October 3, 2015
I am not really a fan of the gangsta rap genre, so at first I was not really planning to watch this film about gangsta rappers. However, it had a 2-week run at number 1 in the US box-office. It eventually became the highest grossing music biographical film all-time worldwide, as well as the highest domestic grossing film from a black director all-time in the United States. It was difficult to ignore such achievements. I needed to watch this film to see why.
This film was not just about any ordinary gangsta rapper. It was about N.W.A., the seminal rap supergroup that brought gangsta rap into mainstream consciousness in 1988 with the release of their debut album entitled "Straight Outta Compton". Three rap superstars trace their solo success from N.W.A., namely Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. The film shows us their rise to fame and their falling out as a group, as well as their individual personalities. I just knew these rappers by name and by their hits, this is the first time I actually witnessed the circumstances from which they drew the inspiration for their brand of music.
Incredibly, the young actors in the cast actually resemble the rap stars they were portraying. The easy standout is O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube. Of these three rappers, Ice Cube was the more showy and outspoken one, never afraid to speak his mind or defy authority. Jackson, Jr. is actually the son of Ice Cube in real life, so the similarities in look and attitude were uncanny. This film debut of his was surely a star-making performance.
Corey Hawkins fully captured the cool, calm and class of Dr. Dre, whose demeanor did not seem to belong to this group. Jason Mitchell was remarkable in his understated performance as Eazy-E, the founder of N.W.A. whose own life would crumble after his group broke up.
Like his other roles, Paul Giamatti was again totally transformed here into Jerry Heller, N.W.A.'s Jewish manager and co-producer. R. Marcos Taylor was a chillingly terrifying presence as Suge Knight. I enjoyed the cameos of other superstar rappers like Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, played by look-alikes Keith Stanfield and Marcc Rose respectively.
From the beginning, you knew this would not be an ordinary biopic. The cinematography by award-winning Fil-Am Matthew Libatique was impeccable, with brilliant colors, dramatic contrast and captivating shots. The original music by N.W.A. and the individual rap stars with their killer beats and head-bobbing grooves were perfectly chosen to enhance the atmosphere of the scenes.
The way director F. Gary Gray told his story, audiences would find themselves immersed into their violent world of rap, women, crime and drugs as their explicit song lyrics would describe. For the uninitiated, the violence depicted is ruthless, numbing and eye-opening.
This is not a film for everybody. People who do not approve the turbulent excesses of the gangsta rap lifestyle will likely not tolerate the the very profane language they use here or the buxom molls who hang around them (not unlike what we see in their videos). However, people who are into pop culture in general, or hip hop culture in particular, will find this film an essential watch, watching how some of rap's biggest stars came to be who they are now. Certain dramatic confrontation scenes may come across over-the-top and cheesy. Overall though, this film is brutal, unflinching, yet interesting, engaging and vital. 8/10.