N.W.A’s Music Has Changed the Past 30 Years of American Culture, Music and Entertainment


By Jack Cleaveland

Rap is one of the most popular genres of music today. When students walk around FHN, you see most kids with headphones in listening to all sorts of different music, whether it be their favorite albums or the new hit singles. The chances are that if it weren’t for one important album 30 years ago, a lot of the rap music you or your friends listen to might not be the same or might not even exist at all.

On Aug. 8 1988, the rap group N.W.A from Compton, California released the Hip-Hop album that changed the genre forever. That album is Straight Outta Compton. MC Ren, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Arabian Prince and Eazy-E. These six men changed rap music from being a genre that was riding off of the Funk and Disco genres of the 70s. Then it into a genre about venting frustration, exposing injustices, storytelling and bringing the hardships of growing up in the South-Central area of Los Angeles to light.

”It was a revolutionary album,” Modern American Culture teacher Kim Coil said. “It brought forth a sort of untold view of growing up during hard times that the rappers grew up in.”

N.W.A. can be seen as a more “experimental” group in the sense that they took their outlook and attitude from the earlier days of punk rock. From the era of groups like Minor Threat, Adolescents and Suicidal Tendencies, N.W.A. brought forth a whole new style: gangsta rap. Gangsta rap is a genre that was created from rappers like Eazy-E of N.W.A. talking about their lives and lifestyles. They rapped more about being in gangs and everything that came with it  rather than rapping about dances or parties that other rappers at the time would often reference. The style and movement that these rappers created with this album is the biggest breakthrough that paved the way for groups like Wu-Tang Clan and artists like Tupac to have an outlet or place to express their feelings about hardships, their lives and experiences.

“Before Straight Outta Compton was released, rap music was more funky, light and happy,” Coil said. “There was strong speech that wasn’t seen in music prior to the album being released.”

This album even influenced more controversial topics outside of the music industry. If this album didn’t shed light on the acts of police brutality and racial profiling that members of the group endured, several movements and events in later years wouldn’t have happened. The biggest of those being the 1992 L.A. riots. The riots were sparked as a reaction of four policemen that were found innocent after beating Rodney King, a local taxi driver from the area, and the killing of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old who was shot by a convenience store worker. If four years earlier, N.W.A hadn’t released their views on events like this, there might not have been such an explosive reaction of anger and a yearning for justice.

“N.W.A spearheaded a movement in the early 90s because they brought such emotion and anger to the forefront of rap music when they released Straight Outta Compton,” Coil said.

Today, people still appreciate the influence that the album holds. Rap music today sounds drastically different than it did in 1988. For example, the more acoustic sampling of older music has been replaced by synthesized 808s and drum machines that old-school producers used have been recently replaced by programs like FL Studio or Ableton. Despite the differences in overall sound, the topics that modern day rappers talk about are more like N.W.A’s lyrics about cars, money and drugs than other acts from that era such as Sir Mix-A lot or DJ Jazzy-Jeff. More rappers today have roots in the attitude that N.W.A portrayed years before such as JPEGMAFIA, Playboi Carti and Comethazine.

“You can see how the release of this album has changed the course of not only music, but American culture,” Coil said. “It’s easy to see that a lot of rap music you hear today was inspired from the ideas that were put on Straight Outta Compton.”