Straight Outta HollyHood

Straight Outta HollyHood

Now that the director’s cut has been released and the Academy snub has been documented by all of social media, courtesy of #OscarsSoWhite Part 2: Electric Boogaloo, I think it’s time we had a nice honest review of the differences between Straight Outta Compton: The True Story and Straight Outta Compton: The Myths and Hollywood Legends. Huh? No spoilers? My dude, you gotta be kidding. If you didn’t hit the theater, shame on you. If your local bootlegger didn’t hook you up, then I’m sorry but you really get no sympathy over here on my side of the street. If you bear even a passing affinity for Hip Hop as a culture, or Ice Cube and Dr. Dre as musical superstars, then you should know the story already. How do you smoke out to Friday and have a pair of Beats headphones but you’re totally in the dark when it comes to the history of N.W.A.? That’s just irresponsible. The best I can do is refrain from pointing out any differences between The theatrical version and the longer director’s cut. Moving on…
First off, F. Gary Gray needs some kind of award for Best Opening Sequence because that first scene was the kind of thing directors make careers out of. He manages to harken back to shades of The Negotiator, Set It Off and The Italian Job. It set the stage perfectly for a time when crime was a way of life that was shockingly enticing, despite it’s nearly inevitable outcomes of death and/or prison. Let’s look at the elements it covers before the title drop; The systemic cycle of repeat offenders produced by the drug war’s oppressive tactics, the inherent danger for those who live life outside the confines of the social contract, and the daring escape of an outlaw-cum-folk hero, destined to mark history in a way that only a handful have proven capable of in the post-era.
Jason Mitchell breathes life into a man who hasn’t existed since 1995, eyes blazing in a defiant glare, begging you to challenge the idea that he is somehow not Eazy-E. “I wish you would,” he seems to say, with a silent and knowing smirk for anyone who doubts how serious he is about his business. I must say though, the moment that gave me the “I Believe” was when he displayed a dismissive reluctance at the suggestion of recording “Boyz N The Hood” in the absence of an actual rapper to perform it, citing his status as merely the businessman behind the music. Eazy Duz It, indeed.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. (rapper OMG for those who know) who managed to snag top billing, makes it clear that no actor deserved to win the role of his father over him. His acting debut has the curious position of eclipsing every film his father has ever starred in as far as box office positioning. I would compare this performance every bit to Eminem’s in 8 Mile, in the sense that he gives the audience exactly what they expect to see. It may very well have been impossible for him to exceed expectations with the lofty goal of encompassing The Nigga Ya Love To Hate, but he does justice enough by not falling short in the slightest. I’m sure more than a few viewers exited the theatre yelling “You look just like yo’ daddy, boy!” in their best impressions of Cedric The Entertainer. If he decides to follow in his father’s Hollywood footsteps, he’s got the acting chops to be a bonafide A-List movie star (provided he picks the right projects.) I’m excited about his possibilities so I hope he’s not a one and done.
Cory Hawkins’s portrayal of Dr. Dre embodied a visionary dreamer, a man desperate to change his position and the determined look of a future titan of industry, at times all at once. An underrated gem comes in the form of Paul Giamatti’s savvy and slick, yet spectacularly sensitive Jerry Heller. While the movie makes it clear that the members of N.W.A. see his presence as ultimately divisive to the group, Giamatti humanizes him and makes us almost sympathize with the loss he feels when Eazy finally severs ties with him. This movie gets a lot of things right.

It also gets a few things wrong. The marginalization of DJ Yella as an influential rival to Dr. Dre was downplayed heavily. You didn’t get to see the back and forth, Ken and Ryu-esque camraderie they enjoyed as fellow producers trying to find a new sound to capture the ear of the streets. Dr. Dre was almost certainly destined to always be DR. DRE, but there’s no telling what that would’ve ended up sounding like without Yella hot on his heels, egging him on. I also don’t think Aldis Hodge was the best they could’ve done as far as casting MC Ren (to say nothing of the downplaying of his contributions as well.) I have no issue with him as an actor but he never melted all the way into the character of Ren. I just kept looking at him thinking “It’s the black guy from Leverage!” As for Arabian Prince, they didn’t even bother to mention him, which must sting a little. But if I’m honest I see him much the same as I do Ya Jarobi from A Tribe Called Quest; I know he was there, but I sure as hell couldn’t tell you what he did, so it would be hypocritical of me to harp on that. Still, they missed an opportunity to answer the question of his level of involvement.

