N.W.A.: Still The World's Most Dangerous Group
Last summer, the biopic "Straight Outta Compton" was released in theaters across the country. The movie is one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. It was the #1 movie in America for three weeks in a row quickly grossing over $100 million within this time span. The opening weekend total ($60 million) marked the fifth-most largest August opening in Hollywood. It was just released on DVD and Blu-Ray Tuesday, and it also just received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film tells the story of the rise and fall of the hardcore hip-hop group N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) during their height from the mid '80s to the mid '90s. The group consisted of the late Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella. Some people feel that they're the pioneers that put "Gangsta Rap" on the map. The film's title is the namesake of the group's 1988 classic debut album. The album had hits such as "Straight Outta Compton", "Gangsta Gangsta" and "Dopeman (Remix)." But, the one song would not only put a stamp on these artists' legacies, but it would put a stamp on hip-hop. When N.W.A.'s classic single "Fuck Tha Police" hit the airwaves across the country in 1988, the controversy spread like wildfire. Law enforcement officials and other critics accused N.W.A. of promoting and glorifying violence against law enforcement officers. This song paved the way for the "underground classic", where a song receives little-to-any radio play or even a video made for the song.
But this underground classic was about to become crossover hit because of the fans. The song itself received little radio airplay due to the lyrics; an Australian radio station played the song for six months before the station's management ordered the station to ban the song from its rotation. Also, there was no music video made for the song. But, back at home the group would face the most resistance to their song from one of the highest places in the U.S. Government. Something that had never to any musical artists. The FBI sent out a letter to the group's label Ruthless Records (which was owned by Eazy-E and Jerry Heller) and their distributor label Priority Records.
In August 1989, Milt Ahlerich, the then-Assistant Director of the FBI office Public of Affairs, wrote a one-page letter to both companies heavily criticizing the song. He didn't listen to the entire song, but had the lyrics sent to him by law enforcement officers. Ahlerich criticized that "Fuck Tha Police" and N.W.A. were advocating violence against law enforcement. Police officers refused to provide the group security for their concerts, which hindered their tour plans. N.W.A. didn't respond to Ahlerich's criticism, or the letter to them and their record companies...except one: MC Ren. He became heavily frustrated over the criticism that group and their song have received. He defended the song's message and the group's stance on telling violent stories to Melody Maker not long after they received the letter, "The FBI claim that 'F--k tha Police' incites violence and has been responsible for the death of police officers is bullshit. There was violence long before NWA came along, the same as there was profanity, and there'll be violence and profanity long after we've gone. If the FBI are looking for a cause of violence, they should take note of what's on TV."
Ice Cube also defended that the song as a "documentary" of their experiences of growing up in L.A. At the time, many L.A. inner cities were experiencing extreme racial profiling and massive gang sweeps at the time by LAPD. Some residents were beaten, wrongfully arrested, had drugs planted on them and some were even killed. They also introduced Batter Ram, which was a tank rolled through neighborhoods and bulldozed its way into houses. This was all in the effort to fight "The War on Drugs" and crackdown on gangs under the administration of Chief Darryl Gates. But, Ren and Cube wasn't alone, there were First Amendment activists and a certain member of Congress strongly felt that the FBI was out of bounds for mailing the letter.
Former California House of Representatives Don Edwards (D-San Jose), who was also the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights came to the group's defense and panned the FBI's letter. He adamantly commented to the Los Angeles Times, "The FBI should stay out of the business of censorship." Edwards felt that the FBI infringed upon N.W.A.'s First Amendment rights when the letter was sent. The letter wasn't a set back for the group, it was a badge of honor. It wasn't controversy to them, it was publicity. But, the group also used the letter as a platform to show the world how the government was censoring their free speech. Sales for "Straight Outta Compton" shot up the charts even more, and the mainstream couldn't ignore N.W.A. anymore. They finally had their videos played on MTV.
Before the group finally enjoyed mainstream success, N.W.A. pegged themselves "The World's Most Dangerous Group." They gave themselves the name because of their gritty, honest lyrics and their unapologetic point of views on cops, politics and even misogyny. And, the mainstream definitely felt that their views were dangerous to them. Over two decades later, N.W.A. is still the world's most dangerous group, not because of their lyrics they spoke on the mic; because of their impact. When you are the top of your game it's not about what you do during you're reign, but the impact you leave after your reign is over. Just like Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Bill Cosby impacted comedy, and Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson impacted basketball; N.W.A. impacted hip-hop and their influence is still felt today. They have influenced many artists such as Snoop, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, J. Cole, The Game and many more. They were the first group that made it cool for artists to say what they feel with no apologies. Also, they've introduced Snoop, Eminem, 50 Cent, Mack 10 and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony to the world. N.W.A. also launched Ice Cube's burgeoning movie career, spawned Dr. Dre's lucrative "Beats By Dre" headphone franchise, Eazy-E and MC Ren's solo careers and even DJ Yella's career as an adult film director.
Plus, their content is the soundtrack to many issues that are just as relevant today as they were in the '80s. Issues such as police brutality, drugs, poverty, violence and police corruption are still problems in America, especially now due to the recent news of police killing or injuring unarmed civilians. No one really started paying attention to the issues N.W.A. were addressing until the Rodney King beating video and the 1992 L.A. uprising. As a kid, that was the first time I had ever seen the police mistreating a citizen. But, people are now starting to see the issues unfold and they're taking them seriously thanks to technology and social media. N.W.A. gave a voice to millions of people who felt voiceless. They weren't glorifying violence or negativity, they wanted the world to pay attention to the reality that they were growing up in, which had been ignored for many years by the mainstream media. With their music, they got the world's attention to their reality, and the world couldn't help but listen whether they loved the music or hated the music. Now, the world is about to be see this group's story told on the big screen.
Hochman, Steve. "Compton Rappers Versus the Letter of the Law : FBI Claims Song by N.W.A. Advocates Violence on Police." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 5 October 1989. Web. 10 August 2015.
"N.W.A. Interview." Pushstuff. Melody Maker, 5 August 1989. Web. 10 August 2015.