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It’s clear that many pop-culture fanatics like for the legacies of their heroes to be scrubbed and romanticized. For proof, you needn’t look much further than most biopics and TV shows about the entertainment business, in which character flaws may occasionally factor in, but are typically eclipsed by brilliance.

Cultural consumers of this revisionist mind who wish to learn about the rise of California rap should view Straight Outta Compton, the candy-coated 2015 big-screen dramatization of the saga behind N.W.A., hip-hop’s first explosive Los Angeles export. However, those who crave the dirty details—no matter how horrendous, despite how some characterizations may impact one’s feelings for beloved classics—will prefer to digest Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Authored and intensely researched by former LA Weekly music editor Ben Westhoff, the volume is as eloquently written as it is immensely raw in content. To borrow one from Ice Cube, it’s a “no Vaseline” sort of affair.

In a recent chat about his latest effort, Westhoff couldn’t recall the precise nature of his original pitch to publishers. He knew that he was rolling into familiar and even well-charted territory, but he also knew that although contributions like Have Gun Will Travel, Ronin Ro’s 1999 book subtitled The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records, delve into various cracks in the often-inaccurate popular narrative, there was still a mess of information buried in participants of varying significance.

Add in the extraordinary social unrest and the crack epidemic from which West Coast hip-hop was in large part born, as well as the unwieldy conspiracy theories that cloud almost any discussion of the subgenre—especially around the deaths of Eazy-E and Tupac—and Westhoff saw an opportunity to weave together puzzle pieces and fill gaps left by the legions who have mined similar spaces and begun to trim some of the taller tales.

Of course, reality is crazier than fiction, and it’s impossible to turn more than a couple of pages in Original Gangstas without shaking one’s head in amazement at the insanity of daily life at N.W.A.’s Ruthless Records—from the number of children and artists Eazy and Dre fathered to the Nation of Islam’s bizarre attempt to cure the former’s AIDS before his death in 1995 (a happening reported here in detail for the first time). While Westhoff started researching before he had a focus, the through-line eventually became obvious: Dr. Dre, born Andre Young, whose career as a party-rocking teenage DJ—and then later as the leading architect behind an evolving West Coast sound and the region’s chief rap impresario—transformed countless heavyweight careers.

With a guiding light on Dre, Westhoff says that his approach was notably different from the one he took with Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop. Whereas that book reads more like a travelogue (and hearkens to the cult immersive NOLA rap scene dispatch Tricksta by Nick Cohn) than, say, Brian Coleman’s comprehensive Check the Technique series, which lets the artists do most of the talking directly, Original Gangstas reads like classic investigative magazine journalism and stands alongside Check the Technique, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang, and The Big Payback by Dan Charnas as a standard-bearer sure to age like a Dre track.

With the responsibility of turning an investigative eye on Ruthless Records and Death Row—the latter the comparably infamous imprint of iconic criminal boss Suge Knight, that fostered the massive careers of Snoop Dogg and Tupac—came the duty of attending to a series of unfortunate domestic assaults which took place throughout the halcyon years. It’s not a stretch to say that beating women is a major plotline in any story involving Dre; such behavior was so normalized among N.W.A. members, in fact, that one is left to question the intentions of the Straight Outta Compton screenwriters, or of any other biographer who masks these black eyes. One account by Westhoff, of a beating Dre gave then-TV host Dee Barnes at a club in West Hollywood, stands out among the most despicable: “He grabbed me by my hair, picked me up and started slamming me into a brick wall,” said Barnes, who is nearly a foot shorter than Dre and weighed about half as much. Dre’s bodyguard held back the crowd, she added in a statement. According to eyewitness accounts, Dre began kicking her and tried to push her down a flight of stairs. She fled to the bathroom, but Dre followed her in and began beating her more. (N.W.A. promoter) Doug Young said the room full of spectators watched and did nothing.”

In these respects, Original Gangstas is a grueling read—even for those who may be vaguely familiar with parts of the domestic side of this story, and especially for anyone who grew up hanging pictures of these guys on their walls, an experience that I personally share with Westhoff. (The Minnesota-bred author notes this in brief throughout the book, using his own impressions as a way to show the far-reaching impact of Compton rap.) But while atrocious acts against women—their victims almost always were women, one might acknowledge, as N.W.A.’s security handled the male threats—turn up on page after page, Westhoff doesn’t let those acts hijack the narrative. And why should they? This is, after all, the dirty version. Extensive scars considered, Dre himself should probably be happy with the book, since it proves him to be among the realest MCs ever, at least in that he apparently meant in earnest and delivered on the threats he issued against women on record.

