F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton,” the story of influential hip hop group N.W.A., features several scenes where police harass its members, including a particularly humiliating encounter outside a Torrance, Calif., recording studio.
On Tuesday, Universal Pictures gathered cast and real-life N.W.A. figures for an hour-long YouTube livestream panel, not just to talk about the legacy of N.W.A., but why the depiction of police brutality will resonate at a time when headlines are of racial profiling and the shooting of unarmed black suspects.
“My instruction to all my kids is, ‘Make it home.’ This is your only order and that is your only instruction. Make it home no matter what,” said Ice Cube, whose son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., portrays him in the movie. “That means do whatever it takes to make it to the house.”
He added, “The fact that we live in a world where we have to remind people that ‘black lives matter’ is terrible in itself. We all have to check ourselves that we even have to remind each other that each other matters.”
DJ Yella said police harassment ‘was deep in the ghetto back then. We were going places, [and the authorities would say] ‘get on the ground face down.’ Nowadays, 26 years later, it is like the same thing going on… But the difference is everybody got cell phones, body cams.”
He added, “It is not all the police. It is just the ones that cross the line. They got to be accountable for what they are doing. I am going to give you the solution. You give them 100 years on the main line, that will start [them saying], ‘We got to watch ourselves now.’ You got to stretch them. You are stretching the criminals. They are criminals too.”
Yella also said the problem extends to women and “any color, any race. They don’t care anymore.”
“It’s just a power trip,” Ice Cube said. “Bully tactics.”
N.W.A.’s music became a cultural target in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the song “F–k tha Police,” eliciting a protest from parental groups and a letter from the FBI. The group was often singled out when Tipper Gore led a campaign to put parental labels on records.
But instead of toning it down, N.W.A. called attention to the FBI letter, giving them even more publicity.
“We just felt it was another song on the record,” said MC Ren. “We had no idea of the reaction we would get from the record.”
Dr. Dre, who also was on the YouTube panel, challenged that recollection when he interjected, to some laughter, “You looked at me in the studio when we were playing this back and you said, ‘This is going to start some shit.’ That is exactly what you said.”
Ren replied, “I didn’t know it was going to start that kind of shit.”
Even though the movie is bound to elicit discussion about present problems with race and policing, Gray said he wants audiences to “have a great time, but I want them to be inspired.”
Dre told the audience, made up of young residents of Compton, that the movie shows how important it is to “just believe in yourself. Just stick to what you are good at and just keep pushing.”
Ice Cube said, “Everything we’ve done has not been positive, you know, and that is real. But it has been honest. That is all we can give. I am pretty sure a few more kids cuss because of us. But on the other hand, we hope a few more people get woken up, a few more people understand we did this on the creative tip. We didn’t go out on the street and burn down buildings or loot or nothing. We just stayed creative and positive. You can do a lot with a pen and a pad. That is what we did.”