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20 Aug 2015

Rap Revelation: 'Straight Outta Compton' Does N.W.A. Proud

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A scene from Straight Outta Compton. A scene from Straight Outta Compton.

I did not realize until I had watched the entirety of Straight Outta Compton, the thrilling new N.W.A. biopic, that Ice Cube’s son was playing Ice Cube.

It’s not like the guy is named Ice Cube Jr. He’s actually named O’Shea Jackson Jr.—his dad’s birth name with Jr. tacked on to the end.

Jackson Jr. is the No. 1 reason to see Compton, a blast of a film that chronicles the rise of the rap group, the eventual infighting and the birth of some gigantic solo careers and record labels. Besides Jackson, Jason Mitchell is a revelation as Eazy-E, while Corey Hawkins is a nice anchor as Dr. Dre.

The film works best when covering the creation of the legendary album that shares the movie’s title. The film also spends plenty of time on the band’s management problems with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti in a moderately distracting wig) and Eazy-E’s eventual death from AIDS. At a running time of almost 2 1/2 hours, plenty of ground gets covered—in a way that never gets boring.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. is the spitting image of his dad, especially in the way he talks and raps. This lends an invaluable level of authenticity to Compton. It’s a real blessing that Ice Cube’s kid, making his film debut, is a supremely capable actor, because he blows up the screen like Ice Cube did when he made his film debut in Boyz n the Hood back in 1991.

The movie’s music melds original N.W.A. work with actors doing their own vocals. Watch and listen closely, and you’ll catch moments when Jackson and Mitchell prove they are more than capable of re-creating the N.W.A. sound. According to Rolling Stone, the actors re-recorded the original Compton record as an exercise—and that exercise paid off.

Adding to the party are Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, and Keith Stanfield, who totally embodies the part of Snoop Dog. R. Marcos Taylor is quite fearsome as the cigar-chomping Suge Knight. The real Suge Knight is currently in jail, awaiting trial for a hit-and-run death that occurred during a promotional shoot for the movie.

There is one brief scene featuring Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) laying down a track. The scene feels tacked on and obligatory, and probably should’ve been relegated to the cutting-room floor.

The depiction of always-evil cops in this film is borderline cartoonish, but what do you expect? This is a movie about the creation of the gangsta rap group that sang “Fuck tha Police.” I didn’t expect to see any warm and fuzzy cops scratching their heads and protesting while Cube, Dre and E are unjustifiably face-down on the pavement. Save the good cops for another movie. This is about Compton in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a war zone where nobody was doing anything right, and the likes of Ice Cube were definitely not feeling the love from the boys in blue. The real-life former members of N.W.A. had a hand in producing the movie, and I’m thinking they are perfectly OK with the depiction of cops in this movie.

Compton was directed by F. Gary Gray, who worked with Ice Cube two decades ago on the very funny Friday. Compton actually has some good laughs to go with its drama. Gray has stumbled a bit with some bad films (Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen) since his last pairing with Ice Cube, but Compton shows he still has plenty to offer.

Straight Outta Compton is a solid cinematic time capsule that gives some deserved glory to an influential group that forever changed the landscape of hip hop and brought much-needed attention to a very troubled part of the world. It does the band and the biopic genre proud.

Straight Outta Compton is playing at theaters across the valley.

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