As a critical addition to existing accounts of these episodes, Original Gangstas is a reliable and accessible historical document, from Westhoff’s diligence in finding sources who were difficult to track down—though N.W.A.’s former business manager, the recently deceased Jerry Heller, was subsequently ambushed by the paparazzi likes of TMZ, Westhoff believes theirs was Heller’s last substantial interview; as he writes, in their short time together in October 2014, the mogul was “alternatively calm and heated,” oscillating “between saying he doesn’t care what anyone says about him, and vehemently denying various allegations”—to his interviews with others who were more amenable, like J-Dee of Da Lench Mob, who is currently serving a substantial sentence for murder in the California Men’s Colony. In our chat, Westhoff said that coverage from Vibe magazine was particularly thorough, though he made sure to note that the publication, for reasons satisfactory or otherwise, drew criticism from some corners for fueling the violence that erupted between warring rap factions. Even with these many living documents to pluck from and fact-check, Westhoff managed to produce a seriously compelling page-turner. Never too far from his early music-critic roots, the author clearly knows his shit, which is more than can be said for most people writing about rap for national audiences. From his description of the frenzy over the 1988 release of Straight Outta Compton: “The album’s most memorable songs feature an assault of abrasive textures, marching drums, sample fragments, and break beats mined from Roadium swap meets. Straight Outta Compton’s bombastic sound matches its rhetoric. To hear it as a child of poverty was to nod in affirmation; to hear it as a person of privilege was to gasp in horror.”

On an important side note, underground heads should be happy to know that Westhoff, a longtime music scribe who has covered many facets of the genre, appropriately notes intersections between rap honchos and the subterranean element around them—from the involvement of Cube’s cousin Del tha Funkee Homosapien (his preferred spelling back then) with Da Lench Mob to the parallel rise of the Good Life Cafe and an alternative rhyme scene in Greater Los Angeles. That’s in addition to a range of cameos from peripheral players like DJ David Faustino (yes, Bud from Married With Children) to rappers who emerged as household names outside the Ruthless fold—like Everlast, whose former girlfriend, white female MC Tairrie B, Dre once punched in the face “the way a guy would hit another guy,” according to one witness.

Westhoff, who began working on Original Gangstas before Straight Outta Compton was announced, said that he and his publisher debated rushing up their drop date to align with the biopic. In the end, it wasn’t feasible, or, as the author now acknowledges, anywhere close to necessary. A proper published biographical account claws much closer to the core of any topic than could any feature film, and in this case, the difference isn’t simply in the errors and omissions of the N.W.A. flick, like having the group visit the White House (in reality, Eazy attended a George H.W. Bush fundraiser at a DC hotel), or showing them being arrested for performing “Fuck tha Police” in Detroit (they weren’t). Rather, in his intricate profile of these seminal gang-related performers, we are treated to the ugly truth. Considering that California gangsta rap, before all of the hype, was commonly called “reality rap” by its originators, there should be no higher aspiration for those attempting to document the backstory.

This piece originally appeared in DigBoston. Below: Author Ben Westhoff. Photo by Jay Senter Grey.

Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap

By Ben Westhoff

Hachette

432 pages, $28

Published in Literature

Great beer and excellent music go hand in hand—so it’s no wonder that craft beer is becoming a bigger deal each year at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella.

Not only did the Craft Beer Barn delight beer fans for the third year in a row; this year’s festival included a smaller rare beer barn, craft beer cocktails and a cabin speakeasy by the Houston Brothers.

Also present were all three of Coachella Valley’s local breweries, including La Quinta Brewing Co.—just weeks before taking home a gold medal at one of the world’s biggest beer competitions. (More on that later.)

As I enjoyed the second weekend of the festival, seeing all of the great beer together with all of the renowned musicians got me thinking about pairings: Which brew goes best with which music?


Prince

Prince was at Coachella in spirit, after passing away on April 21, the day before the second weekend of the festival began. Coachella’s palm trees were awash with Prince’s trademark purple hue. Ice Cube even wore a purple bandana and purple sneakers in tribute.

Before LCD Soundsystem performed, the three massive main-stage screens played the entirety of Prince’s version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” recorded in 2008 on that very stage.

