Having been in the generation that grew up with NWA and the early days of rap, it was an absolute no-brainer for me to go see “Straight Outta Compton” as soon as I could possibly could (read – when kids were otherwise occupied). NWA was a real game changer for rap, and has spawned two absolutely iconic talents in Dr.Dre and Ice Cube. I even went to see it with an old friend from high school – a friend with whom I shared a special bond with their music. We used to listen to NWA on full blast back then, thinking we were the baddest white suburban kids around – more like a very weak version of “Straight Outta Framingham”. I had been waiting for this movie for a while, and was excited by the trailers. I was also really surprised to learn that another former high school classmate, Andrea Berloff, WROTE the damn movie. Now – this had me excited but also a bit cautious. Not because she isn’t very talented (she is) but because this movie about NWA for Pete’s sake was being written by a white girl from suburbia. Framingham was no Compton my friends. I am happy to report that my fears were unfounded. Andrea wrote a GREAT movie. I am usually skeptical in general of rock biopics because they all feel like the same formula – basically a cliff’s notes version of the commonly accepted “highlights” of the musicians career, with a touch of “after school special” added in for “lessons learned”. This movie is not that at all. Yes – it does go through the various “highlights” but takes it’s time in letting the viewer get to know Compton and the three core members of NWA long before they hit it big. I say “core members” because the movie basically treats DJ Yella and MC Ren as “oh yeah – these two guys were in the group too”. That omission is my only real gripe. The actors playing Eazy E, Dre and Cube absolutely nail their parts, and there is a real drama to these events too.
Even though we know that they (obviously) get out of Compton to have huge careers, there is a real sense of fear and dread and uncertainty with every Compton scene shown. Let’s just say it was not a great place to grow up in. You see the motivations for these rappers, the power struggles that eventually prop up, the “hangers-ons” who use them for their money and fame, and how business folks take advantage of what was really a group of 5 street kids. Outside of Suge Knight, there really is no “villain” in this movie – even the infamous Jerry Heller. Yes – they show Heller to be a manipulative SOB, but they also show he is a human – not a mustache twirling schemer. The movie also goes beyond just the NWA years and in a real interesting turn shows the “beefs” between them after the group broke up and the ultimate reconciliation that came a little too late (Eazy dies from AIDS before a planned reunion). There are so many great moments in the movie – but it is not a movie packaged together of just “great moments”. There is a story here with characters you care about – even if you don’t love their music. The best scene of the movie comes courtesy of Ice Cube (played brilliantly by his real-life son). After learning that his former group-mates dissed him on a track, he goes into the studio to record “No Vaseline” – perhaps the greatest diss track ever made. In a great piece of storytelling, they show the remaining band members listening to the track, and their reactions are priceless. Just a kick ass scene in a really well made movie. This movie is a must see, folks.
This movie also got me thinking about other bands I would love to see get their own “bio-pic”. As an added piece to this week’s fun blog, here are my Top 5 Bands that need a Biopic – NOW.
5. Fleetwood Mac – This would make for a damn good drama – no? This band basically kept swapping out lovers with each other and went through several stages of band members not talking to each other. Throw in the egos, the fact that three different people can call themselves “the lead singer” and a drummer bonked out of his mind on drugs and that sounds like a hell of a movie to me.
4. Bob Marley – How this movie hasn’t happened yet is beyond me. An absolute musical AND political icon – Marley’s story would translate really well to film. His music alone would make an amazing soundtrack, and his story from poverty in Jamaica to world superstar with a message and his untimely death would be absolutely epic to watch. Bonus – this movie would feature some EPIC weed smoking.
3. The Beastie Boys – This would be one fun movie to watch. Remember – these were the guys who broke down the belief that “white guys can’t rap” and they did it with an unbelievable amount of talent and bravado. From their early days of beer and angel dust in Brooklyn to their groundbreaking “Paul’s Boutique” album to them playing instruments and, in essence, changing rap, – this would be a really great story for film. When you throw in the tragedy of MCA dying from cancer at an early age – this would be good drama too.
2. Queen – Freddy Mercury is the best – and his story needs to be told on film. Think about it in historical context – here was a band that had a gay singer in a time where it was not nearly as accepted as it is today, and they called themselves “Queen” – talk about flaunting it in everyone’s faces without a single fuck given. They were trailblazers with a whole new style of music – opera meets rock – and won over audiences around the world. Of course, there would be the AIDS story and of Freddie’s tragic death from it to add the to the drama.
1. Led Zeppelin – theirs is the blueprint for all other Rock and Roll cliches that followed. These guys were the real deal. From embracing black magic and the writings of Tolkien to John Bonham’s legendary drinking and death to the ego battles between Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, this would be a must watch movie. Also – like NWA – they helped usher in a whole new kind of music that literally turned everything on its ear. This would have great music, tragedy (Bonham), conflict and a scene of triumph (their mini reunion at Live Aid). Get your popcorn ready.
If you were on the fence about seeing “Straight Outta Compton” I hope this helped sway you to go see it. And if anyone of any significance in Hollywood is reading this – get on these biopic suggestions ASAP. Until next week – there is no spoon.