Last week I was buying some detergent at a local laundromat in rural Nebraska. This is what was occupying my mind: “See, I don’t give a fuck, that’s the problem/ I see a motherfuckin’ cop, I don’t dodge him.” Now, based on my limited experience with law enforcement, I’ve found most cops to be cordial, beneficent protectors of the law. Yet, at that moment, I didn’t just want to fuck tha police, both physically and figuratively; I wanted them lynched, drenched in gasoline, and burnt alive. It’s one thing to get a catchy couplet stuck in teenagers’ heads; it’s another to convert half the nation into murderous psychopaths hell-bent on riot and rape. N.W.A. accomplished the latter.
Straight Outta Compton was not the first gangsta-rap album, nor was it the first album to use such disconcerting and scabrous blasts of sound, but the music was revolutionary for two reasons. First, Dre and Yella took the vitriolic, cacophonous rampage of Public Enemy and discarded all the motivation and history behind the anger; second, they sampled laid-back jazz, psychoastral-lovetron p-funk, sweetly romantic soul, naïve doo-wop, Martha Reeves, Charles Wright, Marvin Gaye, and proceeded to lay it under the most gruesome narratives imaginable, dead hos and cop killers. This is tantamount to using a “Happy B-Day, Grandma” Hallmark card to inform a family you just slaughtered their grandmother. It’s cruel, duplicitous, perverse, horrifying, hilarious.
In some ways, it’s the archetypal rap album, the one you would send into space if you wanted to ignite a stellar holocaust. It unites the paranoia of It Takes a Nation of Millions with the chill of The Chronic, while still retaining an old-school, Run-DMC-style playfulness. The opening squall of “Straight Outta Compton”, “Fuck tha Police”, and “Gangsta Gangsta” is still as confrontational and decimating as it was at the dawn of the 1990s. The bass throttles, the funk combusts, and the sirens deafen as Eazy-E dispenses with tired romantic clichés: “So what about the bitch who got shot? Fuck her!/ You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain’t no sucker!” And this is the least misogynistic of N.W.A.’s albums.
In the remaining ten tracks, the group depicts a paranoid, conspiratorial wasteland where faggot cops “thinking every nigga is sellin’ narcotics,” where niggas often are selling narcotics to buy gats to kill cops, where bitches have two functions in life– to suck dick and get shot when they stop– and where there are two only professions: bein’ a punk and shootin’ punks. The mind itself is a ghetto and the ghetto is universal. A lot of people, for whatever reason, take offense to such ideas. William S. Burroughs writes the same thing and gets hailed as the greatest writer of the twentieth century. There is no hope, no messages, no politics, rarely an explicit suggestion of irony. The only respite is “Express Yourself”, the sweetest anti-drug song to ever take place in a correctional facility. Musically, the rhythm pummels and the scratches are strong but sparse; lyrically, Dre says it best: “It gets funky when you got a subject and a predicate.” For all the genius, there are some tracks that simply can’t compare to the classics. “If It Ain’t Ruff”, “8 Ball”, and “Dopeman” are triumphant rap songs, but they consist of minimalist beats and the silly battle raps that N.W.A. helped eliminate.
Efil4Zaggin, meanwhile, is about as close as you can come to a death metal/hip-hop hybrid. People will get hurt here. The group, sans-Cube, is simply trying to further their status as icons of shock-rap. Unlike someone like Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson, though, N.W.A. sounds like they’ve actually gone insane: The song titles alone (“To Kill a Hooker”, “One Less Bitch”, “Find ‘Em, Fuck ‘Em and Flee”) are enough to send some people into seizures. I have no idea what Eazy-E was doing between albums, but it clearly involved a lot of sadomasochism and PCP– his lyrics are revoltingly unlistenable: “Yo, I tied her to the bed/ I had to let my niggaz fuck her first/ Loaded up the 44, yo/ Then I straight smoked the ho/ ‘Cause I’m a real nigga.” The main musical motif is the Psycho theme.
The songs here sound like the Bomb Squad in the graveyard Superfly got buried in. “Approach to Danger” is essentially rapping over a Halloween FX record. It’s complexly debauched, fantastically jagged terror-hop that at its best challenges anything on Fear of a Black Planet and at its worst challenges anything off Dre’s 2001. It’s also much funnier than Straight Outta Compton. Eazy-E’s Ten Commandments on “Appetite for Destruction” sets the bar so high on his first command that he can barely think of enough vices to finish it. In the skit “Protest”, an N.W.A. concert turns into a scene from Platoon. Eazy also sings on two tracks, one of which (“Automobile”) may as well be titled “With a Little Help From Your Pussy”. Ten seconds can barely pass before someone is murdered or raped. It’s the sound of an expletive anger at its breaking point.
The reissues sounds pretty tight, but high-quality audio was never really the point. The supplementary tracks are a more interesting point of discussion. Straight Outta Compton adds extended mixes of “Express Yourself” and “Straight Outta Compton”. The former may be a better song, but only because it uses more of the Wright sample, whereas the latter regrettably decides to disturb the propulsion of the original by inserting spoken dialogue. The B-side, “A Bitch iz a Bitch”, however, is one of Cube’s finest moments, beginning as a specification of what he means when he curses, and ending with a tirade against a “contact-wearin’ bitch.” Efil4Zaggin just adds the 100 Miles and Runnin’ EP, which is fairly superfluous. The title track, though, is easily one of the best rap songs of all time– N.W.A. if commissioned to write a James Bond theme.
After listening to this again, it reminds you how ludicrous this whole Eminem controversy was. More than a decade ago, N.W.A. was instructing suburbia to smash bitches’ brains in with a cock in one hand and a glock in the other. In comparison, Eminem’s harshest lyric ends up sounding like, “I may slightly disagree with certain tenets of popular ideologies.” When Eminem rapes and kills his mom, it’s because of a long-standing psychological disorder that relies on a complicated relationship with his family. When Eazy-E does it, it’s because nothing good was on TV that night. These are the most nihilistic, apolitical recordings since the Nixon tapes. Anyone who disagrees is a cracka-loving faggot.
-Alexander Lloyd Linhardt, October 3rd, 2003
www.pitchforkmedia.comRap lyrics shouldn’t be taken literally…
One thought on “NWA review”
I listen to NWA all the time, and can back up what you’re saying as far as them saying more harsh things a decade ago. But, they got punished for it. I mean, not long after they put rap into mainstream, there was government hate towards rap that has never been topped. I forgot where I was going with this…
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