— Straight Outta Compton topped over 100 million dollars this weekend. For a movie about a bunch of “underprivileged”, street-smart, gang affiliated hoods turned moguls, that ain’t bad.
Part of me wants to commend these “would-be” criminal statistics for turning their stories of overcoming their environments into a celebrated triumph. If that’s all there was to their story, perhaps. But we know its not, so should we really be celebrating them?
The omission of Dre’s documented violence towards women has rightfully drawn criticism from feminists, anti-violence, and anti-misogyny activists alike. I was still rocking my Puma’s when we got word of his brutal attack on Dee Barnes for which he eventually plead “no contest”. So color me a little skeptical when he comes out and apologizes to the “women he’s hurt in his past…”, blaming much of his behavior on pressure and alcohol.
After the movie comes out, becomes a commercial success, and countless articles call him out on it, he “apologizes” without ever calling any of these women directly. Yet we’re not supposed to think its not for show or more than a PR move? The mother of his son, ex-girlfriend of six years, and survivor of his misguided “drunken youth”, Michel’le, agrees:
“I don’t really think it’s a sincere apology,” she said. “I didn’t ask for a public apology and I think if he is going to apologize he should do it individually. To just group us like we are nothing and nobody—I just don’t think it’s sincere… Treat us like we have names” She added: “He’s selling a movie. I just think it’s good PR at the moment.”
That’s not how you make amends in any “Step Program”. If you remember Dee’s face, you remember that Dre beat the shit out of her. Where’s the direct apology for that?
We dismissed it as another cultural aberration, as we do with many attacks on Black women (a-la insert NFL team of choice here). Michael Vick did more time for animal cruelty than many of the otherwise heavy-handed million dollar athletes, with little regard for their battered domestic targets.
At the time, Sista Souljah was the loudest person on the East Coast bringing light to Dee’s attack, which for the most part would have gone ignored if she wasn’t a celebrity. It was part of the “fuck’em, then leave ’em alone” misogynistic air Dre helped popularize.
I’m not dismissing what my family on the West Coast went through. Please, “express yourself”. NWA had things to say. That kind of violence was their story, but acting it out on the bodies and imagery of Black women, was never ok. Their legacy of profiting by doing so, still thrives today and we’re celebrating it?
NWA emerged on the scene when there was a real conversation going on in Hip Hop regarding how we addressed Black women. NWA helped supplant that progress with regressive lyrics and a retrogressive anti-woman “a bitch is a bitch” sentiment.
Yes, “Fuck the Police” will always be important because it drew us into the anger, frustrations, and reality of dealing with crooked cops and police brutality. Such is the power of Hip Hop as a tool for cultural critique, but at what cost? The message itself wasn’t even for us! We already knew what was going on from Brownsville to Long Beach, all around the world its the same song when it comes to police.
NWA, with Dre as a driving force, failed to address many of the social ills that allowed said nation to dismiss those ills, while universally fetishizing gang violence and promoting Misogynoir through their influence, during a period where many Black people still had a say in rap music.
What… You thought you still had a say on what you heard on the radio once Bain Capitol’s iHeartradio INC figured out how to shape the airwaves?
With the vast commercialization of NWA’s over the top image, helping to turn Hip Hop into a multi-billion dollar industry vastly driven by gangsta rap, the exploitation of NWA served to wrestle away a valuable self-deterministic narrative, which was bolstered by sales to those with the most discretionary income. (Note: this is where Ice-T got into trouble when he said most Hip Hop consumers were mostly white suburban males). However, especially at the time, there was some truth to it. Dre’s “fuck the world” attitude was very American and catered to that rebellious white teen. His violence reinforced the “fuck anybody who gets in the way of my success” image that we, as Americans, exalt (i.e. Trump’s surge ahead in the polls).
So of course he gets to be celebrated:
- by some conservatives as an American success story that pulled himself up by his bootstraps, escaping his ghetto surroundings, so why can’t you people do the same
- by many progressives as an American success story for the same thing (yet excused as products of society – victims)
Yet both fail to address the system of Blaxploitation that help put him there.
There were no sanctions for Dre, no real repercussions for beating the women in his life or for being the tool stereotypes are pressed from. Dre helped shape a genre of Hip Hop that feeds us all a constant source of “drum that intrigues the dumb” (- paraphrasing the Wu) and overpriced headphones, yet people want to hold “Mr. Dre, Mr. NWA, Mr.AK, coming Straight Outta Compton, ya’ll better make way” as an American hero, further rewarding his behavior?
“… Hold up, waaaait…
Don’t get me wrong, he’s done a lot of things right by American standards, but sometimes we need to demand better, especially by those that allowed him to succeed, those that will profit from his legacy well after he’s gone.
So if Dre’s actually seeking personal atonement, he’s got a lot of work ahead. He doesn’t just owe the women he’s hit and shat on, but the women that he’s verbally spat on and derided to help create his estimated $3 Billion empire and personal net work of $700 Million.
If he really has turned over a new leaf, address that Dre, so we can All move on to the next episode.
… If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be. Lyrically Talib Kweli