Some Ramblings - Straight Outta Compton (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Way back when before GPS' became ubiquitous and an indispensable part of global travel, there used to be a few auto clubs around the country that put out travel advisories, street level maps and directions for tourists and travel enthusiasts, in regard to cheap and affordable accommodation, good dining places, and the pick of all, information about the safety aspects of the neighborhoods. Through majority of the 90s, there were five neighborhoods that consistently found a place among the top 10 least safe places in the country, with the added advice to never stop the car, to never roll down the windows, and to simply drive away even if there was a flat tire, in the event of getting lost in one of these places while driving around. They were Downtown Detroit, West Memphis, South side Chicago, East Washington D.C. and the area in question, South Central Los Angeles (covering the vast swathe of Inglewood and Compton). The unfortunate (and somewhat lucky) passers-by who had the misfortune of their cars breaking down in those areas and somehow survived the ordeal to recount their tales of terror at parties, all point out about burly men assembled in groups around street corners decked up in an assortment of intimidating wear, their heads turning in unison towards the stopped car and some appearing to approach the vehicle almost hurriedly. Whether to help or otherwise was a question that depended on the luck of the narrator. If such was the state of mind of someone who merely zipped through those neighborhoods, imagine the plight of the people who had to call those neighborhoods 'home', for no other reason than the rents of the living quarters (hard to qualify some of them with a more respectable moniker, 'house') being offered at throwaway prices. Yeah, people do live there, go to work, schools and businesses in and around those places, with the sole exception that the trip back into the house at the end of the day was a toss up. Drug culture, gang violence and unemployment created such a vicious cycle of self perpetuating decay that, come the reveal date when those auto clubs updated their annual list, those 5 places refused to make away to other cities and steadfastly held on to their slots, with the individual ranks up and down a few rungs depending on any national/international events being hosted there, the only times when the presence of law enforcement was felt around.

Lore goes that the 'Blues' music has its origins in the cotton fields of deep south, where slaves tired out in sweltering heat in the summer picking their allotted quota of cotton bales, retired to their quarters at the end of the day and started belting out these somber notes of pain and hardship. The phenomenon grew from there and now singing the 'Blues' is synonymous to pouring out the heart that got singed with intense personal pain. What was a cry for privilege and equality before, turned into a personal angst of broken hearts and shattered dreams. Any music form that rises out of injustice and oppression tends to have a longer shelf life long after those injustices and oppressions have faded away, for the reason that form finds a place, acceptance and appreciation in the underlying emotion (in the case of Blues, pain) across many a generation, cutting across races and regions.

Whenever their men assume the highest offices in the country (the Presidency and the Vice Presidency), the respective ladies are obligated to champion a cause of their choice that is close to their heart. And like the current First Lady's untiring efforts to raise awareness about childhood obesity and healthy eating practices, Tipper Gore, lady of then Vice President Al Gore, chose to focus her energies to put an end to what she termed as the scourge of the black culture, 'The Gangsta Rap', the music form that talked (and rhymed) heavily about the violence in the black neighborhoods, the militant solutions, the gangster and drug culture, the misogyny (both mistreatment and objectification of women), all in colorful words and details. Cursorily, Tipper had a point that 'gangsta rap' glorified misanthropy, but it is only on a closer observation can one trace the root of that music to the imbalances in the society that marginalized a section of people, purely on color, creating a need for one in the first place. And in that regard, in comic book parlance, 'Straight Outta Compton' is the origin story of 'Gangsta Rap'.

The movie is about the meteoric rise of the some of the founding fathers of gangsta rap music, many of whom rose to the level of music moguls today, each with his own music label and a stable of young, angry and hungry talents trying to break into an already crowded and tough market. While there can be any amount of judgments rendered against the black community in contemporary America about their collective failure to shrug off the historical injustices meted out to them and rise through the ranks, economically, socially and culturally, just like any other immigrant group fresh off the boat landing on the shores of Staten Island which endured and persevered, the fact that none of those groups started off being slaves, treated only a little better than livestock, earning their freedom, justice and dignity fighting every step of the way, has something to do with the wide chasm that separates the rest of the immigrants' experience in United States and the blacks. Add to that the deep seated prejudices that permeated the various positions of power causes the black community to eye with suspicion any sincere efforts of the majority community trying to help them towards true integration and assimilation with the rest. No where is the gap more pronounced than in the justice system - at both the law enforcement end and upholding end - where blacks tend to get arrested more, and sentenced longer than the whites for similar crimes. Under such circumstances, when merely 'driving while black' is reason enough to be pulled over and be subjected to humiliating frisking by the patrol cops, when 'stand your ground' is the official policy (a more polished name for shoot first ask questions later) of neighborhood crime watches in some states, when demagoguery and political baiting constantly attack the 'entitlement culture' extended to the blacks, overlooking the obvious that the whites enjoyed an even better hand out system for more than a couple hundred years - all this, and Tipper wonders what causes blacks to grow up so violent, defying authority and rapping about all of it in a language that is in the bluest shade possible?

Though the movie is biographical, and hits all the high (and at times low) notes in the careers of those musicians, following the standard template of rise, fall and eventual resurrection of the group (sometimes even white washing over their much publicized acts of violence and impropriety, for the simple reason that some of the rappers are producers themselves of this fare), it still offers an unvarnished social commentary of those times, the environment in which a bunch of teenagers took to the mike and vented their ire out. And during a sold out concert, teaming with law enforcement officers, when the lead singer eyes the police captain for a moment, and still goes on with the controversial lyric that has the hook line 'fuck tha police', with the audience joining the chant with some gusto, it is not merely for the shock value, it is the after shocks of a broken trust deep down.



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