Blue’s Beats #24 – Straight Outta Compton

Straight-Outta-Compton-1

 

F. Gary Gray‘s NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton, was one of 2015’s biggest and best surprise hits. The film chronicles the creation, dissolution, and near re-birth of the popular hip hop group that defined a new generation of music and popular culture in the late 1980s and 1990s. Straight Outta Compton opened to both critical and commercial acclaim, despite moderate controversy during the film’s production.

Read Andrea Berloff‘s and Jonathan Herman‘s 2016 Academy Award nominated script here, then analyze the story’s important beats.

 

 

PLOT SUMMARY

The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.

SET UP

The film focuses primarily on three of the group’s five members, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), each of them is introduced separately.

In an explosive opening, Eazy is caught in the middle of a drug deal gone bad as the police quite literally smash through the house, sending him running for safety across the rooftops of Compton. Dre is confronted by his mother, upset that he missed a job interview that she had arranged for him. She only wishes the best for her sons, but Dre simply can’t convince her that his music is worth pursuing, causing him to abandon his home for his passion. The stark contrast of racial inequality is highlighted as we are introduced to Ice Cube returning to Compton from school in the Valley.

Page 12: Cube meets  up with Dre in Compton. Dre is working at the turntables, and Cube pulls out a sheet of lyrics. The dynamic is revealed; Dre is the producer and Cube writes the rhymes.

Page 12:

DRE’S IN THE ZONE, doing his thing on the turntables, mixing, SCRATCHING. And whatever it is sounds DOPE. Next-level shit.

Cube enters — Lets the SONIC ACROBATICS BOOMING from Dre’s turntables marinate on him a minute.”

 

INCITING INCIDENT

Dre works as a disc jockey with DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) at Lonzo’s nightclub, a joint frequented by Eazy and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). This is the first time in the film that all five members converge.

Page 19: Dre proposes to Eazy that he give up his dealing and get into the music business. 

Page 19:

EAZY
Yeah, but what I do is playin’ out,
fast. Muthafuckas are gettin’
locked up and laid down out here
left and right. Time to make a few
changes.
 
DRE
Yeah. Change ain’t bad. Shit, I’m
tryin’ to make a few changes my
self.
 
EAZY
What you mean?
 
Dre pauses, considering how to proceed…
 
DRE
Man, you should think about dumpin’
some money into this music shit. I
got some ideas —
 
 
Page 24: Eazy, Dre, and Cube meet at Lonzo’s studio to record what will become the record, BOYZ ‘N THA HOOD.
 
 

 

PLOT POINT I

BOYZ ‘N THA HOOD takes off, gaining momentum and popularity, attracting the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who meets with Eazy, proposing a bright and prosperous future.
 
The guys prepare backstage for a show at Skateland Rink in Compton. Jerry is managing the group, arranging a tour and looking for distribution. He tells them that there are record label executives in the crowd, so they need to bring their A-game. The pressure is on.
 
Page 36: After the show, most of the executives have bailed… all but one, Bryan Turner (Tate Ellington). Bryan wants to sign the group to a record deal, much to the guys’ excitement. They’ve made it.
 
Page 38:
 
BRYAN TURNER
So what do ya say? Wanna go make a
record?
 
 It takes a second for it to sink in. But they are as ready as they
ever could be. Jerry watches, pleased as punch —
 
 

MIDPOINT

NWA takes over the country, selling albums and shows on a cross country tour, though not without controversy. A confrontation with the police while recording their album in Torrance leads to the recording of the hit song, Fuck the Police. They are criticized for their lyrics, which they vehemently defend as realistic representations of life as young black men in the hood. Defying orders from the Detroit police, they are all arrested after performing Fuck the Police at a 1989 show, and subsequently causing a riot.
 
However, such criticisms aren’t the group’s only troubles. Ice Cube, who wrote many of NWA’s hit songs, is discontent, having not been paid for his contributions. Jerry does little to hide his preferential treatment of Eazy, causing a rift in the group.
 
Page 68: Jerry attempts to coerce Cube into signing a contract without legal representation, ultimately leading to Cube leaving the group. The dissolution of NWA has begun.
 
Page 69:
 
Jerry lays a CHECK on the desk in front of Cube, made out to
O’SHEA JACKSON. And it’s for $75,000. Cube can’t help it, his
eyes go wide. It’s more money than he ever dreamed of.
 
