There’s always been a glaring problem with punk rock and it’s high time that it be revealed. Notwithstanding the various styles and sub genres of punk, a universal ethos was established by the formation of this subversive genre: buck the man. Punk in every form was all about annoying the mainstream and digging underground tunnels made of varying speeds and speeches. While the Ramones did it with cutthroat velocity, the Clash did it with not-so-covert politics and Minor Threat revamped it in the ’80s, they all were begging for change in a “dollar dollar bill ya’ll” industry. Thirty years and 100,000 CBGB t-shirts sold later, the forefathers of punk now have a platform for their genius and more importantly, a market. And this is all fine, I’m not one to rain on the punk parade of yesterday just because of how laughable of an institution the genre has become. The vanguards of punk, and you know who you are, will always have their cred and honestly, nothing short of a Victoria’s Secret commercial could take that away.
Just one question; where do a bunch of white dudes get off calling themselves “punk?”
The pallor of “punk” is rather appalling when one cases through their history books. Aside from Bad Brains (who were more Rastafarian than anything) and the one member of the Dead Kennedys, the color of punk is as snow white as it gets. And no, Fishbone does not count. Granted, these bands (for the most part) were earnest in their struggles and fights, speaking out on any number of human rights issues. But in a country were the darker the skin, the tougher the day, could punk, a genre that’s whole base is revolution, change and equality, really come to pass without the representation of the most oppressed America has to offer?
In reality, punk was not thoroughly realized until it took the form of gangsta rap. In the late ’80s, abject poverty led to anger and with anger comes a need for reform. On the East Coast, Public Enemy served as the megaphone for change, releasing albums preaching unity and equality and forcing the public to remove the blinders from their eyes as the urban poor bled before them. On the West Coast you had NWA, a group with no need for metaphors or allegories, a group who had been spawned from the bullet sprawled streets of one LA’s most brutal neighborhoods. They were a group whose name said it all and who’s debut album is a milestone of punk genius.
If Public Enemy were the educated, strong minded African-American, army of punk rock, then NWA were the acid tongued teenage gang that walked around with bowling ball sized chips on their bruised-by-life shoulders. Their intent was simple—to show America what the news won’t, to be a conduit between the streets and those lucky enough to be off ’em. In a world where everyone wanted everything to be alright, NWA taught us it wasn’t and it was a long time coming.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge,” says a stone voiced, Eazy-E thus beginning our 13 track odyssey into the land of malt and rock, Compton. The title track hits you with a one-two combo of upside the head drum samples commingling with a two note, chorus soaked guitar lick. Each MC gives a fitting and stunning monologue introducing all to the personalities that bring them together with deliveries that set them apart. Ice Cube, the loud voiced leader who isn’t afraid to feed a boot heel to a rival and “mix ’em and cook ’em in a pot like gumbo.” MC Ren, a softer spoken yet just as harsh gangsta with a penchant for packin’ and pussy. Eazy-E, the short and smooth banger; a roughneck and a Don Juan who would “smother ya mother and make ya sista think I love her” but never get caught in the process.
Years before Rodney King and an amateur camera man brought it to light, NWA discussed the brutal side of the men armed to protect and serve on the blatantly controversial “Fuck ‘Tha Police.” A memorable track of us against them ghetto struggles that struck a chord with everyone from local law enforcement to federal agents, it doesn’t get more punk rock than this.
“Gangsta, Gangsta” spins a similar yarn of how dirt is done in Compton. They emphatically state that they aren’t role models and this is not a life to envy but a game where survival is the prize. As the KRS-One lifted sample states, it’s not about a salary it’s all about reality. A far cry from the days of grills and rims that plague the hip-hop world today.
“Express Yourself” is a blithe and danceable beat box that features Dr. Dre stepping out from behind the mixing board to kick, what else, rhymes about reality. The use of Jean Knight’s ’70s chart topper “Mr. Big Stuff” is on-point as are Dre’s microphone abilities. And while it is comical today to hear Dre rap about the dangers of weed, at the time he surely came across as nothing less than sincere.
Under the tutelage of Eazy-E, Dre and Yella, Straight Outta Compton utilized simple old school appeal with brash samples of thug wise sounds. Throughout the album, sirens and shotgun shells are carefully placed but certainly not overdone in order to give the best account of street life to a mostly uninformed audience. The samples are the noises that rock their neighborhoods to sleep at night and the rhymes are the bedtime tales that the underprivileged have a heard a thousand times over. It isn’t a gimmick, it isn’t a fabrication. It’s a raw truth and in today’s hip-hop, that’s a commodity of the past.
Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Ice-T – Power