Saturday, March 5, 2011

Albums2010 #36: Straight Outta Compton

Have you ever wondered if NWA was in fact, the Beatles of our generations? Tall Pale Redwood Man asked me this question some weeks ago and as I usually do I gave him a funny look and wondered why anyone could possibly want to even discuss that. Turns out, upon further reflection, it's a question worthy of discussion- though personally, I still don't think you can top the Beatles. Ever.

But NWA: Straight Outta Compton marks the first pure rap album to appear here on Albums2010 and I guess if you're going to pick a rap album, you might as well pick a damn good one. To me, the whole long, hard slog of gangster rap started here- with genuine, street-concious groups like NWA, Public Enemy, Tupac and Biggie- people who had seen the plight of the inner city up close and personal and wanted their art/music to speak to that experience. When Tupac and Biggie got themselves killed- the general quality of rap plummeted to a nadir that didn't really begin to revese itself until Kanye took the seen. Eminem was a breath of fresh air, to be sure- but this era of rap was revolutionary- and a true, radical, genre busting artist didn't blow up the rap scene until Kanye.

So what makes NWA so revolutionary? First and foremost, there's a gritty, unflinching realism in their lyrics that's surprising at times. Controversy aside, the song 'Fuck The Police' really spoke to a lot of people in their community tired of police brutality and corruption- and given what happened a bare four years later after the Rodney King verdit, NWA might have courted controversy with the song, but they seem positively prescient in hindsight. The title track as well provides an introduction to a community that many people ignored or overlooked- I mean, why pay attention to the problems of the inner city anywhere if you've got a nice little suburban life?

But when it comes to their gritty realism the track that really grabbed my attention was 'Dopeman.' A sort of day in the life story of a street-hustling drug dealer, it pulls no punches talking about the damage crack does to people and what people are willing to do for crack when addicted and really, it's hard to argue with an anti-drug message that says 'if you smoke 'caine you're a stupid motherfucker.'

Then of course, there's the most radio friendly of the tracks off this album- the ever popular, pretty kick-ass 'Express Yourself.' Which to me, remains the one 'must have' track from this album for non-rap fans. If you're a serious devotee of the genre, screw tracks: you should have this whole damn album. This is the Highway 61 Revisited of the rap world. No excuse not to have it.

Overall: gritty, hard realism that helped birth the genre of gangsta rap makes for a damn good album. Must have for any true fan of rap.

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