Whether you fully appreciate the music they make or not, gangster rappers play an integral role within the hip-hop landscape. The music discusses thugs and guns and drugs, and while many people use these attributes to chastise its legitimacy and point to this music as the leading cause of the high incarceration rates that began to plague the 1990s, gangster rap is much, much more than that. Hip-hop acts as a vehicle for those who often go unheard, providing a voice that shares their experience with the world. The experience described in gangster rap was shocking to say the least. For the first time, people who lived in the ghettos and projects of major cities were telling their stories to the world.
Twenty-five years ago today, the world was given its first look into the gangster-filled world of Compton through the lens of NWA's seminal debut album Straight Outta Compton. Comprised of now hip-hop legends Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, NWA took the idea of reality rap and applied it to their neighborhood, mixing controversial lyrics about killing cops and gang life with the up-and-coming west coast style of the late 80s. The album received heavy criticism from the government and from those who didn't understand what NWA was doing. However, the majority of the hip-hop community were supportive of the album, helping it achieve a platinum status without a major marketing effort or a tour.
This release of this album was such an important part of hip-hop history because it brought legitimacy to the West Coast and influenced many of the soon-to-be-greats of the 1990s. Once NWA split up, many of the members went on to have incredibly successful solo careers (if you don't know who Dr. Dre is by now, look at the label on your headphones). In particular, Dre has served as an influence and mentor to many of the greatest rappers of the last 25 years. Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar all owe their careers to Dre, not to mention his affiliation with West Coast legend Tupac.
Straight Outta Compton gave legitimacy to the idea that any story is worth being told, no matter how it's perceived by the PC police. The album was fought because people didn't want to know that these things were actually going on, but NWA was confident enough to tell the world exactly what it was like to live in Compton. Anyone can say that the seminal impact of this record is its position as a pioneering work of gangster rap, but what it really stood for was a statement about storytelling and relation of experience. Straight Outta Compton proved to the world what hip-hop was really all about and it opened the door for anyone who wanted to tell their story to the world.
Happy 25th birthday, Straight Outta Compton. Listen along with us below.