’Straight Outta Compton’, detailing the rise of the world’s most notorious rap group, N.W.A, is taking the box office by storm. Founding member Ice Cube and his son O’Shea Jackson jr, who stars in the film gives Susan Griffin the low down.
YOU might think a movie about the rise of gangsta rap group N.W.A might be niche, but box office figures are proving it’s anything but. In the States, Straight Outta Compton made more than $60m (€51.8m) in its opening weekend — more than the likes of Disney’s Ant-Man and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, starring Tom Cruise.
But the film’s success shouldn’t really be a surprise. The five members of N.W.A made music that exploded beyond the poverty-stricken urban centres of America and attracted attention all around the world.
The movie starts in Compton, just south of downtown Los Angeles, in the late ’80s, when gang warfare and the plague of crack cocaine made the city’s streets among the most dangerous in the country. In response, the LAPD led a charge that was merciless.
Against this backdrop, a young weed dealer by the name of Eazy-E reaches out to his friend Dr Dre, a DJ who spins at a local club with DJ Yella, as well as MC Ren and Ice Cube, to form a rap group that will expose life in the ’hood. Their voice ignites a social revolution that’s still reverberating today.
“It’s extremely hard to put 10 years into two hours, it’s like how do you smash those 10 years? What do you leave in, what do you take out?” asks Ice Cube.
Some critics have complained that the film, directed by F Gary Gray, skirts over less salubrious events.
“What we did was basically say whatever didn’t pertain to N.W.A probably should be left for another movie,” explains Ice Cube who, along with Dre, also has a producer credit on the project.
“There were 10 movies made about Elvis, and you can probably make 10 movies about N.W.A and they’d all be different, because our lives were so vivid. If we were making a documentary, we’d probably approach it differently. We wanted people to not be able to Google search and know everything that was in the movie, but go behind what everyone knows.”
Ice Cube, born O’Shea Jackson, has sold more than 10m albums as a solo artist, forged a successful acting career and amassed an estimated wealth of $140m. But he’d always had the notion of chronicling the rise of N.W.A on screen, and the revolutionary music that emerged during the group’s 10-year span. Only in 2009 did he come across a script that jump-started the idea of a feature film.
“There were so many things happening at the time, but we had to tell it in a three-act, comprehensive movie style,” he continues. And there was no doubt the film would be dedicated to Eazy-E, who passed away in 1995.
“Thank God for Eazy, who had the vision and saw this music as the future, the records that people want to hear. He was so adamant about putting Compton on the map, if that’s the last thing he did.”
When looking for young men to play the five members of N.W.A, the mandate was performance first, then street cred and likeness to the person they’d be portraying. Jason Mitchell was chosen to play Eazy-E; Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre; Neil Brown Jr as DJ Yella; Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, and Ice Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr, as the final component.
“I wasn’t nervous about playing him, I was nervous about being in a movie, you know?” says the 24-year-old, who bears a striking resemblance to his dad.
“I had never acted or anything like that. So the two years of auditioning and acting coaches helped build a confidence within me.”
Ice Cube has joked that his son (he also has three other children with his wife Kimberly) was born to play the role.
“I didn’t want to be [pushy], to the point where I was asking him to do something he didn’t want to do.
“I pushed him at the beginning, and then I backed off to just see if he would take the lead and run with it. ” he says.
“But I saw him get laser-focused and embody this role like a seasoned actor. He did a masterful performance.”
For Jackson Jr, the role became an obsession. “I knew I couldn’t go see Straight Outta Compton and watch somebody else play this part.” As filming commenced, the exchange between father and son became ever more integral.
“Dad has told me these stories my whole life, so to be able to re-enact them on screen is the coolest thing in the world,” the new actor adds. “He was always accessible, he’d call and talk to me and let me know where his head was for certain scenes, so I could use that knowledge to make the scene pop and be as authentic as possible.”
The experience has brought Jackson Jr even closer to his dad. “I learned about my father’s courage at a young age. He displays an integrity that a lot of people at 17, 18, 19 just don’t have, and I think it’s something that people should be inspired by.”
There can’t have been much for him to rebel against, though. Laughing, the rapper’s son adds: “He’s always on my side. He’s a stern but fair father, super reasonable. As long as you don’t bring any BS, there won’t be any BS for you to have, so I feel those are simple laws.”
Having taken time to reflect on his younger years, Ice Cube, who’s currently working on new album Everythang’s Corrupt, has no regrets.
“No, I don’t, because everything happened for a reason and I turned out fine,” he says. “If I changed anything, I may not be here.”
Straight Outta Compton is released on Friday.
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