In August 1988 NWA released ‘Straight Outta Compton’ on Ruthless Records. A mere 4 months after Public Enemy had dropped the greatest Hip Hop album of all time (It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back) NWA somehow moved rap on even further.
Well, I say moved on – but it was more like one huge step forward and one step back.
Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Yella, MC Ren and ridiculously great production from Dr. Dre gave Hip Hop it’s most assured sound yet.
Straight Outta Compton with its character galore had the vibe of real dangerous rock n’ roll. Word of mouth spread like wildfire and the album with no real commercial push went overground rapidly. The outfit sure seemed like the real deal. I can recall an interview with NWA in the UK music press and the interviewer suggested they were the Hip Hop Sex Pistols – the reply was “Who are they?”
So, in August 1988 a mate called round with the album in a HMV carrier bag. He pulled off the cellophane and three of us listened as he just put the record on the turntable.
The album opener Straight Outta Compton literally just blew you totally away. ‘You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge’. The production was deep yet crisp. The album was funky yet hard and crazy as fuck. MC’s switching the mic only upped the tune. Light funky guitar licks split Ice Cube, MC Ren and the ultra depraved sounding Eazy-E. The tone in Eazy- E’s voice suggests he is not rapping with his tongue in his cheek. The track is driven forwards constantly, the threat is tangible. Hip Hop just went somewhere new.
Fuck Tha Police then only goes further still. Solid sounds and Ice Cube’s intro suggest to your ears that the group have no boundaries. MC Ren adds more explicit rants and the funk licks away in the background. For a band like the Dead Kennedys to fold under pressure a few years prior made one think ‘can they actually get away with this?’ Again Eazy-E goes the furthest, guns, violence and the boldest of anti-police songs ever recorded see you scratch you head and just wonder.
Gangsta, Gangsta continues the vibe and delivery of the two album stormers. ‘Do I look like a mutha-fuckin’ role model?’ The track breaks down with a glorious hip hop squeal as Eazy-E take the mic. No music had sounded like this back in ’88. Public Enemy had the brains but NWA had the brawn.
On first listen in ’88 three bemused 18 year olds in Birmingham scratched their heads as track three ended. What were we hearing? Was this the best album of all-time right before us? We’d missed out on Punk due to age but this was right here right now even if it was reflecting Compton.
Sadly. No. The album falls down quite spectacularly. 8 fillers and 2 okay songs (Express Yourself and Dopeman) pad out the rest of Straight Outta Compton. NWA just cannot keep the quality of the three astonishing album openers up.
This ‘problem’ did not stop the key tracks becoming a musical backdrop to the tail end of Summer and beyond.
Had the quality of the first three tracks been maintained for the albums entire duration the record would be one of the best albums of all-time. That said, it still was, and is -a gamechanger of very high order.