It’s interesting to see that N.W.A., the Hip Hop group once deemed to offensive, macho and negative to be considered part of mainstream culture, has now been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with the legendary LL Cool J. Time was, it seemed as if Hip Hop itself was being excluded from the RRHOF all together. But considering all of the musical folklore and heroism that surrounds N.W.A. these days, still one of the only acts ever to be publicly condemned by the F.B.I., it actually stands to reason. Just the same way rock icons like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, who were also at one time considered too naughty and risque for the public during their respective hey days, it’s the same for N.W.A. The rebels of the past eventually always become the iconic pioneers of the present and future. That’s just how it works in music. Anyone reading this that’s too young to remember N.W.A. or may not be familiar with them in the least, here’s a video that will get a history lesson started for you.
25 years ago, Hip Hop was in a different place. In terms of becoming a global popular music phenomenon, the genre had come a long ways from the Bronx where it was created and was beginning to permeate throughout America as the new voice of disaffected and disenfranchised youth. One of the groups that would become synonymous with the rebellious braggadocio of Hip Hop was N.W.A., and their debut album and song of the same name, “Straight Outta Compton”, was their magnum opus. When I first saw Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, Ice Cube and Eazy-E in the video at 7 years old, I thought to myself, “Damn, it must be dangerous as hell in California!” From the block-savvy tough guy image they portrayed (big sunglasses, all black attire, gold rope chains) to their stand-offishness in interviews, it was clear that N.W.A. looked to put themselves as a group in the light of being real gangsters (even though they weren’t even close.) This sample-driven, siren-screeching, drum-heavy composition, with its lyrics filled with ball-grabbing machismo arrogant mocking of lesser foes, is one of the most controversial Hip Hop songs of all time. One of the stories behind both the song and the album is that it caused none other than the F.B.I. to send a letter of condemnation to the group and subsequently its record label, which only helped to fuel N.W.A.’s popularity on a larger, mainstream scale. Soon enough they would be filling stadium seats while kids from both the city and the ‘burbs chanted along with their lyrics. So, thinking about it, maybe Hip Hop wasn’t in THAT different of a place 25 years ago.