Ice Cube calls it “reality rap”; everyone else settles for the simplistic and misleading gangsta tag. In any case, N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitude) came straight out of South Central Los Angeles (aka Compton) with an unpoliticized expression of urban alienation, autobiographical rage and action-movie fantasies. By feeding a vast audience of disaffected young people a profoundly negative glamorization of brutal street life, N.W.A — the rap Mayflower that carried Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, the late Eazy-E, MC Ren and others from a loose agglomeration of neighborhood pals to enormous and influential solo stardom (and, in Cube’s case, deep into the heart of mainstream American pop culture via Hollywood) — managed to put their city and their sound on the international map, sell loads of powerful records, provoke governmental concern and raise disturbing issues about the context and import of rhymes that describe violence, misogyny and sociopathic behavior.
The widely unknown N.W.A. and the Posse is a loose and funky warmup, a showcase for various permutations of the sprawling young crew (some of whom fell away when shit got serious) to rap about cars, girls, drugs and booze over Dre’s on-the-money Cali tracks. Although much of the record is strictly for fun (“Drink It Up” is a goofy party number sung to the tune of “Twist and Shout”; “Fat Girl” tells a dumb story about an overzealous, overweight woman), the autobiographical “Boyz-n-the Hood” (written by Ice Cube, rapped by Eazy-E) and Cube’s nonjudgmental “Dope Man” aptly demonstrate the group’s tougher side.
Shifting into high gear, with Yella joining Dre behind the board, the group made the blistering and genre-defining Straight Outta Compton, a shocking and fearless roughneck explosion that demands respect and threatens violence at every turn. It begins with the forceful invocation of “Crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube / From the gang called Niggas With Attitude” and burns from there. “Do I look like a motherfucking role model?,” he asks in “Gangsta Gangsta”: “To a kid looking up to me life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money,” he observes, but doesn’t take heed of such responsibilities. (Alongside a remix of the first album’s “Dopeman,” Cube’s nearly upstanding “Express Yourself” typifies the ambivalence that continues to describe his work.) The controversial “(Fuck) tha Police,” a mock trial of Los Angeles’ cops, promises armed resistance to unwarranted hassles, underscoring the point with the sound of gunshots. Whether this hyper-drama is meant to be taken seriously or not, the distinction — created by first-person delivery of realistic tales that shift without blinking from hustling women at parties to shooting people for fun — was obviously lost on some listeners, especially in the hair-trigger minds of official power.
Exploiting their notoriety as FBI-certified troublemakers, N.W.A — with Ice Cube gone, pretty much the preserve of Eazy, Dre and Yella — rap a high- tension action adventure on the title track of 100 Miles and Runnin’, which also includes “Sa Prize (Part 2),” a crudely theatrical continuation of “(Fuck) tha Police.” But any hope of a political consciousness taking hold is dashed by “Just Don’t Bite It,” a detailed discussion of fellatio.
“Why do I call myself a nigga ya ask me/Well it’s because motherfuckers wanna blast me…Back when I was young, getting a job was murder/Fuck flipping burgers, ‘cos I deserve a 9-to-5 I could be proud of” puts social analysis into the opening minutes of Efil4zaggin, the final salvo from the group that would soon collapse under the vindictive antagonism that arose between Dre and Eazy. Otherwise, the wretched album (which gives lots of songwriting credit to The D.O.C., who sat out the previous record and didn’t do much of note on Compton) slides back into the sleaze for an obnoxiously adolescent and ugly sex trip: “Findum, Fuckum & Flee” and “She Swallowed It” are merely typical of the album’s stupidity. Even worse but not unrelated, “To Kill a Hooker” is an appalling short story. For a crew that once stood for something (granted, it was never easy to know exactly what), this record is a sorry end.
With one memorably bad pun (“She’s Got a Big Posse,” a dating nightmare) the understated Brother Arab is a nonconfrontational album with a couple of positive doses of reality (“Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Bag),” “It’s a Dope Thang”) amid the macho sex and party rhymes. While Arabian Prince has distinctive beats and a quiet authority to his voice, he isn’t an inventive enough rhymer, and his LP is easy to overlook.
The D.O.C., another member of the N.W.A. family, released only one album before his rhyming career was derailed in a near-fatal car crash, but it’s a good one. Sharply produced (using live musicians as well as transistor beats) by Dr. Dre, No One Can Do It Better — with guest spots by the entire clan, from Eazy-E and Ice Cube to Michel’le — is a symphony of scratching and party funk that avoids politics to make a more general cultural statement.