Though I do not generally enjoy listening to Hip Hop, and still lack a frame of reference for most of it, if not all of it, I vowed to myself a few months ago that I would listen to more of it, at least to give myself some frame of reference – both for my podcast and for this very, very hip hop influence world we live in.
I have heard a few records during my life which I have not at all liked but recognized the importance of. For much of my life, the Ramones’ debut was probably the example I would go to for something that I knew was incredibly important but I didn’t want to listen to. But one day I woke up and liked that album. So it doesn’t help me here. Whatever I might think about this record, there is no denying how seminal it is in the history of hip hop.
The only thing I can really compare this to that I have actually listened to is Public Enemy. It’s probably not a good comparison, but it’s all I’ve got.
N.W.A’s music is considerably funkier than Public Enemy’s, and there are tracks, especially on the second half, which are designed to dance to, it seems. I can see why this is appealing to a lot of people, as the reputation this record has would suggest maybe it isn’t that funky, or even just hearing the term “gangsta rap” you might assume this is going to be harsher than it actually sounds. But I respect what Public Enemy does more, as I find their ridiculous dense sonic collage to be more musically interested than this much more minimalist approach.
To the extent that I can policy comment on the lyrics, I find Public Enemy’s much, much more compelling. I understand the two groups are doing two very different things – Public Enemy are preaching about injustice and change, N.W.A are chronicling life -but I can’t help but appreciate the former approach given where I come from. But honestly I don’t really know what I can say about the lyrics. I grew up in an entirely different environment and I barely have a macho bone in my body.
All I can really say is I think there is a really strong case to be made to say this is one of the most important albums of the 1980s, regardless of what I think of it.
PS I learned something while listening to this. It turns out that not all rappers write their own lyrics! Members of N.W.A had their raps written for them by other rappers in the group.
On the one hand, this reinforces my doubts that I have about the rap aspect of hip hop as being particularly musical. On the other hand, I now have so many questions about how this happens and what kind of credibility a rapper could have – especially one who puts on such an act of braggadocio as gangsta rappers – if he can’t even write his own raps.