Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Six Things Missing From Straight Outta Compton


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. Women
In 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.


16 comments:

  1. That's one of the things into why I had been reluctant about seeing the film in the theaters was the lack of a major part on MC Ren who was probably one of the finest MCs ever and certainly should've gotten more attention for his work with the group. It's also easy to forget about Arabian Prince as it seems like he was just another guy but as I recall, he also did some of the writing into their songs.

    This is often why I'm a bit skeptical about seeing bio-pics about those I know about as it tends to distract you from what really happened and such. That is why I hold a film like 24 Hour Party People, about Factory Records and the bands it spawned like Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays, in such high regard was that it played with the scenario of what is real and what is dramatized. The best example of that blur is where the Tony Wilson character catches his wife having sex with Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks in a bathroom. Just as Wilson walks out, the other person in the rumor is a janitor played by the real Howard Devoto who says "I don't remember any of this happening". Wilson then says that what really happened wasn't true but he then stays "but I agree with John Ford, if you're going to print something. Print the legend".

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    1. Wow. That's quite the story. I haven't seen 24 Hour Party People. I have heard of it and had no idea it was based on a true story. I'll have to check that out, now.

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  2. I've only really recently watched Straight Outta Compton and, whilst I enjoyed it (I knew little to nothing about NWA going in, though my boyfriend is a fan) I had the reviews I had read in the back of my mind saying it was a squeaky clean version of the truth, unfortunately this is all too often the case when people being portrayed in the film are producers, too.

    Also, I second 24 Hour Party People, it's set in my home town Manchester in the UK :) though it's timeline of events has been rehashed so whilst it highlights the ugly truths of 'only hearing one side of the story' but completely washes over its own decisions of modifying the story.

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    1. Who the producers are is a very important factor. Everyone likes to make themselves look good, I suppose.

      I will try to make a point to see 24 Hour Party People. Thanks.

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  3. Great review, Dell. I love your insite on the subject. I keep hearing how great this is, and I want to see it, but I also read the complaints (especially from Dre's victims) that the film didn't portray them accurately. It's hard with these kind of biopics. You'd think, given the subject, they'd maybe want to go a little harder, but apparently the heroic angle you mention got in the way of that.

    I'll still give it a try, though.

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    1. Like Rebecca said, it's important to note that Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are among the film's producers, so this was never going to be some hard-hitting expose. It's amazing it turned out as well as it did. That said, my review that focuses on the film as it is posted yesterday. Hope you get a chance to read that.

      Great to see you "out" man!

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  4. Yeah, I would not have known about Arabian Prince. I remember a lot of people talking about the Dre beating on women thing being left out. That story (and MC Ren and Eazy's comments on the matter) are disgusting. I can see why they didn't include it. Can't have your protagonists doing something like that.

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    1. Yeah, including that would have instantly made Dre a person to loathe, not root for. Same for Eazy and Ren's comments. And poor Arabian Prince, written out almost all together.

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  5. I've seen the film and your article gives interesting context. I knew about 5 and 6. 1-4 are new to me.

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    1. Cool. I'm always down to educate someone.

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  6. Very interesting read Dell! I had always thought that the one problem with the movie would be that they paint the group in too positive a light, when they weren't exactly innocent all the time. All interesting points though, my favourite?

    "MC Ren was much more important to the group's success than let on."

    Oh AMEN to that bud, I remember I used to say that in school and people would say, 'who?'. Sad :(

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    1. The movie definitely shines a positive light on everything, but it's still a good film.

      And yes to MC Ren.

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  7. Right you are.
    Only the famous ones were worth remembering, and only in the best light.
    Still, I can't help but like this film.

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  8. "No sense in unearthing those demons, I guess." I don't know....the movie kind of portrayed him as this great guy, and while his work is great, his personal diminishes that guise.

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    1. That's exactly why it wasn't included. Dre was one of the producers.

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