The glaring errors don’t pop up for awhile but when they do, most of them strike me as more comical than outright misleading. The Missing Persons list doesn’t end with Arabian Prince. I spent a lot of time looking for Warren G (who shows up briefly) and asking myself “Where are Kurupt and Daz?” These were significant contributors to the Death Row empire. If Keith Stanfield was the best they could find as far as getting someone to play Snoop Dogg, then screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman may have been better served writing around him. Many controversial differing accounts of the N.W.A. gospels were left out of this celluloid bible, chief among them, Warren G and Daz producing tracks that Dre later tweaked and took credit for. 2Pac spoke out about this in the interim between Dre’s departure and Pac’s untimely demise. Speaking of Mr. Shakur, the “Hail Mary” studio scene gave me goosebumps. I genuinely wondered whether they actually used hologram technology to get it that good. Then he started talking and the illusion crumbled between the space of the first two words that he spoke. *Sigh* It’s just an actor.

That scene is one that feeds into a mythology that will live eternally incorrectly in Hip Hop’s posterity. The film makes it look as though it was Dr. Dre’s idea to collaborate with 2Pac for “California Love,” but it wasn’t. That’s not insignificant. “California Love” was a solo song that Dr. Dre was persuaded into turning into a collaboration with 2Pac by Suge Knight, who had recently bailed Pac out of jail while he was awaiting appeal on his infamous sexual assault conviction. It was meant to be a signifier of his new allegiance to the West Coast in general and Death Row in particular. It wasn’t the Fort Sumpter of The East/West Civil War but it was certainly a “shots fired” incident. It makes Dre look cool for making beats for 2Pac but it’s lacking a lot of context. To this day I have yet to hear the three verse, all Dr. Dre version of that song, so if someone could please get to work and leak that for me? I’ll give you a dollar…Thanks.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Dee Barnes incident was entirely left out of the story, even though Dre received a domestic violence conviction for it and was sentenced to make P.S.A’s denouncing domestic violence as a result (I remember those commercials. They were actually done quite well.) His relationship with singer Michel’ e is completely omitted, as was Eazy E’s controversial dinner with George H.W. Bush, sitting Republican president at the time.

The alleged hanging of Vanilla Ice from a balcony by Suge Knight (played with appropriate shades of menace by R. Marcus Taylor) in order to coerce him into forfeiting a portion of his royalties from “Ice Ice Baby” was rumored to have contributed seed money to Death Row’s startup but was understandably not included, likely for reasons regarding possible libel or slander, but that reasoning can’t be attributed to the lack of any mention of J.J. Fad, especially considering “Supersonic” being a huge money-making single for Ruthless Records. Ice Cube’s work with Public Enemy is turned into what amounts to a cameo, even though they produced his entire first album. And while there is heavy screen time allotted to N.W.A.’s ¬†lyrical slaughter at Ice Cube’s hands by way of “No Vaseline,” there’s no mention of Eazy and Dre’s back and forth beef on wax, even though the movie makes a point of showing how successful The Chronic was, which contained the incendiary diss track “Dre Day.” But there are two points contending for the ultimate title of “Most Hollywood-ized Part of The Film.”

One, is the moment when it becomes clear to Dre, that Death Row is no longer where he wants to be. In the film, there’s a huge incident with a half-naked man barking like a dog, then proceeding to toast Death Row under duress and getting knocked out by an angry Dr. Dre for his efforts. To say nothing of this pushing the borders of dramatic taste, it differs greatly from Dr. Dre’s own account of the moment he had the epiphany. In an interview with The Source magazine, Dre said the moment he decided he was going to leave Death Row was when he saw an engineer get beat down simply for rewinding a tape too far back. After seeing Ice Cube’s showdown with Jerry Heller, the final straw that caused his departure from the group, go down exactly as Cube has always stated it did, I found it disappointing to see this ramping up of a pivotal moment when it was by no means necessary.

But what I found more troubling than anything, though I must admit I expected it, was Eazy’s coughing and hinting at sickness for so long before his passing. This is in direct opposition to what Bone Thugs & Harmony have been saying since Eazy died. According to them he was totally fine, and only went to the hospital for a routine check-up. Two weeks after being diagnosed with HIV, he died due to full blown AIDS. This is three years after Magic Johnson announced being HIV positive. I can’t recall an incident before or since where someone has been ravaged by the virus that quickly. Is it possible his medical care was really that substandard? That his biology reacted that differently to the medication that would’ve kept the virus in check? Or was something else up? And while we’re talking about fishy coincidences, why was the movie pulled from theaters right when it was about to beat 8 Mile‘s adjusted-for-inflation numbers? Hmm? I don’t wanna get anybody’s conspiracy theory spider-senses tingling so I’ll leave that be.

Overall though, flaws aside, the movie should be taken for what is; an excellent story about the origin of the World’s Most Dangerous Group and gangsta rap’s unprecedented musical takeover. I urge any and all fans to support the film, rent it from Redbox, or buy the blu-ray. Either way show some love for Hip Hop Cinema at it’s finest.

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JoJo Kalita

3 Comments

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