This is the song that defined gangster rap for a generation. Even people who don’t listen to rap know this. And people who do listen to rap can usually rap along for at least Ice Cube’s verse!
N.W.A had a turbulent history, and existed at a pivotal time in hip hop. The older, dance based sound was being replaced by harder songs about drugs and murder, and a new wave of rappers was coming to prominence.
The song was hugely controversial at the time (1988) because of it’s subject matter, and along with the rest of their album, called Straight Outta Compton, was banned from getting any real radio play. It talks about killing police and various other people besides, which was much less common at the time than it is now.
The song begins with the iconic “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge” by Dr Dre, before dropping a heavy Amen break drum beat. The melody is provided by ominous horns and a catchy plucked rhythm.
The first verse is by Ice Cube; the second by MC Ren. The final verse is by Eazy E.
Such is the iconic appeal of the song, that when the film about N.W.A was released in 2015, the name was “Straight Outta Compton”, and the song finally charted. It’s a key part of the collective identity of gangster rap.
Still drops like a bomb…