'Straight Outta Compton': How the Movie Is Reviving N.W.A With Relevance

Universal Pictures
Jason Michell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube as N.W.A in 2015's "Straight Outta Compton."

Straight Outta Compton’s most impressive achievement might be its most subtle. The innately cinematic soundtrack, consistently impressive performances and rap-nerd fan service make it the first great hip-hop biopic. But the film -- in which the 1992 Los Angeles riots serve as a crucial backdrop -- also captures America’s uneasy present in a way that’s not so different from how N.W.A told the story of Compton, Calif., in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Ferguson [Mo.] happened while we were shooting the riot scenes,” director F. Gary Gray tells Billboard. But “all the stuff that you see in the movie, we developed a lot of those ideas and scenes years ago, before these things became headlines. When it started to manifest in the news, it was almost coincidental.” Says Ice Cube, who co-produced the movie: “I’ve been honing my producing skills to get to this moment.”

 

Billboard Cover: Kendrick Lamar Interviews N.W.A About Coming 'Straight Outta Compton' and Changing the World

Nearly as momentous: Dr. Dre’s decision to record and release his first album in 16 years. Compton features artists ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Eminem to Snoop Dogg. Dre announced the well-received album less than a week ahead of its Aug. 7 release on his Beats 1 radio show, The Pharmacy, saying, “I felt myself going to the studio and being so inspired by the movie that I started recording an album.” (He plans to use the record’s royalties to fund a new arts and entertainment facility located in Compton.)

 

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The question hovering over all this new N.W.A-inspired creative output: Will some combination of the group’s four living members, brought together for Billboard's cover story, actually reunite for a rumored tour? (Dre sat out of a June 27 performance in Los Angeles, N.W.A’s first in 15 years.) Perhaps the crew will decide there’s enough of the past that has lasted into the present.

 

Listen to music from N.W.A and more artists from this issue in the playlist below:

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of Billboard.