradicate the conditions in black and Hispanic neighborhoods at the time, but it coexisted with them and provided another route.

Straight Outta Compton probably won’t lead to a resurgence of gangsta rap or reality rap. It never left. But to know how it took root is the greatest lesson that can be gleaned. Perhaps for those who would wish to bring forth new genres of music, and change the game once again, Straight Outta Compton is gold.

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