How could I possibly refuse? My brother went right to the point – was I interested in seeing ‘Straight Outta Compton’ with he, his wife and one of my nephews on Friday night? But of course I was. Whilst my appearance may suggest otherwise, at heart I remain a gangsta rapper, ready to bring the rhyme in a microphone fight at nary a moment’s notice. Granted, there are very few gangsta rappers who would use a word like ‘nary’ but there’s no harm in trying. Unless, of course, the term ‘nary’ might result in a rap-feud in which case I will steer well clear of ‘nary’ and find a less controversial way of putting it.
Rap music is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, rap music is rarely associated with tea at all. Whilst rap songs are known to reference a startling array of beverages, a soothing mug of Early Grey is never among them. I’d like to say that I understood rap music right from the outset, but that would be untrue. I really only began to appreciate it because my brothers did. The lyrics were offensive but it was authentic and vital at a time when so much music seemed to be part of a five-year corporate plan and wore spandex. Yuck.
N.W.A.’s album ‘Straight Outta Compton’ begins with the following spoken-word declaration: ‘You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge’. It’s something Pink Floyd could never have said without everyone bursting into hysterics. It was a statement of intent on which the songs duly delivered. Granted, there were contradictions. As someone in Tyabb, it was hard to reconcile the central conflict of gangsta rap – complaints of police harassment coupled with unfettered boasting as to lawlessness. What could not be denied, however, was its underlying fury and passion. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s a movie.
As I readied myself to sit through a two-hour biopic about the birth of gangsta rap, I prepared a mix tape to play in the Volkswagen – it’s a fair old drive to Fountain Gate. As I travelled, I could not help but rue the fact that whilst the car had a demister and air conditioning, it lacked the hydraulic suspension system so beloved by rappers that makes the vehicle bounce up and down. I then wondered if, given the size of the vehicle, I threw myself up and down with sufficient vigour, I could achieve much the same effect.
As I pulled into the rooftop car park at Fountain Gate shopping centre, I slowed, pulled the windows down and pushed the jams way, way up. The music was so loud that all the loose change I use for parking meters rattled. I could tell by the way shoppers shielded their children’s eyes and ears, people were impressed. As I turned to convey this indisputable fact to my sixteen year-old nephew, I found that he had accidentally slipped down to the floor below the dashboard where no one could see him. Perhaps he was concerned about a possible drive-by. Nevertheless, it seemed to be a matter of extraordinarily bad luck that this should occur just as my rap-driving skills were on display.
Once inside, we met up with my brother and sister in law. Like me, my brother is a repressed gangsta rapper. We greeted each other as we always do; with elaborate hip hop hand gestures before deciding to line up for food. Given that it was a Friday night, I was immediately anxious as to whether we might be able to secure a table. Granted, it’s hard to imagine Dr. Dre or Ice Cube ever worrying about such things, but that doesn’t detract from my broader commitment to bringing the rhyme.
I ordered at the counter before being shown to my seat. My brother, however, was less successful. When asked whether he wanted a drink by a sixteen-year-old malcontent who had declared that she was supposed to be on a break just as my brother approached the counter, he felt pressured to compensate for this by ordering a drink he didn’t really want. It’s something of a family trait. For some reason, we feel compelled to make waiters and cashiers happy with our order. It is possible, I think, to be too polite. It’s this same tendency that once resulted in my circling the IKEA car park for days until my wife eventually made me get out so she could take over. As my brother sat down, bottle of pink citrus blend mineral water called ‘Agrum’ by his side, we both knew exactly what had just happened. Instantly, we both resolved to write a comprehensive ‘diss’ track that would teach both the cashier and the makers ‘Agrum’ a lesson.
There is no better version of history than the one you write yourself. That former members of the group were involved in producing the movie was evident. It was also a reminder of how fleeting moments of artistic triumph can be. N.W.A.’s debut album was a groundbreaking classic, but it was all down hill from there after Ice Cube departed. Presumably he was aggrieved when he found pink mineral water on the band’s rider. But some of the music remains potent and powerful and still makes me happy. Once a rapper, always a rapper. Word.