With a stellar cast that perfectly embodies a thoughtful and sometimes brutally honest true story, Straight Outta Compton is a film that doesn’t hold back when telling the story of the quick rise and even quicker splitting of the rap group NWA.
By Michael Menendez
The year is 1986. At this time, no one knew who Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, or Eazy-E were. In Compton, all it takes to get arrested is for the color of your skin to be black, or brown according to Ice Cube. Struggling to make it by, they know something needs to change. Eazy-E is a drug dealer, Dr. Dre doesn’t have a job, and Ice Cube is in school. Dre knows what he wants to do with his life, and going to school and having a 9-5 job is not in his plans.
With his life as a drug dealer, Dre sees an opportunity for E to be a producer, being the money behind the faces. Together, they form Ruthless Records. With Dre’s beats, E’s voice (and money), and Ice Cube’s lyrics, NWA is formed with a number one hit in BoyZ in the Hood. This is where music manager Jerry Heller, played tremendously by Paul Giamatti, comes in to play, claiming he can get them the exposure they need to succeed in the industry.
This will become a fatal blow to NWA in the long run. With their hit F* the Police, NWA is threatened by the California police to be arrested if it is performed, something that they gladly disobey. This starts a riot when they are arrested, only to have the group laughing together in the back of a police van.
With all the success surrounding them, only E is signed to a contract. Eventually, Ice Cube is the only person without a contract, but when he finds out that everyone in the group has signed besides him, he leaves and starts his own crew, releasing his first solo album that even surpasses NWA’s debut.
Tensions are high, with Dr. Dre starting his own label with NWA’s bodyguard after looking into the contract he signed blindly. With so many problems fueled by the love of where they’re from, feuds start between E’s Ruthless Records and Dre’s Death Row Records, in addition to the feud already brewing between Ice Cube and Ruthless Records.
Eventually, after worsening health and mountains of debt brought on by Heller, E realizes that it’s time to mend ways and get NWA back together, without Heller as manager. Tragically, though, E is diagnosed with HIV, something that progresses quickly to AIDS, putting a halt to the reunion before it can even begin.
Throughout this film, the hardships are brutally shown, emotionally and physically. All the actors effortlesly evoke these emotions, primarily when Dre’s brother is killed in the movie and with the death of Eazy-E. More importantly, though, is how well the movie is casted in its entirety.
Real life son of Ice Cube, O’Shea Jackson Jr., nails the role of his father. Jason Mitchell as E might be the best, though, looking eerily similar to the real life celebrity. Produced by both Dr. Dre and Ice Cube and helmed by Ice Cube’s Friday director F. Gary Gray, there is a clear passion for telling this story thoroughly and thoughtfully. They provide a vivid and rich view into what it was like living in Compton, even filming in the community.
With that being said, this film exceeds the boundaries of just a biopic, using Gray’s talent in music videos to bring the same look in certain scenes to this film, we get a great look and feel to what it was like to live in an area like Compton (to an extent).
Clearly solidifying debate about being the best “hood” movie in its history, placing itself firmly alongside Boyz n the Hood, In Too Deep, and Set It Off, Straight Out of Compton is an immersive and thoroughly in depth look at what made NWA great and the movement that they created.
Michael Menendez is a student at the University of Central Florida, where he majors in journalism.