Straight Outta Compton is the debut studio album by American hip hop group N.W.A, released August 8, 1988 on group member Eazy-E's record label Ruthless Records. Production for the album was handled by Dr. Dre with DJ Yella giving co-production. The album has been viewed as the pioneering record of gangsta rap with its ever-present profanity and violent lyrics. It has been considered to be one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop records by music writers and has had an enormous impact on the evolution of West Coast hip hop.
Straight Outta Compton redefined the direction of hip hop, which resulted in lyrics concerning the gangster lifestyle becoming the driving force in sales figures. It was later re-released on September 24, 2002, remastered and containing four bonus tracks. An extended version of the album was released on December 4, 2007, honoring the 20th anniversary of the original album. On April 14, 2015, Universal Music Group reissued the album on a Limited Edition red cassette as part of their Respect The Classics series. In 2003, it was ranked number 144 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, the fifth highest ranking for a hip-hop album on the list behind Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Run-DMC's Raising Hell, The Notorious B.I.G's Ready to Die and Dr Dre's The Chronic.
The album reached triple platinum sales status, reaching platinum status with no airplay support and without any major tours.
As the hip hop community worldwide received the album with a high note, the members of N.W.A became the top stars for the emerging new era of gangsta rap while popularizing the lyrics of Ice Cube and MC Ren. The album also helped to spawn many young MCs and gangsta hip hop groups from areas such as Compton, California, and South Central Los Angeles, as many thought they had the same story to tell and the ability to pursue the career track that N.W.A had taken, hence groups such as Compton's Most Wanted coming into being.
Because of the recurring violent and sexual lyrics and profanity, often specifically directed at governmental organizations such as the LAPD, N.W.A always enjoyed a particular reputation with U.S. Senators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as noted in the LP's published notes. This situation persisted over the years with the group's visible head, Eazy-E. One of the reasons for this was "Fuck tha Police", the highly controversial track from the album that resulted in the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service sending a letter to Ruthless Records informing the label of their displeasure with the song's message, and N.W.A was banned from performing at several venues. The FBI letter only helped further popularize the album and N.W.A, and in the group's 1990 song "100 Miles and Runnin'", while the music video shows the crew running from the police, Dr. Dre raps "and now the FBI is all over my dick!" as a response to the FBI's warnings. Also, in his 1990 song "Amerikkka's Most Wanted", Ice Cube mocks the FBI with the line "With a pay-off, cop gotta lay off, FBI on my dick, stay off".
The lyrics on the album were mainly written by Ice Cube and MC Ren. Some critics of the album expressed their view that the record glamorized Black-on-Black crime, but others stated that the group was simply showing the reality of living in the areas of Compton, California, and South Central Los Angeles. Steve Huey in a retrospective review for AllMusic feels that the lyrics are more about "raising hell" than social criticism, but also feels the album is "refreshingly uncalculated" due to its humor; something he feels is rare in hardcore rap.
Many critics feel that the album's lyrics glamorize gang violence. The Washington Post writer David Mills wrote: "The hard-core street rappers defend their violent lyrics as a reflection of 'reality.' But for all the gunshots they mix into their music, rappers rarely try to dramatize that reality — a young man flat on the ground, a knot of lead in his chest, pleading as death slowly takes him in. It's easier for them to imagine themselves pulling the trigger". However, Wichita Eagle-Beacon editor Bud Norman noted that "They [N.W.A] don't make it sound like much fun... They describe it with the same nonjudgmental resignation that a Kansan might use about a tornado."
The production on the album was generally seen as top-quality for the time, with Dr. Dre's production performing well with his instrumentals and drum machine beats, and DJ Yella's turntable scratches and overall co-production seen as proficient by hip hop critics. Some critics find it somewhat sparse and low-budget given the significance of the album and compared with other producers of the time such as Marley Marl.
The album's most controversial track, "Fuck tha Police", was partly responsible for the fame of N.W.A as the "World's Most Dangerous Group", and it did not appear on the censored version of the album. The song "Gangsta Gangsta" talks about the danger and violence in South Central and Compton. "Express Yourself" speaks of the ideas of free expression and the constraints placed on performers by radio censorship. Every N.W.A member except DJ Yella recorded a solo song. MC Ren made his solo performance on two songs; "If It Ain't Ruff" and "Quiet on tha Set". Dr. Dre, who mostly produced rather than performed, did a solo effort on the single "Express Yourself". Ice Cube performed on "I Ain't tha 1". Eazy-E's only solo recording was a remix of the song "8 Ball", which appeared on N.W.A's previous album N.W.A and the Posse. The only guests on the album were Ruthless Records ghostwriter the D.O.C., who appeared on "Parental Discretion Iz Advised", rhyming the intro, and founding N.W.A member Arabian Prince, who contributed minor vocals on "Something 2 Dance 2".
Six tracks from the album were released on N.W.A's Greatest Hits: "Gangsta Gangsta", "Fuck tha Police", "Straight Outta Compton" (extended mix), "If It Ain't Ruff", "I Ain't tha 1" and " Express Yourself "
In a contemporary review for the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot found N.W.A.'s music "fuller and funkier" than Public Enemy's and their lyrics just as "unforgiving". The Orange County Register noted the explicit language on the album, noting that it made fellow rapper Ice-T "look like a Cub Scout". The review concluded that the album was "curiously uninvolving" and that it "lacks the insight and passion that put the best work by the likes of Boogie Down Productions, Ice-T and Public Enemy so far ahead of the field." The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Mark Holmberg described the album as "a preacher-provoking, mother-maddening, reality-stinks diatribe that wallows in gangs, doping, drive-by shootings, brutal sexism, cop slamming and racism". Newsweek noted that Straight Outta Compton "introduced some of the most grotesquely exciting music ever made", and added that "Hinting at gang roots, and selling themselves on those hints, they project a gangster mystique that pays no attention where criminality begins and marketing lets off".
