Justice

Why 'Straight Outta Compton' Should Be Required Viewing for Every High School and College Student in America

August 17th 2015

By:
Nev Schulman

I have to confess that before seeing "Straight Outta Compton," I had no idea that N.W.A.’s hit song, “Fuck the Police,” was their response to police forcing them to the ground and harassing them simply for being Black in a predominantly white neighborhood.

The scene takes place outside a recording studio where the members of the group—Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E, MC Ren, Antoine Carraby, Arabian Prince, The DOC—are simply taking a break and getting some fresh air.

It’s infuriating to sit in the audience and watch these young artists who were judged, racially profiled and humiliated in the midst of making one of the seminal albums in the history of hip-hop and perhaps modern day music.

Although we know them now as music industry moguls, entertainment stars, and business tycoons, back then they were a group of poor kids risking it all to choose mics over guns, and the odds were against them.

It’s inspiring to watch how Ice Cube turned his anger and rage over that experience and the many others like it into “Fuck the Police”—a song that would change the course of history. Indeed when it was released in 1988, “Fuck the Police” struck a nerve, and got N.W.A. in a whole lot of trouble with the FBI because it exposed the reality of police brutality and abuse in Compton, and what it meant to be targeted just for being young, Black and male.

"Straight Outta Compton" reminds us exactly what good music is supposed to do: to call attention to issues, tap into an emotional, relatable struggle, and to bring people together. It didn’t matter if you were actually from the streets of Compton or not. The message was loud and clear: racial inequality is not right, and we all need to do something about it.

While l was way too young to comprehend the racial injustices that fueled N.W.A’s 1988 album, and the subsequent riots surrounding the beating of Rodney King, watching "Straight Outta Compton" helped me see that the very same struggle is still playing out today in Ferguson, with Sandra Bland in Texas, and in all the horrifying cell phone videos we see of Black Americans' interactions with law enforcement.

So where are the young Black voices of today? Efforts have been made in the hip-hop community to shed light on many of these issues but sadly they do not always receive the media attention that they deserve.

It’s 25 years later and what song are we still hearing about? "Fuck the Police." We need to figure out how to make more music that provokes change, and resonates in mainstream media.

Here’s one suggestion of how to do that: there’s a beautiful moment towards the end of the movie when the now disbanded members of N.W.A. acknowledge how petty their feuding has been and how important it is for them to support each other.

So to Drake and Meek Mill, instead of releasing “diss songs” over whose lyrics are better, why not put that energy towards standing up for the people who buy your music? You’re so worried about defending your lyrics against each other when you should be focused on those lyrics being the voice for one another.

If we want more music that incites positive change we need to stop fighting each other and start fighting the real enemies: ignorance and injustice.

The measure of success shouldn’t be how many expensive cars and half-naked women you can put in your music videos, but rather how much cultural relevance and lasting societal impact you can claim. In the words of Dead Prez, "Would you rather have a Lexus or justice?"

So go see this movie. Not because you’re a fan of N.W.A. necessarily but because it’s a story about friendship, passion, and the ability for anybody from anywhere to overcome unfairness, obstacles, and ignorance to achieve their dreams.

Here’s who’s getting it right and speaking up:

In his lyrics and video for “Alright,” another Compton native, Kendrick Lamar, reveals the struggle to live and survive discrimination.

In one recent hip-hop response to police violence, in T.I.’s “New American Anthem” featuring Skyler Grey, the Houston rapper calls out the reality of our music culture, America’s real relationship with guns and what it really feels like to be a Black man living in the U.S.

“I know radio prolly ain’t going to play this… but chopper going off in the hood like Afghanistan or the Gaza strip somewhere man.”

Rapper Vince Staples addresses ongoing violence in his song “Hands Up,” calling out Long Beach and Los Angeles police departments, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the fear that exists as part of the Black experience, particularly when it comes to traffic stops.

North Division tryin' to stop my blackness/
I'm watchin' for them badges when out in traffic/
Them 9-11's been a tad bit frantic/
If lights start flashin', please don't panic

After Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, rapper The Game released “Don’t Shoot,” a strong set of verses with lyrics from 2 Chainz, Curren$y, Diddy, Fabolous, Wale, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, Yo Gotti, Problem, King Pharoah, and recording group TGT. The lyrics reflect the artists' response to Michael Brown and the greater #BlackLivesMatter movement.

“God ain’t put us on the earth to get murdered.”

“So it’s time to come together, use our voice as a weapon. I am Michael Brown, cause I stand for what he stand for. News say we’re looting, paint pictures like we some animals. On my NWA CMG, Holl’in’ “Rest in peace Eazy and fuck the police.”

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