Although we pay little attention to the contemporary cinema, we couldn’t help noticing that the big hit of the past weekend was titled “Straight Outta Compton.” The essential Drudge Report was of course on the story, and when we hit its link to a story about the box office booty it transported back in time to the days when the murder rate was soaring and here in Wichita and just about everywhere else and we were working the music beat for the local newspaper.
Just as we had suspected, the movie is reportedly about N.W.A., an acronym for “Niggaz With Attitude,” which is the “gangsta rap” ensemble whose debut album was also titled “Straight Outta Compton.” Middle-aged and middle-American white guys that we are, we were quite familiar with the subject matter. Back in the the glorious ’80s, when vinyl records were still widely available, we used to frequent a local music shop where the proprietors were familiar enough with our tastes that they would sometimes recommend a new release, and although they knew we’re predisposed to old country and old blues and old rock ‘n’ roll and old jazz and old pop standards they also knew we were also keen to hear anything that sums up the current zeitgeist, so they urged that we purchase a copy of “Straight Outta Compton.” Sure enough, when we laid it on our turntable and turned up the volume we were memorably stunned by the ensuing sounds. The record was the aural equivalent of the most stomach-turning horror flick you’ve ever seen at a drive-in motive theater, with a compellingly abhorrent beat underling underlying extraordinarily vulgar and immediately believable lyrics about the carnage that was then occurring in the Compton portion of the Los Angeles metro area and almost everywhere else, our humble prairie hometown included, which had a sizable black population.
By chance the group soon announced a concert engagement here in Wichita, at a venue built to accommodate the big swing bands, so we did our day job and called up the record company’s publicity department to arrange a telephone interview with one of the group’s members. We wound up speaking with with Ice Cube, identified in the record as a “crazy-ass nigga named Ice Cube,” and were surprised to find him a most affable fellow. When we asked about the controversy that had naturally resulted from his group’s success he explained that he they were just telling the awful truth about what was going on in his “‘hood,” which was the du jour defense of “gangsta rap” back in those days, we asked if it machine gun murders was really all that going on in in his neighborhood, and if nobody was falling in love or going to school in starting a business or something other than owing down naggers with a machine gun, and he stammered his explanation that the carnage was the most important development for N.W.A. to be going on about. Since then he’s gone on to a successful career as a mainstream Hollywood actor, with fine performances in the fine Iraq War caper flick “Three Kings” and a couple of moves that about black American life that entail a wider array of black American experience than street murders, and we’d like to think that our stumping questions had something to do with that.
Affable as he’d been, our conversation with Ice Cube and our multiple playings of “Straight Outta Compton” led us to insist that our newspaper buy us a ticket to N.W.A.’s performance so we could write an eye-witness account of the resulting shooting. Our niggardly editors were skeptical of our promise that would be a shooting at the concert, which was taking place at the old Cotillion Ballroom that had been built for the big bands of the swing era, but we explained that they hadn’t heard the album. We were sure that of all the people enticed to that that concerts by “Straight OUtta Compton” some among them were going to take a shot a someone. We were slightly worried when the the concert went without incident, and the group explained that they weren’t going to do with their hit “F**K Tha Police” because it has proved troublesome, but as the group finished its closing numbers and the shots rang and the glass broke and the crowd rioted we were able to make deadline by phoning from behind an old-fashioned phone booth that gunshots were fired at a performance of “Niggaz With Attitude,”
Nobody died at that concert, but there were more murders in Wichita that year than were were in Belfast, Ireland, which was still in thrall of its “troubles,” and we’re still not sure if the “Niggaz With Attitude” and their “Straight Outta Compton” was exposing this dire situation or glamorizing it. We do recall reading a story about how every stop on N.W.A.’s tour, from Honolulu to Wichita to New York, involved gunshots. We haven’t seen the new movie, and probably won’t until it show up on Netflix, but we’re eager to see how it deals with these unpleasant facts.
The murder rates have sharply declined here and elsewhere since those bad old days, but we’re nonetheless worried that “Niggaz With Attitude” are once again at the top of the box office and back in the the news. It seems to coincide with the “F**k Tha Police” attitudes of a “Black Lives Matter” movement that that boos down any suggestion that all lives matter, even those black lives lost to the lawlessness that too often prevails in black neighborhoods because of a lack of policing, and with the racial animosities that have resurfaced since the election of the First Black President. Some may welcome the black empowerment of the the Niggazs With Attitude, but we hope they’ll note that death total is mostly black.
— Bud Norman