Following its 2002 re-release, Jon Caramanica of Rolling Stone magazine cited Straight Outta Compton as one of hip-hop's "most crucial albums", calling it a "bombastic, cacophonous car ride through Los Angeles' burnt-out and ignored hoods."
"The lyrics on this record are unrelenting in their unpleasantness," lamented Peter Clarke in Hi-Fi News & Record Review, awarding the album a rock-bottom "D:4" rating. "The cumulative effect is like listening to an endless fight next door. The music on this record is without a hint of dynamics or melody." "In the wake of Public Enemy and KRS-One, it is amazing that something this lightweight could cause such a stir," snorted Charlie Dick in a two-star review for Q. "The all-mouth-and-trousers content is backed up by likable drum machine twittering, minimal instrumentation and duffish production. . . . This regressive nonsense will be passed off as social commentary by thrill-seekers all across the free world."
The album first appeared on music charts in 1989, peaking on the US Billboard Top LPs chart at number 37, and peaking on Billboard's Top Soul LPs at number 9. It re-entered the charts in 2003, peaking on the UK Albums Top 75 at number 35, and on the Ireland Albums Top 75 at number 20.
The album has sold over three million copies and was certified triple platinum on November 11, 2015. It was N.W.A's best selling album, as their debut, N.W.A and the Posse, was certified gold by the RIAA. Their final album, Niggaz4Life, was certified platinum by the RIAA. According to Priority Records' calculations, 80% of sales were in the suburbs, beyond the boundaries of black neighborhoods. A week before release of the 2015 biopic film Straight Outta Compton, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 at number 173; a couple of weeks later it rose to number 30 due to the popularity of the film, surpassing its original peak position back in 1989 when it peaked at number 37. The album peaked at number 4 following the opening weekend of the movie. On November 11, 2015, the album was certified triple platinum by the RIAA for exceeding sales of 3 million copies in the US.
"It's definitely the best rap record I've ever heard," remarked Sinéad O'Connor. "Of course, I can see why people might be offended by the lyrics. But as a human being and not as a public figure, I'm not offended at all. I realise from reading interviews with people like Ice Cube, when they explain that they're not talking about women in general but about particular women they know, it makes a lot of sense. I think the sound of the record is brilliant. I really like hardcore hip-hop and reggae stuff, so it's right up my flight of stairs."
"Rappers haven't always referred to themselves as 'niggers' on record," remarked Hip Hop Connection, placing it at No.3 on their countdown of rap's best albums. "It came as something of a shock then that here were five politically astute black men calling themselves niggers and their women bitches at a time when Afrocentric rap was the current vogue… Straight Outta Compton sounded so exciting, insignificant details such as realism and integrity could be overlooked."
In 2003, the TV network VH1, named Straight Outta Compton the 62nd greatest album of all time.
It was ranked ten in Spin magazine's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005".
In 1998, the album was selected as #68 of The Source's 100 Best Rap Albums.
It is the group's only album on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (ranked #144), and the first hip hop album ever to get a 5-star rating from them in their initial review. When comedian Chris Rock wrote an article for the magazine about the 25 Greatest Hip Hop Albums of all time in 2005, Straight Outta Compton was number one on his list.
The album is ranked the 112th best of all time by Acclaimedmusic.net.
In 2006, the album was listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The same year, Time magazine ranked it as one of the 100 greatest albums of all time.
Q magazine voted it one of the 'Top 50 Titles of 1989. Alternative Press (7/95, p. 88) ranked it #45 in AP's list of the 'Top 99 of '85–'95'. Vibe (12/99, p. 164) included it in Vibe's 100 Essential Albums of the 20th century. In 2004, DigitaArts included the album's cover in its list of the 25 Best Albums Covers. In 2012, Slant listed the album at #18 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s" saying "The juxtaposition of midtempo, Cali-languid grooves and violent wordplay positioned Straight Outta Compton as the sound of the West Coast firing on New York's Fort Sumpter in what would become '90s culture's biggest Uncivil War."
In November 2016, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, becoming the first hip-hop album to receive this honor.
The album cover and title has been parodied by American cartoonist Bill Holbrook for his Kevin and Kell 2004 collection as "Straight Outta Computers"; Welsh novelty hip hop group Goldie Lookin Chain for their 2005 album, Straight Outta Newport and on "Weird Al" Yankovic's 2006 album, Straight Outta Lynwood, and Australian grindcore band Blood Duster's 1997 album Str8 Outta Northcote. Punk rock band NOFX released a song titled "Straight Outta Massachusetts" on their Cokie the Clown EP. In the 2014 film 22 Jump Street, Mrs. Dickson states that she's "straight outta Compton" when talking about her and her husband's (played by Ice Cube) backgrounds. G-Unit rapper Young Buck titled his debut "Straight Outta Cashville". Straight edge hardcore band Good Clean Fun started their 2001 album Straight Outta Hardcore (with a similar album cover) with the phrase 'You are about to witness the strength of positivity', mimicking the start of Straight Outta Compton.All songs were produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella
Artwork: Helane Freeman
Engineer: Donovan Sound
Executive Producer: Eric Wright (Eazy-E)
Mastered by: Big Bass Brian
Photography: Eric Poppleton
Producers: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella.
MC Ren performs on 7 tracks.
Eazy-E performs on 7 tracks.
Ice Cube performs on 6 tracks.
Dr. Dre performs on 5 tracks.
DJ Yella performs on 1 track.
Arabian Prince performs on 1 track.
The D.O.C. performs on 1 track as guest artist.