The first time I heard “Straight Outta Compton” was one day after highschool in late ’88. One of my friends who had a car was giving me a ride home from school in his van. He was spared the embarrassment of driving a van because he was also one of my friends who engaged in, let’s say less than legal methods of obtaining items, and this van had one of the most insane sound systems I’ve ever heard to this day. Of course what the hell did I really know about sound systems, it had giant speakers, lots of blinky lights and was loud as hell.
It instantly clicked with me and I got a copy and listened to it hundreds of times over the next weeks and still I’d doubt if a month has gone by since where I haven’t listened to at least one of the songs off that album. There have been lengthy diatribes written about the importance of this album and how it changed hip hop and basically gave birth to the gangster rap sub-genre, but for me it was the first song on the album of the same name that kicked down the doors of my imagination that day and and left me dreaming of a world very different, but yet very much the same. Compton was about as far away from Bradenton as you could get, but something about Ice Cube’s lyrics and Eazy-E’s delivery came across like a friend relaying a story to me. It was scary but at the same time exciting. It was almost more like reporting than music. And then I saw the video…
The video I think was intended to make the band seem even more scary but it actually made me laugh and realize how much of it was an image. Maybe I was too detail oriented for a teenager but when the lyrics are talking about pulling out an AK, and the video shows someone holding a beat up old revolver, well color me not impressed. Maybe a lot of people didn’t know what an AK was so that kind of thing didn’t matter, but I lived in Florida where we liked our guns and getting something that wrong was bad. Also, the cops with the fake mustaches are pretty hard to watch and not laugh at. While for some people this might turn them off to the whole thing it actually made me like them more. I figured they had a sense of humor and could still make jokes while singing about killing people. I liked that. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s what I like to think.
Years later they, and the entire gangster rap scene would be parodied in CB4, the story about a upper middle class black family whose oldest son dreamed of being from the streets and went on to create the most dangerous band ever. Chris Rock as Gusto would perform “Straight Outta Lowcash” as their defining song which wins on every single beat.
[This entry is part of the Songs About Los Angeles series]