Essential Albums of the 80s and 90s: NWA – Straight Outta Compton

NWA – Straight Outta Compton

Year of Release: 1988

Essential Tracks:

  • “Straight Outta Compton”
  • “F*ck The Police”
  • “Gangsta Gangsta”
  • “Express Yourself”

Okay. Here we go. I am going to start this with a disclaimer. I am a white male who did not grow up in the “hood” and am in no way a racist individual. Got it? Good. Here we go.

Time to go back to the 80s. Look around the streets and listen. Boomboxes were everywhere. Rap was everywhere! And there came a time when a small cross-section of the rap genre reared its ugly head- Gangster Rap! Who was on the forefront of this controversial musical movement? A lot of groups were but leading the charge was a formation of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella and Eazy E (Eazy Muthafuckin’ E R.I.P.).

I am, of course, talking about NWA! That’s right. Ni**az With Attitudes! What a storm this group caused! The media flipped out because of the violent and explicit language they used. Parents lost their minds and kids loved it because “they said bad words.” (Admit it. You did. I did. We all did.)

In 1988, this group hit big after some lesser known stuff and really caused the world to pee its pants with the album “Straight Outta Compton.”

The album opens with a punch in the face in the form of the title track after a warning to prepare yourself. “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” And here we go! Verses are traded between Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy E. They all get to show off their style of rap here and this continues through the rest of the album.

Track two is the one that most people are familiar with and the one I am sure everyone is waiting for me to talk about. Here it comes. “Fuck The Police.” Let’s set the scene. NWA is holding court in a case against the police department with Dr. Dre presiding as judge. Ice Cube, Ren and Eazy E are all giving testimony against ignorant police officers. Violent? Yes. Unnecessarily explicit? Maybe. Hilarious? Yes! After all the testimonies are given via traded verses between the “prosecuting attorneys,” Judge Dre gives his verdict. Guilty! And then you hear the cop being dragged out of the courtroom. All through the song, you get the chant of “Fuck the police… Fuck, fuck, fuck the police” as a hook in the chorus all over 80s beats and 70s funk. Catchy? You bet!!

Most tracks on the album tell a story of street life and the trials of “gangsta life.” This is continued in “Gangsta, Gangsta.” More funky music and a great hook: “I’m the type of ni**a that’s built to last. If you fuck with me, I’ll put a foot in yo’ ass. I don’t give a fuck ’cause I keep bailin’, What the fuck are they yellin’? GANGSTA GANGSTA!” This is followed by a line from the legendary KRS One (look him up, kids): “It’s not about salary. It’s all about reality.”

The funk, flow and anger continues. There is a great self-referential track about how bad the lyrics are (“Parental Discretion Iz Advised.”) There is another single to follow up “Straight Outta Compton” which could be considered a slow jam, cover, and sample-heavy groove: “Express Yourself” which takes directly from Charles Wright’s R&B song of the same name and allows Dre to take a solo role. There are remixes of tracks that they released before this debut (“8 Ball,” “Compton’s In The House,” “Dopeman.”) And it all comes to a close with Dre and Yella producing a track that could easily be the soundtrack to a group of urban teens breakdancing in the streets (“Something 2 Dance 2,”)

All in all, this album, while controversial enough to cause Tipper Gore to go on a rampage (look it up), is a great slice of history when it comes to rap. You like the stuff from today? This is where some of it started. You don’t like rap? Do yourself a favor and at least listen to this album which has a permanent place in my list of essential albums from the 80s and 90s that you must own or listen to before you die. Little 9 year old Jake approves and current mid 30s Jake continues to approve.