Friday, December 11, 2015

N.W.A: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Justifications and Excuses, Part XI

When I began thinking about the five names I would tick on my Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ballot, I wrote off N.W.A pretty quickly. There were two primary reasons for this: First of all, I am not much of a fan of N.W.A and hardly ever listen to this kind of music. It's not that I hate it; I just don't have much interest in it.

The second reason was that N.W.A had a very short career. They were a supernova that were briefly a major cause celebre; then their most important member left, the remaining group released an EP and second album that didn't live up to the first, then they blew apart in several different directions. The original group with Ice Cube released a single album, while N.W.A in all its guises released two and a half.

Which Hall of Fame member released the least amount of product in his or her career? It's gotta be Ritchie Valens, who put out two studio albums and one live album, none of them released during his lifetime. N.W.A would arguably beat that record, without the excuse of having died at age 17.

But I have been convinced that N.W.A's place in history is worthy of induction. They weren't exactly the first gangsta rappers - Ice-T's Rhyme Pays came out a year before Straight Outta Compton - but they were far and away the most popular and enduring. Compton went triple platinum with virtually no airplay. They also virtually invented West Coast rap; aside from Ice-T, until N.W.A, hip-hop was predominantly a New York phenomenon.

And after N.W.A? They paved the way for Tupac, for Eminem, for Too $hort, for Snoop Dogg, for 50 Cent, for Kendrick Lamar, who just released what the president of the United States called his favorite song of the year. The President of the United States.

That's not to mention the legacy of the members themselves. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were two of the most important hip-hop figures of the 1990s, and Eazy-E and MC Ren both had solo platinum releases. They would be the Beatles of hip-hop, if the Beatles had broken up after A Hard Day's Night. The only rap group that measures up with N.W.A in influence would be Run-DMC, and they're already in.

Look at it this way: How many musical groups get a biopic made about them? It's not uncommon for solo artist to get their own movie, like the aforementioned Ritchie Valens, but I can't think of any other groups that have done so except for the Beatles, and those were primarily squirrely European art films. (Plus, major props to Ice Cube for having Ice Cube Jr. portray him in the movie, which is awesome.)

I'm also pretty sure they invented that whole "Straight Outta" trope. Was that phrase used anywhere prior to Straight Outta Compton? Not that I can find, but I'm not exactly a lexicographer. Not a professional one, anyway.

So in the end, I've decided that their cultural influence and impact on the world of music for the past two decades is impossible to ignore. I vote YES for N.W.A.


  1. I'm glad to see you did that, just for the joy of seeing what sort of mouthbreathers spew hatred all over your blog now.

    FWIW, I agree with your assessment, I don't like their music but think they are 100% worthy based on their long term influence (same assessment I gave to the inductions of Kiss, and Alice Cooper, and ABBA, and Madonna, and Genesis). Anybody who thinks that Rap is somehow any more of an extreme or distinct evolution from "Rock N Roll" than Metal or Prog Rock are, doesn't understand music well enough to have an interesting opinion.

  2. In *my* dream alternate universe, party rap holds off the threat of gangsta rap, and we're writing blog posts in 2015 about the Digital Underground's Hall of Fame prospects.

    But, if that can't be, I guess I have to accept reality. And NWA.

  3. For me, I am torn. I appreciate their historicity and the legitimacy about their perspective on systematic discrimination, and limited prospects for black youths in 80s L.A. On the other hand, their music is so violent and misogynistic, that I am uncomfortable handing out honors to them. Tough call.

  4. "How many musical groups get a biopic made about them?"

    The Runaways!

  5. They've earned my vote for next year!