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Compton Gangster Rap Overview Essay

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Updated: Jul 19th, 2022

Los Angeles is home to the world’s music industry since many major music labels have their headquarters in this city. Every year, aspiring musicians move to Los Angeles wishing to find ways to start their careers and become famous worldwide. Yet, songs made by Los Angeles artists also reflect the personal stories and experiences that they encounter living in LA neighborhoods. Ultimately, as noted by Josh Kun, “songs… can ground us in a sense of home…, and reimagine just what home can mean” (183). Kun’s statement particularly holds true for Los Angeles, which has a diverse music scene where each area has its own songs and genres, which help listeners understand life in these places. In the 1990s, Compton, a city inhabited by African Americans, became one of the most iconic locations for rap fans around the world. The area produced numerous artists who were not afraid of talking about their struggles of living in Compton through an innovative art form of rap. The gangster rap songs made in the late 1980s and the early 1990s in Compton highlighted the experiences of African Americans with gang activity and police brutality in Los Angeles.

It is clear that NWA was the most influential rap band from Compton, who managed to attain commercial success after the release of their “Straight Outta Compton” single. The song begins with Ice Cube’s verse which instantly sets the tone for the rest of the song. Ice Cube states that he is a dangerous individual who can easily respond with aggression and violence. He raps, “Here’s a murder rap to keep y’all dancin’ with a criminal record like Charles Manson” (“Straight”). In this line, Ice Cube alludes to Charles Manson, one of the most notorious criminals in LA history who murdered several people. The short chorus of the song, which constitutes one phrase, “Straight outta Compton,” functions as a reminder to the listener about the band’s city and the tough character of the locals (“Straight”). Essentially, NWA wanted to clearly state that Compton was a place where people were always ready to retaliate if someone tried to harm them.

The emergence of NWA in Compton was, to a certain extent, determined by the city’s difficult socio-economic situation. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Compton was a place synonymous with gangs and violence associated with constant conflicts between such organizations (Feder-Haugabook). NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” is the expression of the band members’ experiences of participating in gang activities and a piece of historical evidence about the LA history of the 20th century.

The gang violence in Compton peaked at the beginning of the 1990s, which translated into the music of local rap artists. The song “Compton’s Lynching” by the band called Compton’s Most Wanted is an example of art that precisely captured the essence of the social climate in the city during this era. The narrator in the songs describes various actions they will engage in to punish their enemies for their disrespect. One of the key lines of the song is the following one, “So step back sorry clown, you ain’t hitting, you get no juice, cause Compton’s lynchin” (“Compton’s”). The metaphor of lynching, which the artists utilize in the song, is extremely controversial since it refers to the practice of a public execution common in the South, the victims of which were African Americans. Nevertheless, the fact that the artists use the term shows the overall social climate in Compton during the beginning of the 1990s and a high degree of radicalism among the locals.

As mentioned earlier, gang activity was particularly prominent in the early 1990s, which led to an increase in violence compared to the “Straight Outta Compton” era. The rise in gang violence and the spread of crack cocaine caused numerous middle-class black people to leave Compton, which further worsened the socio-economic status of the city (Feder-Haugabook). Comparing the “Straight Outta Compton” and “Compton’s Lynching,” one can notice a move towards more violent imagery and generally a more militant mood reflecting the developments in Compton.

Another issue inherent to the life in Compton in the 1980-1990s is the heavy police presence and the interactions of officers with the locals, which often entailed violence and brutality. The song “F** Tha Police” by NWA is one of the most iconic ones for the Compton culture since it speaks openly about the racial discrimination of African Americans by law enforcement. The line “Police think they have the authority to kill a minority” reflects the attitudes of officers towards the Compton inhabitants (“F** tha Police”). Essentially, the narrator talks about how the police are not concerned about the life of non-white citizens. Moreover, there is a line about the police’s prejudice towards the ethnic and racial minorities, “Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product, thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics” (“F** tha Police”). The line describes the practice of unsolicited searches, which were common in Compton and were based on the false assumption of the law enforcement that all African Americans were drug dealers.

Police brutality was a common phenomenon for Compton, and many locals became victims of it despite often being innocent. Police officers engaged in beatings of people and even used their guns to intimidate individuals putting their lives in danger (Brown). Essentially, the aforementioned song by NWA was a response to the injustice promoted by the law enforcement and their unfair treatment of African Americans and other minorities living in Compton.

Nevertheless, artists from Compton also wrote songs about other places they visited and compared them to their hometowns. In his song “Jus Lyke Compton,” DJ Quik tells a story about his life on tour and comes to the conclusion that all cities he visited during it were similar to Compton. Essentially, DJ Quik states that whenever he went, he encountered violence, killings, and beatings, which, as he previously thought, were possible only in Compton. He even states, “We came home, and I can safely say that LA is a much better place to stay” (“Jus Lyke”). The song is also notable for its structure since it constitutes a complete story about DJ Quik’s tour, which allows the listener to share the experience of the artist. As Josh Kun wrote, “Songs are handshakes and encounters… if we truly get lost in them, they become passports, luggage, and moving trucks” (183). Kun’s thought is particularly relevant for the aforementioned song because DJ Quik managed to create a song that allows the listener to experience the event encountered by the artist themselves.

Compton is a city that is famous for its popular rap artists who talked about their experiences of police brutality and gang violence in songs. Artists such as NWA, Compton’s Most Wanted, and DJ Quik wrote songs that provide the listener with a chance to learn about the struggles of African Americans in the city of Compton. The songs remain relevant today and must serve as pieces of historical evidence about the 1980-1990s era in Compton.

Works Cited

Genius, n.d.

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Brown, Diana. iHeartRadio, 2019.

Feder-Haugabook, Ayala. Black Past, 2017.

Kun, Josh. “Los Angles is Singing.” Latitudes: An Angeleno’s Atlas, edited by Patricia Wakida, Heyday, 2015, pp. 181–191.

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