On August 8th 1988 N.W.A dropped their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton which proved to be one of the most influential rap records of all time. Whilst not officially their first album, it was the first they’d recorded in a studio, and was definitely their most successful. Whilst well received by critics, the album had no radio airplay due to its controversial subject matter; but in spite of this the album sold over 3 million copies and was certified double platinum in 1992. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren were rapping and producing songs about exactly how they were living, and that alone is what the majority of the albums success can be attributed to.
Leading off with the title song of the album Ice Cube lets us know he’s “from the gang, Niggas With Attitude” – not a group, but a gang. This identification is a huge indication that this album really is the birth of popular gangster rap. Ice Cube is aggressive straight off the bat as he raps over Dre’s beats, reminding us of his “crime record like Charles Manson”. Followed on by MC Ren and Eazy-E, who are equally aggressive in their tone, certainly setting the bar high for an album of hostility to follow. In Spring 1989 the music video for the song was officially banned by MTV, however that was a minor achievement compared to the attention received by track number 2 on the album.
Whilst the first track might have seemed about as hostile and aggressive as it might get, N.W.A weren’t afraid to hold back with ‘Fuck tha Police’. Dissing the authorities in the song title and throughout the song is a bold move from the gang that really just don’t care. With the song a massive middle finger to the feds and encouraging disrespect to the authorities it earned the group a letter from the FBI officially denouncing the song – this publicity was perfect for N.W.A’s “don’t care” image, and certainly didn’t do anything to hinder record sales.
‘Gangsta Gangsta’ finishes off an opening trio of songs that are arguably the most influential of any album. Whilst other rappers had rapped about hating the police and talked about women in a derogatory manner like this, N.W.A really added the Hollywood glamour to the idea. Dre said that the band weren’t encouraging gang violence but that the band were “reporters” telling it as it is.
As the album continues the content doesn’t drop in quality at all, and the gangster themes continue in unrelenting fashion. However, ‘Express Yourself’ provides some light relief later on in the record as the only song not to contain the previous themes or any profanity. Dr Dre raps over a sample from the 1970 classic song of the same name not once dropping an F-bomb or mentioning how much he hates the police, yet proving to be equally successful as the final single released from the album.
Whilst individual songs can be picked out from the album the songs themselves aren’t necessarily what made the album such a success. This can be attributed far more to the way in which it was completely relatable for the audience with the stance taken by N.W.A. Whilst opinions may differ on it’s standings in the greatest rap albums of all time, there’s certainly no doubt that Straight Outta Compton was the most influential of all time.
Straight Outta Compton was released on August 8th 1988 via Ruthless Records.