I am a feminist and have been as far back as I can remember, never accepting that being born a girl meant I was less than any boy, in any way.
As a part of the first hip hop generation, I LOVE HIP HOP. Always have. When I first heard N.W.A., I didn’t like them. I was a fan of MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, Kid n’ Play, Salt n’ Peppa, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince… you know, what hip hop was before gangsta rap, fun. In fact, the biggest reason I didn’t like them was that they were part of this “gangsta rap” thing that didn’t represent me. I couldn’t relate.
When N.W.A. hit the scene my hip hop suddenly wasn’t “cool” anymore. Hardcore was in and my hip hop, and kids like me, were out. We were “weak” and “wack” and not “hard” enough. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like anything about them. I didn’t like their clothes, their hair, their lyrics, them. To me they represented everything ugly about my generation besides the fact that they were “bammas” in the eyes of my D.C. youth.
Jheri curls were never cute and they were calling themselves “niggas”. In my head, that was self-hatred. And, if that wasn’t enough, they hated me, a black woman; they were able to usher in the era of misogynistic rap, and it grew. Suddenly the women in the music I loved and had grown up with were “bitches” and “hos”.To make matters worse, women loved it. For years I pondered how it was possible to love hip hop and love myself when it was very clear that a piece of hip hop hated me. How could I be a feminist and love hip hop?
In an effort to ease my conscience about liking something that didn’t like me I decided back when I was a young adult that while I loved hip hop, I would show my disdain for misogynistic music with my money. I have never owned an N.W.A. album or any other album which showed disrespect to me. I have stayed committed to this for decades now. While I may have bobbed my head because the beat was hot, no rapper, even some of my favs, who made misogynistic rap ever made money off of me.
Which brings me back to why I went to see “Straight Outta Compton.” While it’s totally obvious they portrayed Dre, Cube, and Eazy-E in a much more positive light than what is reality, I recognize what N.W.A. are to hip hop. They are icons. They were the voice of a group of kids who had no voice. They represented the beginning of a new genre…one that ushered in an era of misogynistic rap…but also an awareness of a life that they saw daily. They were the voices of frustrated young black men.
Let’s not forget these were basically kids when they made their first album. They were frustrated with their life. Unfortunately, this is a frustration that hasn’t gone anywhere. Tonight was the first time I sat in a theater where security walked the aisles. Which is really crazy when you think about it. White men are shooting up theaters regularly, but a black movie about some black kids who made a song called “Fuck the Police” is suddenly a reason to ‘beef up’ security. Of course, black men by default are thought to be scary and dangerous in our society. Black women too, for that matter. Apparently that’s why we are killed daily while unarmed by the police. Police are scared of us.
N.W.A. being the voice of frustrated black men, fought back with their words. They gave the same kids who were getting brutalized in the streets daily by the police a voice to tell the police exactly how they felt. And that sentiment hasn’t gone anywhere. The reason they beefed up security for this movie opening? Three words, Black Lives Matter.
N.W.A. are icons. They were phenomenal talent. As much as I wanted to not like them when I was young, I couldn’t help but notice these kids were talented. They had the “it” factor. In fact, when I heard way back then (and honestly I have no idea how I heard this since it was before the social media era) that Cube refused to sign the contract with Eazy’s label I was intrigued by him. He was smart. I always liked smart artists. I started paying attention to him. Cube’s lyrics were amazing. And the first time I heard the “Deep Cover” song I had to admit Dre was a phenomenal producer. He is special. So while I didn’t want to like them, their talent won me over. I still didn’t buy their albums, but they slowly started winning my ears.
Here it is almost 30 years later; hip hop is all grown up. The music that represented my youth now has kids. I have a child. It’s funny how, depending on how old you are, your perspective is different. When the previews for “Straight Outta Compton” started running on TV my seven-year-old daughter wanted to see it. Knowing she had no clue about N.W.A. I was curious as to why she would want to see this movie. She in her few years of life has never heard a gangsta rap song. She knows basically nothing about misogyny; I have made sure of it. Out of curiosity I asked if she knew what the movie was about. She replied “It’s about Ice Cube.” A bit shocked she was aware of who Ice Cube is I asked, “Who is Ice Cube?” She replied “He’s a Hip Hop Poet.”
After laughing for a little while I had to admit, she was right. In her mind the star of multiple family movies that she has seen is indeed a “Hip Hop Poet.” He is nothing like the N.W.A member that I first felt absolute revulsion for when I was a teen. He is something much bigger now with much more meaning. Cube and Dre are much more now and have done some pretty amazing things given where they started. The young black kid in me from the city admires them; they really are icons.
The hip hop lover in me wanted to see how these icons portrayed themselves historically. The feminist in me is still torn. I can’t forget the rumors that swirl around Dre and his mistreatment of women. I can’t forget how horrible gansta rap treats women. I understand the boycott of this movie. I get it and I stand by those who show how they feel with their wallets. If you choose not to see this movie because of the misogynistic origins of its protagonists, I get it. Put your money where you are supported and not degraded. Someone has to take a stand for change. I did the same many years ago by not buying their music.
I went to see this movie to acknowledge N.W.A.’s place in our hip hop history. I hope they continue to move towards a positive place and that they bring hope to the youth. Even more I hope that maybe they can look at some of these new artists and guide them to be better because misogyny in music hasn’t gone away yet. It is past time for the disrespect of women in hip hop to end.
And to the people who thought it was smart to “beef up” security at the theaters showing “Straight Outta Compton” for fear of some sort of violence, it would be smarter for you to take action against the brutal treatment of black people by police. It’s not the music that causes the rage but the mistreatment and murders of black people. Fix the actual problem, because you can’t fight the ‘expression’.