|1988||Straight Outta Compton||N.W.A.||★★||40||Hip-Hop|
Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. was a monumental and pioneering hip-hop record, but age has not been kind to it, and while you have to talk about how instrumental the album was in forming gangsta rap, highly political music about racial injustices and inequalities, and putting hip-hop on the map, you can do that while also acknowledging that it just is not that good compared to some of the things before it and much of what it inspired.
More often than not, the songs on Straight Outta Compton are not fun or easy to listen to (I don’t think they’re supposed to be). The beats are repetitive and straightforward. Other than Ice Cube, the verses are weak and lack energy, and he even uses what feels like a third grade vocabulary most of the time.
The three singles — the record’s title track, “Fuck the Police” and “Express Yourself” — are all solid tracks and are all songs folks know and played a big part in hip hop history. The first two open the album with a lot of energy and anger, and the opening 5 tracks are all good enough. “Express Yourself” is a great change of pace midway through that has a more positive or optimistic outlook.
But while the record opens with a few bangers, the album really falls off after “Express Yourself.” For hip-hop music, this is like an early punk album, where it’s impressive because of the emotion, the anger, and the way N.W.A. used the art form to express their feelings, not necessarily because the beats were super innovative or the lyrics were particularly smart. It’s about being risky and not sugar coating anything. And obviously, for better or worse, this album shaped a good third of all hip-hop records that came out after it. Speaking explicitly about crime and gang life, women and sex, and oppression are all still things covered in hip hop today. But the album does feel and sound highly dated.
Hip-hop just a year or two later was a lot more musically creative and lyrically had more depth. Even other albums from 1988 by artists like De La Soul, Public Enemy and Rakim were more accessible and aesthetically pleasing to the ear. Seeing how so many artists who are highly respected and made fantastic gangster/hard core rap in the 90s were inspired by this album, I wish I could have heard it in context at the time. But when retrospectively looking at it 100 percent through a musical lens measuring it both against its peers and contemporary music, it really doesn’t stack up well against either.