Here are five interesting facts you should know about seminal West Coast rap collective N.W.A before watching their highly anticipated biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton.’
The F. Gary Gray-directed biopic about West Coast hip-hop collective N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton, will be making its big screen debut this Friday. The film hones in on the five individuals from Compton, California – Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and later MC Ren – who revolutionized music and pop culture forever by offering an insider’s perspective on the violence and brutality of gang-ridden South Central L.A. With tracks like “Fuck tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” set in a chaotic whirlwind of siren and gunshot sounds, the group’s double-platinum certified debut album – Straight Outta Compton – also foreshadowed the 1992 LA riots. While any hip-hop fan worth his or her salt knows how N.W.A played a fundamental role in bringing gangsta rap to the mainstream, the rest of the group’s story might not be remembered so vividly.
So before you head to the cinema, get some backstory on N.W.A by checking out these five interesting facts below.
A Swap Meet Marked the Birthplace of N.W.A
Similar to a flea market, a swap meet is a place where people come to buy, sell and or trade various goods. Often established in lower-income neighborhoods, young music fans flocked to these markets to satiate their appetites for new tunes at bargain prices. But it was one particular swap meet at the abandoned drive-in theater in Gardena – the Roadium – where Eazy-E frequented that marked the birthplace of N.W.A. After listening to a 12″ he copped by Dr. Dre’s former rap outfit World Class Wreckin’ Cru, Eazy, who was impressed by the album, reportedly reached out to the store’s proprietor until he brokered a call with Dre, which soon lead to the formation of Ruthless Records and N.W.A.
Straight Outta Compton Only Cost $12,000 to Make (And Wasn’t Funded With Drug Money)
The so-called “gangsta” roots of N.W.A’s members has long been called into question, but the group’s principal founder Eazy-E’s notorious drug dealing background boosted his street cred to a cut above the others. Though urban legend holds that the money earned from Eazy’s days of pushing played a seminal role in kickstarting N.W.A’s production, the rapper’s Ruthless Records co-founder Jerry Heller claimed that the first money “slugged” into Ruthless Records was his own $250,000, and that the group’s 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton was recorded for a mere $12,000. In his 2006 memoir Ruthless, Heller, who cut ties with the group in 1991, revealed that Eazy’s drug dealer guise was mainly employed as a survival mechanism in his native Compton, writing “I certainly never witnessed Eric sell any coke,” and, when it came to weed, mentioned that he “never really even saw him sell any of that, either.”
The FBI Actually Helped Them Sell Albums
Promotion for Straight Outta Compton proved to be a daunting task. With little to no help from MTV or the radio, who refused to play the band’s videos and singles, N.W.A were at a loss in thinking of ways to expose the album to the general public. All of that changed, however, when an unlikely benefactor inadvertently put the band on the map in 1989. Soon after the album’s release, FBI assistant director Milt Ahlerich sent N.W.A an accusatory letter which blamed the group for promoting “violence and disrespect for the law enforcement officer.” Upon receipt, the folks over at Priority Records came up with the brilliant idea of sending the letter to the press, which caused a wave of free publicity that inherently sparked a widespread interest in the album.
Australian Radio Was a Huge Support System for the Group
A pariah to MTV and radio stations across the globe, N.W.A were in limbo for a while until that stint with the FBI aided their plight. But another unlikely source also played a key role in helping the band sell records. Though their aggressive call to arms “Fuck Tha Police” proved to be a hard sell in most countries, those Down Under appeared to be the only ones who were keen on giving the tune radio play.
Back in 1989, Australian station Triple J managed to play the song for over six months before politicians and police demanded that the management (which was controlled by National heavyweights ABC) remove it from the air. In retaliation to the censorship, the rebels at Triple J played N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” on continuous loop for 24 hours straight, further relaying the group’s message to its listeners.
They Had a Predominately Caucasian Fanbase
When you think of white suburbia, the adjectives “danger,” “struggle” and “poverty” aren’t necessarily the first that spring to mind. At the time, N.W.A’s music, while laying down the grounds for gangsta rap, played a crucial role in exposing the agonizing hardships of surviving on the streets. But interestingly enough, street kids weren’t the ones responsible for N.W.A’s success. In fact, Straight Outta Compton’s real success lied within the cosy confines of white suburban America, who, according to Priority Records, constituted for an estimated 80% of the album’s sales.
While it may seem a bit ridiculous to think how any middle class white-bread kid could relate to the arduous living conditions of street life addressed in Straight Outta Compton’s lyrics, Ice Cube responded positively to the statistic. In 1990, Cube expressed his views on black culture and rap music, saying, “Rap has brought black kids and white kids closer together. Thanks to rap, white kids are gaining a better understanding and a new respect for black culture. Rap has done nothing but bring people together. So, what’s the problem?”
For more news on N.W.A and the forthcoming film Straight Outta Compton, check out the following:
Go Behind the Scenes of N.W.A’s Biopic Straight Outta Compton
Ice Cube to Reunite N.W.A With Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and ScHoolboy Q
Watch the Second Official Trailer for the N.W.A Biopic Straight Outta Compton