As you've probably heard, for the second week in a row the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton was number one at the box office. Director F. Gary Gray's film has been inspiring passionate responses across the board. While many have celebrated one of hip-hop's greatest legacies exploding across the silver screen, like any successful piece of art the film has no shortage of detractors. But while there are some valid criticisms of the film, a surprising number of even self-described hip-hop fans are taking issue that Straight Outta Compton even got greenlit.
Again, we at The Weekly aren't saying the film is flawless. Like most music biopics, arguments could be made about the omission of the subject's treatment of women as well as the condensing of several separate life events into one big event under the guise of “poetic license” or “artistic liberties.” For those who demand 100% accuracy and thorough exploration of the major moments from art based on historical events, we see where you're coming from and respect your issues with the motion picture.
Rather, what we'd like to address is the strange hip-hop meme culture faux-outrage that “the world's most dangerous group” got an entire Hollywood movie dedicated to their exploits. You can see it from the same people on your social media feeds posting easily disprovable wildly inaccurate memes like the poorly worded “Rakim, arguably the hardest Rapper to rap, never used one curse in not a single rap song produced.” People see it, share it despite the easily Googable existence of “My Melody” and “Mahogany,” and suddenly absolutely everybody with a keyboard and profile picture is a hip-hop expert.
Which brings us to N.W.A. and the fantastical allegations that they somehow “Destroyed hip-hop.” Submitted without the approval of the Midnight Society, a number of Facebook note-penning conspiracy theorists would have you believe the “real” story of N.W.A. is that they were not only a pawn in the government's plan for urban genocide by “glorifying” the violence and depravity of their environment, but were chosen because of their music's ability to kill the demand for “conscious hip-hop.” It's the stuff Alex Jones fever dreams are made of.
People actually believe this.
There's been a few of these oft-shared notes and memes, some of which have been picked up as opinion pieces on hip-hop news sites. The 2015 social media climate inspires readers, whether they wholeheartedly agree, vehemently disagree, or just don't know what to make of something they've read, to share it in the exact same way. Maybe people want a reason to be skeptical of Straight Outta Compton. Maybe people want a reason to oppose something popular. Maybe people are just bitter African medallions stopped appearing on album covers. Regardless the reasoning, readers share the pieces, completely missing/ignoring the audience-insulting use of solely anecdotal evidence or possible antisemitism (paragraph after paragraph of “black genocide” allegations and taking Jerry Heller quotes out of context may quickly desensitize one from realizing they're sharing something with the line “the sacrifice of young black lives on the altar of the Synagogue of Satan”) simply because an opinion piece ballsy enough to include the word “truth” in its title makes for it to mysteriously be read as fact.
Nobody says you have to enjoy N.W.A.'s music or Straight Outta Compton as a film. Nobody says either is above criticism. But to claim N.W.A. somehow “derailed” where hip-hop was going in the '80s and inadvertently destroyed a generation in the process is just not true. For one thing, N.W.A. didn't originate Gangsta Rap, artists like Schooly D and Ice-T were right there at the very beginning as well. N.W.A. just happened to become outrageously popular because you had artists responsible for some of the greatest American music of the following decade all in one group. But the success of N.W.A.'s music didn't mean America instantly put their “conscious” records away. Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions/KRS-ONE were putting out music before N.W.A. blew up, and continued to put out records long after N.W.A. dissolved.
Speaking of which, there's another sect of hip-hop memesters with faux-outrage over “why is there an N.W.A. biopic and NOT a Public Enemy one?” You would think with all this demand for more Public Enemy media, these same listeners would have made more noise about the Public Enemy album that dropped a month ago. Regardless, it's silly to suggest that N.W.A.'s legacy doesn't deserve a film, or that had Straight Outta Compton not been produced that a Public Enemy film would be in its slot at the cineplex. Even N.W.A. member/ Straight Outta Compton producer Ice Cube has said he's open to making a Public Enemy film. Straight Outta Compton's success means more rap biopics are on the way, making Public Enemy's chance for celluloid glory more likely instead of, as I guess the meme would have you believe, now a lost cause.
Ultimately, what all these criticisms and the quick nature of how they were spread have in common is how people are still struggling with letting hip-hop be the youth-driven art-culture it is. Even if we pretend N.W.A.'s more blatantly socially aware moments like “Express Yourself” and “Fuck the Police” didn't exist and we were just left with their most vile works like “One Less Bitch” and “She Swallowed It,” why would rap remain the only genre where the artists' creations can be critiqued for not adhering to some unspoken morality code? Further, when it comes to the weak anecdotal-at-best arguments of people who “threw their lives away” because of N.W.A.'s music, if someone's that susceptible to influence, who's to say something else in the media wouldn't drive them down that same path? And wouldn't the real problem here be, not the alleged “influencers” but whatever caused the person in question to be so easily impressionable? Not to mention in 2015, artists can't get listeners to buy CDs, let alone turn to a life of crime.
With the inevitable wave of hip-hop biopics soon to rain down upon us, a good rule of thumb is whenever anyone tries to tell you what “is” or “isn't” hip-hop, just stop listening. Spend time with some actual rap records instead.