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Straight Outta Compton - the story of controversial rappers NWA -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In the 1980s, gangsta rap burst into mainstream popular culture, courtesy of the hip-hop group NWA and their debut album Straight Outta Compton. It was basically a controversial and explosive social commentary on gang culture, drugs and police brutality. Even though it came out 30 years ago, there's some real resonance to what's going on in race relations in the United States today, as a new biopic about NWA produced by original members Ice Cube and Dr Dre reveals. Monique Schafter spoke to rapper Ice Cube and his son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., who portrays his father in the film, and obviously, given this style of music, you should brace yourself for some strong language.

(Excerpts from Straight Outta Compton shown)

MONIQUE SCHAFTER, REPORTER: Rap group NWA shocked the world with their honest account of life on the rough streets of Compton in LA.

ICE CUBE: We had the influx of gang bangin', crack cocaine was new in the '80s. Daryl Gates, who was our police chief, had considered a war on gangs, which was really a war on young black youth that looked like gang members. So, it was pretty horrid.

(Excerpts from Straight Outta Compton shown)

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, was revolutionary for its explosive social commentary at a time when gang culture, drugs and police brutality were rife.

REPORTER (archive footage, 1992): Last year, the televised thrashing of Rodney King burned itself into the national consciousness. The jury decision to acquit the police who beat him triggered the Los Angeles riots of April 29. It was the worst civil disturbance in modern American history.

ICE CUBE: You're dealing with a police department who has targeted, you know, your youth or your friends, family members. What do you do? You know, how do you fight back against that?

(Excerpts from Straight Outta Compton shown)

ICE CUBE: We didn't want to go out in the street with guns, weapons, Molotov cocktails. We didn't want to burn down our neighbourhood, we didn't want to do any of that. We wanted to make a record. We wanted to give people somewhat of a verbal weapon and not, you know, a physical weapon.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Their most controversial song, F**k tha Police, was banned from radio stations around the world.

ICE CUBE: To me, the song was poignant and we're not talking about all police.


ICE CUBE: We actually love the police. If somebody broke in our house, we would call the police. We're talking about the police who step over the line. We're talking about the police who are out of control. We're talking about the police who abuse their authority. Those are the ones that all society should want to get off the force.

NEWSREADER: There was growing outrage tonight after an unarmed African-American teenager was shot and killed by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: America's recent cases of police brutality prove that things scarily haven't changed.

WITNESS: Hands in the air, being compliant, he gets shot in his face and chest and goes down and dies.

O'SHEA JACKSON JR.: You started to feel it on set - like, the movie's importance hit a different level. We're doing the riot scenes in Detroit and the riot scenes in LA and then you go home and Ferguson's on the TV, the whole hands-up movement is starting. It's a film that's talking about the past, but it's still talking about the present. But it's a matter of people in positions of power abusing that power before NWA, during NWA, and sadly, way after NWA.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: While it's a box office success, the film has been criticised for ignoring fellow band member Dr Dre's alleged acts of violence against women.

ICE CUBE: When you trying to put 10 years into two hours, there's no way to get everything in there.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: So were there conversations about whether or not to include some of the darker stuff from Dr Dre's past, for example?

ICE CUBE: Yeah, we had those conversations, you know, and, you know, we left out even darker things. We have a laundry list of things we couldn't put in the movie that, you know, probably shoulda been in there. But what's in there is so great, I think you - you know, people are being really nitpicky, 'cause what we put in the movie, to me, is the story of NWA.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: I'm keen to get your thoughts on this just 'cause there's such a conversation about gun laws at the moment in the States. Gangsta rap references gun culture a lot. Do you think it's overly emphasised?

ICE CUBE: Ah, you know, I think - you know, I don't think it's overly emphasised because there's a lot of guns in our neighbourhood. So, what we're doing is basically being a mirror of what's happening on the ground. America is obsessed and overflooded with guns. I think it's something that we gotta get a hold of because, you know, you just can't put a gun in everybody's hand. You know, that's just not good for society. ... The world has no censors. They want us to censor our music, but when I walk out my front door, the world is raw. The world is in your face and it's vivid. And the music should be the same way. I think it's really about being yourself and expressing yourself.