I felt weird last time because of starting with Ice Cube before talking about N.W.A. I’ll try to set this right by picking N.W.A.’s debut album for today, Straight Outta Compton, released in 1988, probably the real beginning of gangsta rap.
What I remember: This did not have the impact on me that Niggaz4Life had, so I don’t remember as much. It sounded “cheap” compared to other rap music, as if you could hear that they weren’t professionals yet, but also that it was a bit older than other rap music I knew. In that respect I always connected it to Ice-T’s debut Rhyme Pays, which has a similar sound. Anyway, I remember some kind of dance song and some gangsta songs. And Fuck Tha Police, I mostly remember that. I somehow liked the album, but I didn’t take it as seriously as its follow-up (which I maybe should discuss next because I remember it so much better).
What I say now: The title track that starts off the album begins with Ice Cube and he sounds just as angry as on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. He name checks all kinds of guns, celebrates the way he wants to shoot everyone and calls himself “crazy as fuck.” MC Ren is less aggressive but no less offensive, relying more on misogyny instead. Eazy E pretends to be a sneak gangsta, not showing how evil he is but also showing no remorse in killing. It’s entertaining in a way, but very mean-spirited, a fitting tone set for the album.
Fuck Tha Police is probably N.W.A.’s most famous song, just for the title alone. But how are they arguing against the police?
Comin straight from the underground Young nigga got it bad 'cause I'm brown And not the other color so police think They have the authority to kill a minority
I like that last line. They think cops are racist and further in the song they claim that the police think in stereotypes, believing that black people are all drug dealers. They also say that it doesn’t matter if it’s black or white cops. And they promise to kill some cops, so there’s that stereotype. And that’s about it because apart from those opening arguments, the rest of the song is just more violence and bragging, which is kind of a shame.
Gangsta Gangsta is the name of the next song and it tells you where this is going now. It’s certainly the most glorifying song about gang violence, misogyny and even drinking! This is probably the best summary:
Do I look like a mutha fuckin' role model? To a kid lookin' up ta me Life ain't nothin' but bitches and money
I mean, the songs are somewhat enjoyable to listen to if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, but three songs in I’m already fed up with the content. I know they basically started gangsta rap and as much as I was a fan as a kid, today I can see that it is really a lot of bullshit. They could have used their songs to try to change or criticize something, but instead went on to romanticize being killers, drug dealers, homophobes and misogynists. Another line in the song is
Gangsta, gangsta, that's what they're yellin' It's not about a salary, it's all about reality
but this is exactly the problem. There might be some reality in these songs, but there is also a whole lot of ignorance going on. You can argue that their fucked up life as black teenagers made them write fantasies where they are ruling and have power, but this doesn’t make the songs’ content any better.
Most of the songs follow this formula and it’s pointless to look at most of them in detail. Express Yourself tries to be about, well, self-expression and freedom of speech, but it’s a weak attempt at it.
I Ain’t Tha 1 is probably one of the most misogynist non-violent songs I can imagine as Ice Cube is just explaining in great detail how stupid women are, just caring about looking pretty and money, while he just cares about sex. The amazing thing is that it makes him so angry that they won’t just let him fuck them without any hassle. It’s really, really terrible. It’s the worst, far worse to me than the mass murder fantasies of Ganksta N-I-P because it’s somewhat clear that he’s just being silly, while Ice Cube never goes over the top and tries to be reasonable. But reasonable about deserving to get laid without any woman deserving any respect.
Dopeman is a really weird song because it goes on forever describing a rich drug dealer’s life, how rich he is and endlessly how many women he fucks and treats like dirt. But you’ll be having a hard time finding any criticism about it in the song. It’s not really glorifying it either, more just observing, but just looking at the lyrics still is a bit uncomfortable. The only criticism comes in the last verse:
Yo, Mr. Dopeman, you think your slick You sold crack to my sister and now she's sick But if she happens to die because of your drug I'm puttin in your culo, a .38 slug!
So, the “criticism” boils down to: sell all the drugs you want, but if it’s my family, I kill you. That will surely solve the drug problem in the neighborhood.
And that’s it. Again, musically, there is some appeal at least in some songs, although the “cheapness” is still visible. But lyrically I don’t see any reason why this should be remembered. As a white German kid socialized by gangsta rap I can only conclude that these kind of lyrics can only make things worse, so they should be forgotten. There are too many good hip-hop and rap albums from that era, so that this is not necessary for anyone. Did I like this? Maybe a little, but there’s not much to like for me here anymore.