Friday, March 27, 2015

Video of The Week: N.W.A.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Eazy-E's passing (yesterday was the actual date), a victim of AIDS, a year before Tupac Shakur was shot down, in a down period for Snoop Doggy Dogg, at a time where Death Row Records were getting more recognition for their ''street work'' than their art, marking a decline in California/West Coast hip hop that would take years to get back on its feet.

And while rap originated from the streets of New York and was brought to the mainstream via Grandmaster Flash and Sugarhill Gang, then elevated to high art by the likes of Public Enemy (who gave it political legitimacy), it was West Coast rap that put a real sense of danger and impending doom to the old, white male politicians and their wives (hello, Tipper Gore).

And at the forefront of their fear was what would later emerge as having been a supergroup because most of its members had successful solo careers afterwards, N.W.A. - Niggaz With Attitudez. They were stirring shit up when they were underground and just playing shows and releasing mixtapes circa 1986-88, but when they released Straight Outta Compton on August 8th, 1988, it really hit the fan. Profanity-laced, talking about the violence that was actually happening in the streets of Los Angeles, with real and smart rhymes about the social divide between races and of people in a position of authority versus the poor, taking the word ''nigger'' that white policemen were screaming at black kids back with a vengeance - a real, actual call for vengeance, because if the song Straight Outta Compton is an introduction to their world, Fuck Tha Police is direct in its intention.

It was pure of heart, and it was genuine, and it was genius. The words Ice Cube wrote for himself as well as for Eazy-E (the group's leader, a terrific showman and personality but sub-par writer) and Dr. Dre (a master producer), and those MC Ren and Yella wrote themselves hit White America and the Establishment in the face, with nothing but the cold, hard truth. They were Bob Dylan, they were John Lennon, but they were angry, and without them there probably could never have been a Tupac, or a Rage Against The Machine, or a System Of A Down.

The Man tried to kill the movement with ''Parental Advisory'' stickers on their tapes and records, but the trials and news coverage led to exactly the opposite of what the narrow-minded politicians had hoped for: instead of ''protecting'' their children from the ''threat'' of angry rap, it just drove suburban kids to buy more of it, and thus began a cultural shift that is still (very slowly) taking place in the States. It's as if these politicians didn't recall when their own grandparents called Elvis Presley ''the Devil's music'' and how that just gave him more traction. Except this time, Elvis was a black man with a gun. (And, like Elvis, Ice Cube did gain some weight and go on to make terrible films; in his defense, his music has remained relevant pretty much the whole time, though).

So here's their introduction to the world, their calling card, if you will, directed by Rupert Wainwright:

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