Jimmy Coultas sits through the NWA biopic to see if it's worth the hype.
Last updated: 2nd Sep 2015
2015 has been a good year for music related films. Kurt Cobain was spotlighted in the Montage of Heck, the French touch movement was lovingly showcased in Eden and Amy Winehouse got a heart wrenching documentary simply titled Amy. EDM even got the lurid throwaway film it deserved in the seemingly abysmal We Are your Friends.
The most anticipated of the lot though surely has to fall to Straight Outta Compton, the biopic of the West Coast's first ever supergroup. Chartering the meteoric rise of Ice Cube, Dr Dre, MC Ren, Yella and the one and only Eazy E, it was produced by the latter's widow alongside Dre and Cube, presenting a dramatised vision of the group's musical fortunes up until the death of Eazy.
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So, does the film cut meet the hype? The answer is a firm yes - it manages to showcase enough of one of the most exciting stories in popular music history with élan, weaving in the musical narrative with plenty of the back-story behind what made the group such a magnetic focus for the media.
The intro sets the tone as Eazy's drug dealing past, Dre's stint with the World Class Wreckin Cru and Cube's observational view of gangland violence (the film wisely never portrays him as a real gangster) all introduce us to the three main protagonists as the group forms, then chartering their ascent before contractual wrangles result in the slow break up.
It's very much an enjoyable experience, with the history of the group the main source for edginess in what is a pretty straightforward Hollywood account all things considered. This could have been much darker and shocking, but with a focus on the longer history only scant detail is paid to the LA Riots and the macabre dealings of Dre's first post NWA venture, Death Row records.
The group's manager Jerry Heller is predictably given short shrift, played with slimy sophistication by Paul Giamatti, whilst several other protagonists show up. The DOC, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and Public Enemy all have cameos of varying intensity, whilst Dre's partner at Death Row Suge Knight's turn argues he is suited to more focus on celluloid (a rumoured 'sequel' will focus more on him and the label).
There are flaws, plenty of them if we're nitpicking, as the 'officialness' of the film is overriding. That will be the main reason Dre's violence against women is airbrushed (a source of huge criticism for the film) and the supposed pleasant atmosphere between them all ahead of a mooted reunion is pushed. That recrimination certainly wasn't widely obvious at the time, with Eazy's and Dre's respective proteges Bone Thugs N Harmony and the Dogg Pound continuing their beef well beyond the former's death in March 1995.
The chronology also gets considerably muddled up, particularly towards the end. At one point Dre's discontent is spotlighted by a brilliant recreation of a typical day in the Death Row office, as a man stripped to his briefs is threatened with a pitbul into making a ludicrous toast to the Row as gang bangers look on toting guns.
Despite the seeming implausibility of it that very much did happen, but it's the Tupac recording segment beforehand that more than likely is a fabrication. The rapper is in there laying down 'Hail Mary' (almost certainly recorded after Dre left the label) whilst Dre quickly plays him 'California Love' as a beat he's got for him.
The truth is Shakur's new found star of the label status meant he was gifted all the best beats to push him due to Suge's overriding figure of boss. Dre had originally hoped to use the track for himself, and the only other Dre produced record Shakur ever appeared on was also done in similar circumstances (the George Clinton featuring 'Can't C Me') with the two having very little studio time or camaraderie (something this scene glosses over).
This all contributed to the fallout from Dre leaving, something that should of been played up on more in the film. Also all this happens before Eazy dies - Pac was still in prison and nowhere near Death Row at the time of his death. The casual viewer won't notice but any self respecting hip hop fan will surely tut in disapproval, and you can't help that it's done to avoid making Dre look like ceding power (both him and Cube are, unsurprisingly, never really shown in a bad light).
These gripes aside though the film delivers as a great introduction to the story and offers enough for die hard fans too. There's not really much new to the story revealed, but plenty of spine tingling moments deftly dealt with.
The moment their Detroit concert nearly became a riot, Ice Cube ripping up the mic before he'd even become part of the group and Dre messing about with the 'Aint Nothing But a G Thang' (above) as Snoop comes in and drops the immortal opening lyrics. They're all brilliantly recreated and grin inducing segments of the highest order no hip hop fan won't enjoy.
It's far from perfect, but after the underwhelming Biggie Smalls biopicNotorious,Straight Outta Compton is the Hollywood film hip hop deserves, and the huge box office returns it's seen both sides of the Atlantic will hopefully contribute to more love being shown to the genre. Don't come expecting the complete truth or a masterpiece, but it is one heck of a ride.