Sunday, March 27, 2016

Boyz in the Hood to Straight Outta Compton

Last night my son and I sat down and watched Staight Outta Compton, and as a forty-six-old Gen Xer and pop culture afficianado, it was a riveting and ironically nostalgic trip into the history of "reality rap." Certainly, growing up in a small town in southern Illinois, I wasn't an early listener or even remotely aware of the rise of "gangsta rap" when NWA first began to make waves in 1986. But by 1991, when Ice Cube debuted in John Singleton's powerful work Boyz in the Hood, I was fascinated by this new genre that was an artistic view into a world I knew nothing of, but could no longer remain ignorant to. As a future educator who was just beginning to understand the challenges of poverty in poor African-American communities, the movie was an important piece of my education. And, becoming attuned to the voices of the street that were now impacting contemporary America in hard and unignorable ways, I was educated by these works. Soon, I was asking classmates for CDs and names of DJs to look up. To this day, the power of early hip-hop and hard-core reality rap resonates with me in the same way that any educational medium can impact students.

This year, 1991, marks the 25th anniversay of Singleton's film and Cube's big screen debut. It is also the quarter-century mark for the Rodney King beatings that are reflected aptly in Compton, and which served as a powerful call to action for the cause of race in policing. Yet, it was a poignant moment for my teenage son to see the footage in the film from more than two decades ago and try to reconcile that with the Trayvon Martin murder, the Michael Brown tragedy, the Eric Garner story, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Groups like NWA, individuals like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, and artists like John Singleton put a spotlight on a corner of America that mainstream America would just as soon not know about, or easily dismiss with priviliged comments about "personal responsiblity." Yet, a quarter-century later, how far have we come to realistically be almost nowhere in the race discussion.

Generation X has been a group forged by the challenges of a disconnect between the narratives we heard and the realities we lived and witnessed. Films like Boyz and music like Compton  and F--- the Police are simply more examples of generation of Americans searching for authenticity in a world seemingly devoid of it.

Straight Outta Compton is a bold attempt to remind us of that quest.

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