CUBE
Damn. (beat) Thanks, man.
 
He reaches for the check, but Jerry  pulls it back.
 
JERRY
Soon as you sign this contract, the
money is all yours.
 
Cube freezes. Realizes he’s being shaken down.
 
 

 

PLOT POINT II

Cube goes to New York to record as a solo artist, leading to a series of battle raps between him and what remains of NWA. The feud grows and grows, but not for long, as Jerry’s machinations with a naive Eazy lead to Dre also leaving the group to form Death Row Records with the formidable Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). NWA is no more.
 
Page 108: The verdict is in on a police brutality case involving the fatal beating of Rodney King, an unarmed, black motorist. Not guilty. Los Angeles reels as riots break out across the city. People flood the streets to protest the injustice. It is a moment in history that effected many, but certainly rocks the worlds of Cube, Eazy, and Dre, all of whom experienced police brutality firsthand.
 
Page 108-109
 
EXT. SOUTH CENTRAL – STREETS – DAY
 
Cube drives through SOUTH CENTRAL in the epicenter of the
unfolding RIOTS. Looting stores. Burning buildings.
 
He drives by GRAFFITI TAGS, many of which say FUCK THA
POLICE. He sees CRIP and a BLOOD, tying their RED and BLUE
bandanas together in front of one such tag: a SYMBOL of the
GANG TRUCE.
 
NEARBY, crowds of young people CHANT:
 
CROWD
No justice, no peace! Everybody
say, fuck the police! No justice,
no peace! Everybody say, fuck the
police!
 

 

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

Dre and Suge Knight are at odds over the future and purpose of Death Row. Cube finds continued success as a screenwriter and filmmaker. Eazy’s financial troubles grow, causing him to slip back into dealing drugs.
 
Page 123: Eazy meets with Cube, and the two reminisce and reconcile. “You ever think about fuckin’ with some new NWA shit?” Eazy asks Cube. Perhaps there is a future for NWA.
 
Page 128: Eazy learns the tough truth about Jerry Heller. His manager, friend, and confidante has been secretly and quietly stealing from Eazy all these years. Eazy leaves, ending both their business relationship and friendship as he goes. He calls Dre.
 
Page 131:
 
EAZY
So you think maybe, we can make
somethin’ happen?
 
DRE
Yeah, that sounds cool — Let’s
stay in touch.
 
EAZY
Fair enough.
 
They both hang up. Eazy turns to Tomica, big smile.
 
EAZY (CONT’D)
Everybody’s all in. NWA is back!
 
 
But, the revival of NWA wasn’t meant to be.
 
Page 132: Eazy meets with Yella and Ren to work on new music, but unexpectedly collapses. His deteriorating health is shown throughout the second half of the film, and on page 133 it is revealed that Eazy has HIV. The members of NWA come together to support Eazy in his last few months, and, on page 139, they learn that he has died.
 
Page 139:
 
EXT. LOS ANGELES – EVERYWHERE – DAY INTO NIGHT
 
A moment of quiet beauty. A TIME-LAPSE of the magnificent
City of Los Angeles. From hazy, sun-blasted MORNING, to an
explosively-hued SUNSET, into the electricity of NIGHT.
 
We hear EAZY’S VOICE, one last time, through some of the
final words he released to his fans.
 
The TIDES on the beach rise and fall. Endless VEHICLES swarm
the FREEWAYS like teeming blood vessels in veins. Clouds race
across the sky like an avalanche, a river —
  

 

DENOUMENT

Dre returns to Death Row Records where he confronts Suge Knight. He’s out. He’s done. His world has changed, and Suge Knight is no  longer welcome in it. He walks away from the label he created.
 
Page 141:
 
DRE
I don’t give a fuck — You can’t put
a price on peace of mind. So you
can keep the artists, the money,
the masters and the bullshit. I’m
startin’ my own thing.
 
Suge stands there, huge, scary. He stares cold daggers into
Dre’s eyes, but Dre refuses to look away.
 
Suge finally nods. Something softens in him.
 
SUGE
What you gonna call it?
 
Dre grins.
 
DRE
Aftermath.
 
STRAIGHT  OUTTA COMPTON kicks in and we see the people and
things that have been impacted by NWA. We begin with all the
things that made NWA possible. We’ll end with all the things
that NWA made possible…
 

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