Released almost 31 years ago in 1988, N.W.A.’s seminal debut, Straight Outta Compton, is a visceral interpretation of a generation, a people, a region, a lifestyle and a genre that took the globe by storm, led by seven fearless young men from a part of the country nobody wanted to discuss: the hood.
In the 1980s we had never thought that rap would be such an important display of social commentary, and I don’t think we’ve used the medium as well since.
Despite the title track’s prominence, a lot of the best moments of this album have been lost to time, social politics and suburban popularity. From MC Ren’s depiction of a self-consuming anti-Reaganomics community in “Compton’s N the House,” Ice Cube ‘s gut-punching narrative of an autonomous Central Los Angeles lifestyle in “I Ain’t Tha One,” DJ Yella’s hyped-up funk on “Parental Discretion Iz Advised” and Dr. Dre’s smooth synth jazz on “If It Ain’t Ruff,” to every hard-to-swallow line of Eazy-muthafuckin-E are emblematic of what we now consider West Coast rap.
This album is near and dear to my heart. It evokes a sensation of strong emotional angst, as well as secular spiritual nostalgia for Western America. My personal favorite is Dre’s tongue-in-cheek “Express Yourself,” a humorous analysis of the past, present and future of hip-hop and the decline of ethnic tradition. He couldn’t have been more right.
Straight Outta Compton is not a story, it’s a statement. It turned the industry on its head, ruffled feathers at the F.B.I. and coined the phrase “Fuck Tha Police,” which incited riots and united rival gangs with a mindset best described by the name of their record company: Ruthless.
Straight Outta Compton will go down as the single most integral album in the chronicle of gangsta rap, and one of the most iconic albums in hip-hop history.
Listen to: “Straight Outta Compton,” “Express Yourself,” “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”
Kiefer is a writer, musician and zealous record collector. He started hoarding vinyl because mp3s weren’t convenient enough, cassettes were too expensive, and he couldn’t turn a CD over. The soundtrack of his life is chronicled every week as #KiefersMusicMondays on Instagram (@key_fur). Currently residing in Lubbock, TX—home of Buddy Holly—he’s an avid music enthusiast by day and a mixologist by night, fighting the good fight for all things artistic. He started writing for MMC in 2019.