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'Straight Outta Compton': A Reminder That N.W.A. Lyrics Were Controversial, Poignant10:05

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This weekend, we'll all be able to look back on what you could call some ancient history in hip-hop.

The new film "Straight Outta Compton" tells the story of five friends who shot out of that California city like a rocket. But it also serves as a reminder about the true-to-life tales that N.W.A. sang about, of police mistreatment, distrust and life in the inner city.

Here & Now's Robin Young is joined by hip-hop historian Bakari Kitwana to discuss N.W.A.

Interview Highlights: Bakari Kitwana

On the tone of the U.S. at the time of N.W.A.'s rise to popularity

"One of the important phenomenons that's going on in the country was the crack cocaine explosion and the war on drugs, and so you have the police kind of beginning to move into this paramilitary style of policing, and really targeting black and brown neighborhoods. That contributes to the rise of incarceration in this country. In 1970, only 200,000 people are incarcerated in this entire country; by 2000, over 2 million folks are incarcerated. And a lot of this had to do with this shift that often violated people's constitutional rights and in many ways began to lay the foundation for a continuation of what we're seeing today."

On the lasting impact of N.W.A.'s music

"I think that what we're seeing today, with the 'black lives matter' protests — specifically coming out of Ferguson, with the Mike Brown rebellion, before it was labeled 'black lives matter' — we're seeing this style of policing and this kind of violation of basic rights for folks that's really off the mainstream. And N.W.A. brought it into a mainstream conversation. I think the same thing is happening today, and you're getting artists like Kendrick Lamar articulating this in their music."

On what N.W.A. represented for young people in the 1980s

"For a generation of young people who were oftentimes locked out of presentation of their own voice, groups like N.W.A. and hip-hop articulate those voices, even though it was so shocking that a lot of the older folks didn't really hear the politics of it until it was too late. A few years later, after N.W.A., we have the LA riots. When you're young and that's happening, you're getting all the things that are beautiful and all the things that are ugly. With N.W.A., that's what we got."


This segment aired on August 14, 2015.


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