Forthright: How 'Straight Outta Compton' Promotes Self-Empowered Black Men
The assertive nature of the Black male specimen is put on full display in the film Straight Outta Compton. By the standards of Western, action, and war films, which convey the testosterone driven white male specimen, this film (a Western of a different sort) pushes the limits of displaying overpowering young African American men. And more power to the director F. Gary Gray for showcasing this in the talents of the leads who carry the picture. What the movie portrays is the convergence of race, youth, money, and fame. Furthermore, the greatest highlights remain the ideas which the filmmakers imbue in Compton. Betrayal, bad business deals, honor, loyalty and the power of friendship, making it, losing, and rediscovering it, all play out here. As the the story of the triumvirate of O'Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, Eric Lynn “Eazy-E” Wright, and Andre Romelle “Dr. Dre” Young remain clear, what is dealt with in lesser terms are the tales of Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby and especially one of the greatest rappers Lorenzo Jerald “MC Ren” Patterson. Also, the film manages to touch on the antagonism of cops high on authority. This notion resonates with audiences as news services of the current day dish out seemingly on a regular basis the brutality of the boys in blue. This film shows the genius of a group of Black men who used their experiences to craft art which speaks truths.
So what it is that makes Wright’s story as compelling as it is? It is his relationship with music manager and businessman Gerald E. “Jerry” Heller which drives the plot of the film. Wright’s acuity and determination propel Niggaz wit’ Attitude (NWA) on their ascent to greater artistic heights. On the occasion of their business meetings, Heller and Wright lay out a financial plan for the rap group to garner cash for their efforts. The Heller/Wright relationship leads to animosity and fighting from within as the two hash out NWA’s finances. All this does is inspire Jackson and Young to leave the group and go on to multi-million dollar fortunes on solo terms. And in the wake of their departures, Carraby and Patterson see their roles diminish as they become the background players in the vicious game of rap supremacy. Ever the quiet mastermind, Young devised a plan to produce for some of the genre’s biggest names including Marshall “Eminem” Mathers and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. His deal with Apple Inc. generated $3 billion dollars and increased Young’s net worth by millions. Jackson released critically acclaimed albums and went on to succeed in Hollywood with a string of dramas and comedies. Not to mention, he produced this film along with others. While these two enjoyed achievement in the mainstream, Carraby sought riches within the adult film world having produced and/or directed hundreds of videos within this genre. Patterson, an apt rapper with a straightforward and blunt style, still creates music with his own label Villain Entertainment and has dabbled in filmmaking as well. As these two artists received little shine within the film, their contributions to the realm of hip hop remain significant. But Wright was the force behind NWA’s monumental success. His status as the head of the group belied his adequate skills on the microphone. His rhymes, though not as tight as his counterparts, still held weight. Throughout the movie, Wright is shown as a smart businessman who takes his role as the Black musician getting taken advantage of by a Jewish manager. This is a well-worn trope within entertainment that the “greedy” Jews are out for only their “gold” and will lie, cheat, and steal to get their way. There is of course some truth to the fact that Black artists have been maltreated by their white and especially Jewish managers and record and club owners. The play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) by August Wilson and the Spike Lee’s film Mo’ Better Blues (1990) represent two examples of this negative portrayal of whites and Jews within the entertainment industry. Jackson takes the level of rage against the white/Jewish machine up a few notches as he forcibly smashes gold and platinum recording plaques in the office of Bryan Turner, president of Priority Records. This animus towards the record companies, club owners, and managers can be construed as modern day slavery. The white “master” is the controller of the Black “slave” whipping him or her into playing instruments, rapping songs, or dancing for pennies. Wright’s uneasiness surrounding the events of Heller not paying them properly and allegedly embezzling funds from the group prompts him to cease his involvement with Heller.
Give the Producer Some
Marion Hugh “Suge” Knight Jr.’s role as strongman and label owner is perhaps the most distressing depiction within the film. His draconian demeanor puts a damper on some of the more euphoric moments within Compton. That’s why toward the end Young parts ways with the music executive. Young’s Aftermath Entertainment was a fitting title to address the fallout following his time at Death Row Records. With Wright’s illness, the picture shifts to a somber reflective vehicle for he and Young to patch up old wounds. Though the facts around the meeting of Young and Wright while he was bed-ridden with complications from HIV are dubious, the film brings out emotions relating to time lost, camaraderie repaired, and intentions to reconnect. Though Wright died at a young age, his legacy exemplifies the impact that his words and works made upon America and the world. Without his insight and foresight into the business of music, there may have never been an NWA, or a west coast hip hop scene, or gangsta rap. While some may decry such creations as misogynistic, violent, anti-Semitic, vulgar and downright wicked, the creators have championed free speech. That’s a feat. No matter the amounts of explicit lyrics within their message, the goal apparently was to shock and create cognitive dissonance. For in these days of uncertainty and incessant wars over words, Compton represents the collection of African American men who charted a course of self-discovery and street knowledge. Their efforts to broadcast to the planet their woes and wins and to bring to light the oppressive nature of law enforcement highlight their talents. By overlooking some of the flaws within Young and his history of abusing women, the filmmakers may have misstepped. But overall, the film portrays accurately the lives of those exhibited. Not only the likeness but the embodiment of the spirit of NWA reflects well on the cast. Their offerings ought to be lauded for their candor, close-to-life portrait and for understanding the full mental faculties of these proficient Black men. NWA’s placement within hip hop history is evident. What is even more pertinent is their role in touching the lives of those without the hip hop genre. Their songs reverberate the notions of being on guard against cop cruelty. Their songs can bring together gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips in order to bond in unity. The film shows that this is possible. May this bit of rationality reign in the minds of everyone fortunate of listening to an NWA song.