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Straight Outta Compton: Old-school hiphop is back!

Even though its second half strays a little far from the promised direction, Straight Outta Compton is still an inspirational biopic and a somewhat candid depiction of the most influential hip-hop group in the 80s.

Earlier last year, the Oscars whitewashing fuss came up after it had been reported that only a few of the nominations in the Academy Awards were works from the African-American community. Regardless, one of the most remarkable among those was Universal’s 2015 summer hit Straight Outta Compton (only nominated for Best Original Screenplay).

The surviving members of N.W.A and the actors

This biopic is directed by F. Gary Gray under the supervision of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre in an attempt to retell the formation, followed by ups-and-downs of N.W.A, one of the first group to set the stepping stone and escalate the influence of gangsta hip-hop genre in the late 80s in Compton, L.A, California. The story revolves around relationships between Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright (Jason Mitchell) – a local down-on-his-luck drug dealer, Andre ‘Dre’ Young (Corey Hawkins) – a talented music producer who always keeps his eyes at the stars while being deeply concerned about his upcoming fatherhood and O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson (by his real life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.) – a hip-hop preacher so in touch with the street life that his rap lyrics speaks louder than guns and oppression.

The three of them converge in a nightclub when an idea is shaped, funded with Eazy-E’s dirty cash and brought to life through the publishment of Ruthless Records, in order to push their aspiration of hardcore hip-hop to a new level during a stalemate full of love songs exhaustingly played on the radios. Ruthless Records is then approached by Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), an industrial manager who sees the valid potential to go legit from our boys’ burning passion. This new development quickly proceeds to a series of hit track that shoots ‘the world’s most dangerous group’ to stardom, but also gathers the attention from mainstream big-timers. Unprepared before outside manipulation, Eazy-E, Dre, and Ice Cube let the conflicts within break the youthful bonds, then drift apart on their own path of career choices.

(From left to right) Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. as the founding members of N.W.A

Director F. Gary Gray has managed to initially merge the inspiring musical themes of N.W.A’s glorious days with an accessible narrative of a common biographical movie. Music on the street is an undetachable aspect of life in Compton, accompanying the golden boys on their every step to success. One of the most impactful scenes in the film is when they are brutally assaulted at gunpoint by several police officers (in the middle of a recording session) for absolutely no good reason at all: just because the boys look dangerous, somewhat like gangbangers, they are unreasonably forced to lie down facing the ground for security check. Even the worm will turn, whereas N.W.A boys are no feeble, meek worms at all, and the incident makes Cube, who is in charge of writing sharp and socially oriented lyrics, snapped.

A boldly presented notion on police brutality back then

By the expression of violence and profanity, all the repressed emotions of this fierce street rapper explode and mingle into another piece of their hit tracks responding to police brutality and race issues that the African-American community had to suffer at the time. The details here highlight N.W.A’s rebellious spirit against a broken justice system, especially when being forbidden to perform certain songs in public concerts; then yet to the guarding police’s surprise, they bring the fire to the stage anyway. This moment undoubtedly feels genuinely compelling for the audience. While being made known as one among the film’s most climatic uproars, the incident is still devastating to Cube due to the legacy these songs left behind. Almost 20 years later, the situation regarding its themes never improves much on the street of America. It feels almost heartbreaking to know despite the progression in the populace’s awareness for this controversial issue, the reality remains way too gritty and even more convoluted than ever.

Since the burden of having to cover main aspects of the trio’s lives in the abundance of important events seems to be overextending within the window of 147-minute running time, Compton gradually falls back far too often into weighing more on certain characters in comparison to others. Initially, the movie astonishingly dashes forward with so much satisfaction in terms of storytelling, characterization, and emotional outbursts. Regardless, the second half ends up feeling more like a sequence of notable events that must be shown in a chronological order rather than a deeper exploration into the lives of our boys after the disputes, which is precisely what the first has succeeded in retelling from events of early days. Before the bitterly surprising ending, the film focuses way too much into the milestones in Dre’s new career after him getting out of Ruthless.

The first joined stage of the trio

Fortunately, the splendid performances from perfectly cast newcomers Mitchell, Jackson Jr., and Hawkins jazz up the mood. Viewers truly feel rooted for these diverse personalities, under the pressure of making end’s meet and following their dreams. It is supplemented by an addition of strong supporting characters including Giamatti’s Heller, who is kind of on-and-off about being the story antagonist. He overtly speaks up for the boys during several occasions like the aforementioned police assault outside their recording studios, but then is portrayed as another conflicting embodiment of corporate power. All of the soundtracks used in Compton are re-recorded by the cast, under the guidance of N.W.A former members to retain old-times spirit while still being able to get the most heart and soul out of them in contemporary musical and political sphere.

Paul Giamatti as the late Jerry Heller

Even though its second half strays a little far from the promised direction like the first one’s blast of glorious aspiration and a nice touch on social commentary, Compton still fulfilled in being an inspirational biopic and a somewhat candid depiction of the most influential leading artists of the hip-hop genre back in the 80s, as they waxed and waned through their youthful devotion, late 20th century corporate manipulation, and the eventual reconciliation.