Straight Outta Compton is as American as you can get. It’s a rags-to-riches story, a story of going from ghetto to ghetto fabulous to, in some cases, fabulously rich. It’s also a very realistic chronicle of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Indeed it is an American story of young Black boys who made it out and got rich by simply telling the story of their lives and their environment. But in telling that story they unwittingly glorified it. They exposed folks to a lifestyle and the way some Black folks were living without offering introspection. No outs were offered, no way of redemption was given. It was just raw — this is how it is, and we gonna party to it.
I went on opening day because, like a lot of other folks, I wanted to give props to the Black movie. And without missing a beat it opened with a racist taint. Universal stepped on its toes by announcing it would provide security for theater companies across the U.S., but that proposal turned reality on its head. The movie theater psychopaths have all been White, from New Orleans to Denver.
Straight Outta Compton shows the violence that defines the U.S. and its disdain for Black people. We see an America whose police beat Rodney King for all the world to sees, and even the violence of the corporate music scene, which has historically ripped off artists — especially Black artists.
When Ice Cube said that his rhymes were reality rap, that was true for the most part. In fact, the movie puts the viewer right in the middle of their world when the tank-like battering ram smashed in the front door of a drug den and actually hits someone. Somebody watching the movie with me asked if that happened — yes, that happened.
On some level the movie has us laughing at our pain. It’s right that on some level our pain has become amusement. The truth is, ghettoized, drug- and violence-infested Compton should not have existed, and Compton should not exist today. The fact that we analyze and look at it, without talking about changing it, speaks volumes to what this society has so subtly done to our natural instincts of empathy.
The fact that a group of young men, and hundreds since, have made money and entertained us with our wretchedness is amazing. This ain’t entertainment. Black folks talking about killing one another in the vilest of ways is not entertainment. Threatening to make another Black person a chalk outline, or to lay them down or make their bodies cold is not entertainment. It’s not life!
Bragging about how much money we made off exploiting our fellow human beings, through selling her what we know is poison, is not and should not be considered entertainment. It may be art, but it is not entertainment. Rapping about killing a woman because she is fat or because she snitched or just because you don’t like her is not entertainment.
And let me be absolutely clear: N.W.A. and gangsta rappers are not the reason we are in the condition we are in today. They merely are the transmitters. It is this sociopolitical economic system that has created the conditions too many Black people live under: second-class public education, discrimination against Black jobseekers, over incarcerating Black people — especially young Black people — aggressively enforcing and over enforcing the law, a biased justice system, unfair banking.
“To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours,” said Ava DuVarnay who directed the movie Selma. And she goes on to call it a “curious thing.”
But it has to become more than a curious thing. Women can’t keep shaking their heads and letting it go. It’s like racism and White supremacy, if we just view it with wonder it won’t change. Working to change it, changes it.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to email@example.com.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.