#144 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time.
#59 On Q's Top 100 Albums Of All Time.
A lot of Straight Outta Compton's impact can be judged purely on the strength of the album opener, the title track. I mean, just check out the opening verse, from Ice Cube -
Originally Posted by ohhla.com
Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes
When I'm called off, I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off
You too, boy, if ya fuck with me
The police are gonna hafta come and get me
Off yo ass, that's how I'm goin out
For the punk motherfuckers that's showin out
Niggaz start to mumble, they wanna rumble
Mix em and cook em in a pot like gumbo
Goin off on a motherfucker like that
with a gat that's pointed at yo ass
So give it up smooth
Ain't no tellin when I'm down for a jack move
Here's a murder rap to keep yo dancin
With a crime record like Charles Manson
AK-47 is the tool
Don't make me act the motherfuckin fool
Me you can go toe to toe, no maybe
I'm knockin niggaz out tha box, daily
Yo weekly, monthly and yearly
Until them dumb motherfuckers see clearly
That I'm down with the capital C-P-T
Boy you can't fuck with me
So when I'm in your neighborhood, you better duck
Coz Ice Cube is crazy as fuck
As I leave, believe I'm stompin
But when I come back, boy, I'm comin Straight Outta Compton
That might not seem much today, but imagine that in 1988. Back then, hip-hop was barely a blip on the radar. The most controversial thing anybody had done in the genre was proclaim it 'the black CNN'. That was Public Enemy, on their debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show. It would be a full year before 2 Live Crew struck one of the most important blows against censorship ever with 'Me So Horny', and would also be a full year before Public Enemy would themselves sample Nelson George's assessment that this album was 'too black, too strong' for MTV. Jesus, at the time, in the UK, the Beastie Boys were considered a massive threat to the nation's youth just because their live show contained a prosthetic pen
In this world, that was - and in many ways, still is - the most incendiary opening verse in history. Hip-hop had never sounded like this before. Public Enemy had expressed controversial opinions, but their beliefs manifested themselves in the same progressive politics and anti-racist polemic as The Clash (a group they acknowledged as an influence). NWA's, however, came through in a blatant, nihilistic disregard for society. Travis Barker has called PE and NWA the most 'punk' bands ever, and he has a point. To draw out the analogy, if Public Enemy were The Clash, NWA were most definitely the Sex Pistols. The divide between the two approaches is STILL around today. You can hear the seed of Public Enemy in Mos Def, The Roots, KRS-One, Common, and even the early works of the Manic Street Preachers - but every time you hear a rapper talking about getting drunk, dismissing women as inferior, or shooting someone, NWA are right there. You can trace the line back, and it stops here, as soon as Dre tells you - 'You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge'. If today's mainstream rap has a textbook, it's this.
And, like most records with that level of influence, it towers over pretty much everything that followed it. This was the only mainstream NWA release that featured Ice Cube, who drives the album lyrically. Dre hadn't come into his own yet, and anyway, he's here mainly as a producer. MC Ren and Eazy-E, while mostly solid, just aren't on Cube's level on this showing. Plus, each of their best moments were written by - surprise! - Ice Cube. Every lyric you'll remember, every verse you'll recite, is Cube's. It's no surprise that the group would effectively die as soon as he left for a solo career - hell, he pretty much killed them himself with the graphic diss track No Vaseline. Express Yourself proves the rule - it appears to show a glimpse of what Dre would become as a lyricist, on tracks such as The Watcher, when he went solo, yet Ice Cube wrote the entire song.
The album's got more strengths than the lyrical impact, too (and luckily, the sense of breaking new ground and making a stand makes those lyrics oddly timeless). The production is pretty much perfect, as well you'd expect from Dr. Dre, and there are regularly incredibly effective instrumental touches that punctuate the vocals. While it might not quite
be up to today's standards - it occasionally seems to be lacking in volume - it not only does the job, it goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Straight Outta Compton isn't as good as the popularity and legacy suggests, mind. If these sorts of things matter to you, then you'll be offended and quite possibly bored by the casual misogyny, and the incitements to violence (occasionally, black-on-black violence). If it doesn't matter to you, then you'll still be disappointed to find that the album suffers from what many hip-hop albums do - inconsistency. It's not as bad as a lot of stuff around (as in, it's not 3 singles and a load of filler), but some songs - Something 2 Dance 2 springs to mind immediately - could easily have been left off. Also, you can't help but want to loop the first three or four songs over and over - they make such an impact, and are just so good, that rather than making you want to listen to the rest of the album, they make you want to listen to them over again.
Those who have buried their heads into progressive underground rap without stopping here first probably won't feel the need to head back. Similarly, those who've completely denounced rap for its musical and lyrical content won't be salivating at the prospect of listening to this. But anyone who wants to understand the mentality of hip-hop, the reason it still strikes such a chord with the youth of today, and wants to understand what it's like to live in the American gutter, needs to know - Straight Outta Compton is essential listening. It was a massive event back in the day, and the shadow of it is still being cast. Maybe the power had dimmed somewhat, maybe it's more 'important' than 'great', and maybe judged away from everything around it it leaves a little to be desired, but this is still a classic.
Within The Genre - 4.5/5
Outside The Genre - 3.5/5
Straight Outta Compton
Incendiary, furious, swaggering, catchy, belligerent - everything an opening track should be. Musically, it remains one of the best rap songs of all time. Oh, and one thing I must point out about this song is the guitar riff - Rage Against The Machine ripped it off in the verse of Take The Power Back.
Fuck Tha Police
One of the most singularly controversial pieces of music ever recorded. Ice Cube's spiteful dismissal of the racism inherent in the police force ('A young ****** got it bad coz I'm brown, and not the other colour, so police think they have the authority to kill a minority!') transcends even the title track.
Dre's solo spot, and a small glimpse of what would come on The Chronic, and 2001. Heavily sampling the classic Charles Wright track, Dre's smooth flow (the easiest on the ear of all the NWA members) makes this track stand out like a sore thumb amongst Straight Outta Compton's mid-section. People approaching NWA after hearing Dre's solo work should start here. Small note: If you own Tony Hawk's Underground, you'll recognize this.