I opened my review of Straight Outta Compton by saying it was one of the hardest I've ever had to write. The problem is I'm pretty familiar with the history of the group as a whole and a number of the people depicted individually. As with any biopic, there are lots of things missing. Some of them would have improved the movie, others not so much. Other things might not have made a difference, but seemed to be holes in the narrative to someone in my position. Here are some of those things.
1. Raids like the one depicted in the movie were commonplace in the greater Los Angeles area at the time.The opening scene shows the police driving a tank with a battering ram down the middle of a Compton street and then destroying the house where Eazy was conducting a drug deal. The thing is, this happened quite often in that part of the country. All police needed was "suspicion" that the inhabitants of said house was dealing drugs. There weren't always warrants issued and the cops didn't always have the right house. It was part of the War on Drugs, but went completely out of control under then Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates. The LAPD was notoriously violent toward young Black and Latino men and seemingly made all of them, "persons of interest" for their alleged involvement in crime. I thought this should have played a larger part in the early parts of the film as it would have further bolstered the heroic angle the film was going for.
2. Dr. Dre and DJ Yella were once part of an R&B/electro-funk group.The film features a nightclub owner named Alonzo, played by Corey Reynolds, who mandates his employees to where shiny jackets and not play any of that "hardcore shit." The part that's left out is that it was at Alonzo's club earlier in the decade that a group he put together made their debut, The World Class Wreckin' Cru. They not only wore shiny jackets, but some extraordinarily shiny suits. And Dr. Dre and DJ Yella were prominent members. The group released two moderately successful albums before disbanding. Doesn't quite fit Dre's hardcore image, now does it?
3. There were actually six members of the group when the album "Straight Outta Compton" was released.The movie doesn't make this clear. It plucks along with the five guys the world would come to know as N.W.A., Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. In the film only three of them matter. That choice makes sense since that's largely how it's been in the public's perception for a really long time. However, that original album cover can be seen in the film, and just above this entry. On it six dudes can clearly be seen. Count 'em. Who's that last dude? That would be Arabian Prince. If you can't pick him out, he's the one in the 10 o'clock position. He helped found the group back in 1986. What happened to him? One Mr. Ice Cube happened. To expand on that, Cube came home from school, he was away at the Phoenix Institute of Technology. Though he was with the group when the album dropped, it was clear there was just no need for him. Apparently, Prince also had some problems with Jerry Heller (portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film). Arabian Prince went to a forgettable solo career and spent a lot of time as a DJ. He actually is a character in the movie, played by Brandon Lafourche according to the credits. However, I don't remember him ever being referenced by name or having a speaking part.
4. MC Ren was much more important to the group's success than let on.Completely skipped over is the fact that Eazy released a solo album prior to "SOC" called "Eazy-Duz-It." that had a number of songs that became gangsta-rap classics including the songs "Eazy-Duz-It" and "We Want Eazy" While it is true that the album's biggest hit, "Boyz-n-the-Hood" which we're shown coming to life in the studio during the film, was written by Ice Cube, he would only pen three of the album's twelve tracks. The rest were written by MC Ren and/or The D.O.C., hence the reason he was always around the group in the film. On the titular "Straight Outta Compton" Ren either wrote or co-wrote eight of the thirteen tracks, same as Ice Cube. This includes all of his own lyrics plus a healthy portion of Eazy's and Dre's, also same as Cube. The D.O.C., by the way, released a hit album of his own, 1989's "No One Can Do It Better." The car accident that lands him in the hospital in the movie happened just five months after its release and crushed his larynx, effectively ending his career, though he would release another album in 1996.
5. N.W.A. dealt with charges of misogyny as much as they did the F.B.I.Obviously, this was kind of hard to blend into a heroic narrative since there was no way to make the group victims in this case. However, this was indeed a reality as this the group largely responsible for the proliferation of the word bitch as a general description of women in hip hop culture, and more recently pop culture. It didn't help the group that the answers they gave when questioned on this were less than gratifying. Leaving this stuff out, however, is not the worst of it. It leads to (or goes hand-in-hand with) something far more damning...
6. Dr. Dre vs. WomenIn the movie, we see Dre deal with three women. One is his mother, one is a groupie, and sandwiched between them is a vindictive baby-mama trying to stand in the way of his movie career. We're also shown Ice Cube and the remaining members of N.W.A. having some beef after Cube's departure from the group. What's missing is the collateral damage from this little war. During a TV interview with video show host Dee Barnes, Ice Cube said some disparaging words about his former bandmates. They took it as the host taking Cube's side. Dr. Dre approached Barnes at a record release party and summarily beat the shit out of her. She filed criminal charges and a civil lawsuit against him. Dre pleaded no contest to the criminal part. He was then fined, put on probation, and made to do an anti-violence PSA. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. You can read her story by clicking here. Around this same time, Dre was married to a young singer named Michel'le. She has a powerful singing voice that doesn't seem like it could possibly come out of the same person since she sounds like a squeaky-voiced cartoon character when she speaks. Dre produced a couple hits for her. They divorced after eight years and one child together. She has since gone on record saying Dre physically and mentally abused her, including breaking her nose and ribs. Not very heroic stuff. However, the passage of time and the magnitude of Dre's star-power has completely overshadowed these events. After all, this is a guy who has taken over the world three times (N.W.A., "The Chronic," and Beats by Dre). No sense in unearthing those demons, I guess.
No biopic is a flawless depiction of the lives of its subjects. It's an impossible thing to expect. I haven't written this to put a damper on your enjoyment of the film, either. Taken on its own merit, Straight Outta Compton is a really good movie. It quickly gets us on the side of the group by giving us compelling reasons to be there. To paraphrase my own review, who doesn't want to root for someone who's being persecuted for no good reason? The film runs with this sentiment and is better for it.
On the other hand, as a person who's been involved in hip hop culture to varying degrees for my entire life, these were things felt like they were missing from the story. They didn't keep me from enjoying the film. I liked it very much. They just bothered me enough that I had to do what I do in such situations: write about it.