Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Album | 8 July 1989

Ruthless / Priority

The sleeve of NWA's “Straight Outta Compton” depicts one of the members of this Los Angeles rap group pointing a pistol at the camera. It’s a slightly fuzzy shot, maybe because the photographer couldn’t stop his hands trembling. NWA, you see, proudly describe themselves as “crazy as fuck” and give thanks to “all the gangsters, dope dealers, criminals, thieves, vandals, villians, thugs, hoodlums, killers...”. Their hip hop makes Public Enemy, Schoolly D and Just-Ice sound like nervous playgroup minders. One track is entitled “Fuck Tha Police”. NWA stands for Niggers With Attitude.

It’s rough stuff from the opening title track as Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren take turns to stake their claim as the most dangerous, ruthless and foul-mouthed gang in Compton, the south-central ghetto district of their home city. And with lines like “Squeeze the trigger and the bodies are hauled off / You too boy if you fuck with me”, it's perhaps wise not to argue. Their obsession with Uzis, AK-47s, 12-guages and sawn-offs – “If you want some of this then you’re a stupid motherfucker” – is constantly in evidence.

Although the savage rhymes of “Fuck Tha Police” (“A young nigga on the warpath / And when I’ve finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath”) is an obvious talking point, their case against the LAPD is more than just a series of threats and curses. Bowled against a heavy funk rumpus peppered with squeals and sirens, Ice Cube’s testimony is based on the fact that he’s forever being wrongly accused of dealing in narcotics just because he’s a teenager with a radio pager.

The more musically orderly “I Ain’t Tha 1” attacks girls who promise sexual favours in return for money, “Compton’s In The House” disses wack rappers who falsely claim to hail from their area (“Get the fuck outta my face / Knowing that they never even seen the place”) and “Dopeman”, an evil pump, is an anti-crack song. With “Gangsta Gangsta” and other tracks, the focus of their anger is less specific, but this is not to suggest that NWA’s hatred is purely arbitrary. Nor is it necessarily determined by sex, colour or creed. They may be pro-black, but there is no indication they separatists.

Instead, it’s a question of giving and taking, of commanding respect – and NWA are aware that arrogance and belligerence gives them only a temporary advantage. Their music, courtesy of Dr Dre and DJ Yella, adds commendably inventive twitches to the hip hop beats. “Parental Discretion Iz Advised” is a loose, loping funk, a jazzy piano jostling the casually roaming bass, while “I Ain’t Tha 1” features a perky plucking of orchestral strings. The brassy bubble of “Express Yourself” could almost have appeared on De La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising”.

There’s plenty of humour here too – “We didn’t get no play from the ladies / Well, six niggas in a car, are you crazy?!” – and most of it is bawdy to the point of being positively pornographic. Especially when it comes to girls in bicycle shorts. NWA also give a hilarious demonstration of a wack rhyme. Which, not surprisingly, is followed by a vicious verbal assault.

Having achieved platinum status in America and been one of the biggest selling import albums this year, “Straight Outta Compton” will shortly be rush released in Britain. Buy it now or place an advance order, but make sure that you have this LP in your possession before the end of the month. Steal a copy if you have to.

A real motherfucker for ya.

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