The Story of NWA: A Glimpse of the Careers, Success, and Legacy of the Group That Came Straight Outta Compton

Ciera Mcclenton

“They empowered black men to not be afraid…to not show fear. They weren’t afraid of their background and [showed] through music you can make it out of the hood,” said Loy Norrix senior Stephan Speikes.
The golden age of the 20th century, the 90’s was the time of low-rise jeans, oversized shirts, Fila’s, and pagers. So many pop culture staples emerged from this period in time, including those considered the most dangerous group in America.
August of this year marked the 30 year anniversary of the N.W.A. (N****s With Attitude) debut album release, “Straight Outta Compton.” This was the beginning of the path to struggle and success for the group, as well as the people they came into contact with. Notably, N.W.A. was one of the most influential groups of their time period and has still been able to influence youth and pop culture today.
N.W.A. was a rap and hip-hop group founded in the late 80’s and lasted into the 90’s. The group originally consisted of five artists: Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, M.C. Ren, and DJ Yella. The golden age for N.W.A. spanned their first few years before one of the main members, Ice-Cube, left the group; however, they were still very successful after his departure.
During this period their most notable pieces came out, such as “F**k tha Police,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Express Yourself,” and “Boyz-N-The-Hood” to name a few. The time period after Ice-Cube’s departure supplied listeners with some very popular and well-known hits due to the controversy between the former and current members resulting in multiple diss-tracks. The most popular of these diss-tracks were “Real N****s’” in 1990 and “No Vaseline” in 1991.
The group’s secondary success came from the legacy they left behind not only through their influential music but from the record companies that formed as a result. This left a strong impact on the entertainment industry as well.
For some time, Ice Cube continued to make music then shifted his focus to acting and producing. He co-produced and starred in the classic “Friday,” which became extremely popular and spawned off two sequels.
Ice Cube also starred in “Are We There Yet?” and “21 Jump Street,” both of which had sequels and a few TV shows. The late Eazy-E aimed to educate and spread awareness about HIV/AIDS once he was diagnosed with the disease in 1995. Dr. Dre went on to become a music producer, helping to start the music labels Ruthless Records, Def Jam and finally, his own personal record company, Aftermath.
Artists and groups such as Logic, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Rihanna were first produced through these labels. Dr. Dre also started the company Beats By Dre, a headphone and speaker company. N.W.A. also had one of the top grossing movies of 2015 with their biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” which made over $60 million during its opening weekend alone.
N.W.A. has been heavily ridiculed for their dangerous and rebellious songs and behaviors. In numerous songs they disrespected women, police and justice departments, and encouraged the use of firearms. They even received a letter in 1989 from the FBI who claimed their songs, one in particular, incited aggression toward the police. The letter stated that the disrespect of police officers would not be tolerated.
In addition to this N.W.A. used explicit words and referenced sex in almost every song. Because of this, they are credited as troublemakers, delinquents, an overall bad influence, with music that reflected this reputation. At the time N.W.A. was even called the most dangerous group in America.
“They had a negative influence,” said Atiba Ward, business teacher at Loy Norrix, “[Their songs] talked about being mean to the police and degraded women.”
This may be true, but as said in the film “Straight Outta Compton,” their music was a reflection of their reality. It may have negative influence on those who don’t have to deal with things such as police brutality, drug abuse, or gang violence in their daily lives, but the music resonated with people who lived that lifestyle. For some, the music was vulgar, but for so many others, the music mirrored their lives.
“They told the real life story of what people go through,” said Loy Norrix senior Breeana Moncrief.
Controversial or not, N.W.A.’s overall success and influence in the music industry, as well as in pop culture, cannot be denied. They were the pioneers for the distance that the rap genre could reach with each member contributing to the music and entertainment industry in new and innovative ways.