O’SHEA JACKSON JR., JASON MITCHELL, AND COREY HAWKINS IN NEW YORK, APRIL 2015. ON JACKSON JR.: JACKET AND T-SHIRT (COURTESY OF SAKS FIFTH AVENUE): PUBLIC SCHOOL. JEANS: 7 FOR ALL MANKIND. HAT: NEW ERA. NECKLACE: VERSACE. SNEAKERS: GUCCI. ON MITCHELL: JACKET: DSQUARED2. T-SHIRT: LACOSTE. PANTS: FRED PERRY. HAT: GYPSY SPORT. RINGS: BOTÁNICA AND MITCHELL’S OWN. ON HAWKINS: T-SHIRT (COURTESY OF SAKS FIFTH AVENUE): PUBLIC SCHOOL. JEANS: RAG & BONE. WATCH: EMPORIO ARMANI. RINGS: BOTÁNICA AND Hawkins’S OWN. SNEAKERS: NIKE. GROOMING PRODUCTS: DIOR, INCLUDING DIOR SKIN. STYLING: VANESSA CHOW. GROOMING: JODIE BOLAND/SEE MANAGEMENT. SPECIAL THANKS: ROOT BROOKLYN.
From the first time I heard N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police” ripping through my Walkman headphones on my way to work in the late ’80s, I knew instantly that it wasn’t just another song but the opening salvo of a new era in pop culture.
N.W.A’s second album, Straight Outta Compton, released in 1988, is one of the records that established West Coast gangsta rap as a genre and pushed it into the mainstream. The lyrical content didn’t speak of revolution so much as unbridled rebellion, which made it threatening to law enforcement (enough to prompt the FBI to send a letter to the group’s label), and thus even more appealing to young fans. Just as pertinent today, the single “Fuck Tha Police” brought to life the perspective of a black teenager “with a little bit of gold and a pager” who is fed up with being constantly hassled by the police.
The upcoming Universal Pictures biopic Straight Outta Compton tells the story of how core members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren turned their talent and anger into an “attitude” that resonated far outside of their neighborhood and made them platinum-selling stars.
Though gang violence is less prevalent now in Compton than during the crack era, seven days into filming on location, there was a drive-by shooting in front of the cast and crew. It was also on the set of a promo for the movie that Dre’s former Death Row Records partner Suge Knight allegedly struck two men with his pickup truck, killing one. And of course, from Ferguson to Baltimore, we have more than enough reminders that police brutality isn’t history. “Everything is still relevant,” says Jason Mitchell, 28, who plays Eazy-E, the group’s charismatic MC who died from AIDS complications in 1995. “It’s not a black thing. It’s a human thing.”
The film, directed by F. Gary Gray, doesn’t need real-life violence to lend it cred: Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are the producers, Paul Giamatti plays manager Jerry Heller, and Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays the rapper before he became a Hollywood star. Though this is the 24-year-old Jackson’s acting debut, he had to audition for the part and was able to prove that he shares more than just his father’s looks. His connection to the character couldn’t be more personal, but he sees a greater meaning to the story. “This is about five people who disliked their environment,” he says, “and they demanded change through the power of their minds and words.”
In the role of legendary producer Dr. Dre is Corey Hawkins, who appeared opposite Orlando Bloom in the 2013 Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet, an experience that the 26-year-old actor says provided good source material for the N.W.A story. “The tension between the Capulets and the Montagues is like a gang rivalry, and that has everything to do with Compton,” he says. “It’s also crazy how Shakespeare has that cadence, and it’s about locking into the jazz of the language, just like locking into the rhythm in N.W.A’s lyrics.”