N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" Turns 35

"Straight Outta Compton" celebrated its 35th anniversary this month and we're taking a look at some key aspects of the iconic album.

BYPaul Barnes
NWA Portrait

Classic and quintessential rap album Straight Outta Compton turned 35 this month. For many, the album introduced an emerging genre in 1988: gangsta rap. The album showcased to the world exactly what N.W.A was about. Group members Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren have become household names, but like any others, they had to start somewhere.

For many people, the music they made struck fear into their hearts as they thought the music was not only inappropriate but actually dangerous. Ironically, many of the group’s critics could not even say what the group’s name really was. On the opposite end, supportive listeners embraced the reality of the lyrics as they resonated with the feelings and perspectives they already had. The album's influence has been felt by many rappers and listeners across the last 35 years.

Straight Outta Compton Brought Controversy

Straight Outta Compton was a seminal album for the Parental Advisory sticker in the United States. This label is expected on rap albums in the present day. People often edit this sticker onto many pictures to give them the comedic - but accurate - effect of an album cover. At the time, the lyrics on the album were simply too profane in multiple aspects for many people. The violence depicted in the lyrics was especially alarming for many groups, prompting the FBI to send a letter to the rap group and their label, Ruthless Records. Naturally, N.W.A took this as a badge of honor, prompting their branding of being the “World’s Most Dangerous Group.” Their lyrics were seminal in the creation of the genre “gangsta rap,” however, they have gone on record several times saying they prefer to call it “reality rap.”

Standout Productions

With its release coming in 1988, Straight Outta Compton has a multitude of samples on its tracks. Production came from Dr.Dre, whose future in production speaks for itself. However, he also worked with group member DJ Yella and temporary groupmate (1987-1988) Arabian Prince for this album. The upbeat and accessible production on the album almost contrasts with the aggressive nature of the lyrics.

The tracks combine soul, funk, and hip-hop sounds, showcasing the power of compiling samples. The title track sounds much more menacing than most of the production on the rest of the album. The album’s final track, appropriately titled “Something 2 Dance 2,” is considerably different from the rest of the album and is very in line with the music from Dre and DJ Yella’s days in the electro group World Class Wreckin’ Cru.

Straight Outta Compton's Lyrical Impact

Straight Outta Compton is known for its controversial lyrics. In 2023, the lyrics would sound typical to most rap fans, but in 1988, they were highly contentious. Various groups declared them unacceptable amongst other negative descriptors. These groups took pride in publicly protesting the music, destroying its physical copies with pride. The lyrics were violent, derogatory, and expletive-laden.

Ice Cube wrote many of the lyrics on the album, including other verses for other group members. Different combinations of the members on songs and solo tracks ensured the project would engage listeners. Cube left the group after not being properly compensated for all his writing on the album.

The Classic's Album's Imprint On Hip Hop

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 30: (L-R) Rappers MC Ren, DJ Yella, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre of the rap group NWA pose for a portrait in 1991 in New York, New York. DJ Yella is giving the middle-finger. (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Straight Outta Compton is the first gangsta rap album to go Platinum. The group sought to gain more attention to their music like most artists - through radio play. However, for radio play, they had to send in clean versions of their music. In the case of N.W.A., most of the song would be censored, ruining the listening experience. The tracks received little radio play, but word of mouth is how it gained its success. Listeners told others about the album, and it also received news coverage with a negative connotation. Naturally, this would make people curious about the big deal. The news coverage countered itself as it advocated people not to listen to the album, but the attention is why people wanted to hear it - especially younger listeners.

35 Years Of Influence

Straight Outta Compton is an album many rap listeners of multiple generations have called a classic. It may not be in their daily rotation, but its importance will never be forgotten. For many artists, this album paved the way for the music that followed. Several rap artists and groups have named N.W.A. as a primary influence in their quest for a career in music.

Whether explicit lyrics or in-house productions, like the Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A.'s influence continues reverberating in hip-hop culture. The anti-government perspective has been echoed by Black artists before and after N.W.A. Groups like the East Coast-based Public Enemy brought the same urgency with their music. Many artists followed in N.W.A.'s footsteps by saying what they wanted and how they wanted it in their music.

What are your favorite moments and songs from Straight Outta Compton? Let us know in the comments section.


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