Prince’s music crossed genres; he was a master architect of funk, rock, R&B and pop. He went against the grain and refused to bow to big record labels during his nearly 40-year history of artistry.

Because Prince is such a legend, it’s virtually impossible to pair him with just one beer. However, the brewery that comes to mind is Stone Brewing. The 20-year-old San Diego brewery has gone against the grain since unleashing Arrogant Bastard Ale upon the world in November 1997.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Stone announced plans to become the first American craft brewer to own and operate a brewery in Europe. Much like Prince refused to bow down to big business, Stone’s founders just announced a project called True Craft—an effort to invest in craft breweries which are dedicated to remaining true to the definition of craft beer, as an “alternative to being bought or pushed out by Big Beer.”


LCD Soundsystem

The icons offered tribute to Prince by leading off their set with a joyous, funky version of “Controversy,” lifting both spirits and feet off the ground. The anti-cool—yet infinitely cool—electro-rock group also played “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” and “Dance Yrself Clean,” creating a grin-inducing dance party. James Murphy’s Brooklyn demeanor, electro-rock dancing and serious singing all contributed to what was a triumphant return. Murphy proved his comedic talent as well when, over a simple drum beat, he cavalierly proclaimed that he was present at every key moment in underground music.

I found myself memorized and swaying aggressively when a young, dreadlocked hipster came up beside me. His eyes were wide, overwhelmed by the sensation of the beautiful music. “I didn’t know about these guys; they’re amazing!” he said.

I giggled. “Yes, yes they are.”

Pair with: The Bruery’s Confession. Not quite beer, not quite wine, this unique and effervescent wild ale is perfect for the wild and collaborative band. Confession is a sour blonde ale that is blended and fermented with juice pressed from Riesling grapes.

While LCD Soundsystem may be best known for the effect the band has on the dance floor, Confession is best known for the effect it has when flavors reveal themselves on the tongue.


Disclosure

This electronic music duo is definitely one of the cleanest stage acts you’ll see live. Disclosure wowed the crowd by welcoming AlunaGeorge singer Aluna Francis to the visually brilliant stage. “Moving Mountains” and “When a Fire Starts to Burn” brought awesome roars from the audience. Simply put, Disclosure was the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

Pair with: El Segundo Citra Pale Ake. Nearly every craft-beer-drinker I know loves this beer. With notes of guava, grapefruit peel, mango and peach, what’s not to love? It’s refreshing, bright and taste-bud-pleasing.


N.W.A.

The Coachella lineup simply listed Ice Cube. But after he asked, “Is there a doctor in the house?” the surviving members of N.W.A. performed together for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Before Dre arrived—wearing all black with the Prince symbol on his shirt—Ice Cube had the N.W.A. vibes in full force with “Fuck tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton.” It was loud, aggressive and totally awesome.

Pair with: Three Weavers’ Hops Needs Friends. With a bold emphasis on hoppy bitterness, this IPA from the Inglewood brewery (not far from Compton) is loaded Idaho 7 and Azacca hops, giving it bursts of pineapple, orange and strawberry flavors—loads of “California Love.”


Guns N’ Roses

I would blast GnR in my Walkman in the mid ’90s as I got ready to swim the 100 freestyle at my high school’s swim meets. Therefore, I was beyond excited to see this large-than-life band.

Sure enough, many 35-to-55-year-olds rocked like it was 1987. Duff played his powerful licks from a white bass adorned with a purple decal featuring Prince’s symbol. He sang The Damned’s “New Rose”—which was extra-cool, since the psychedelic punk legends had just played before GnR.

But it was Slash’s astounding guitar solos and Axl’s wailing falsetto that really drew in the crowd. Despite Axl being confined to a throne due to a leg injury, the band members delivered a mind-blowing set—and, of course, Axl dedicated it to Prince.

Guns N’ Roses didn’t need a special guest, because the band made sure the night ended with a bang.

Pair with: Faction Brewing’s Something Different IPA. This IPA is hopped with Centennial, Citra and Experimental 07270 varieties. With aromas of pine resin and notes of grapefruit, spice and tropical fruit, this beer is highly rated. Another pairing option: Try pairing GnR with Modern Times Infinity Beach, a sour IPA with grapefruit zest coming in at 7.2 percent alcohol by volume. This is a special-release beer that is kettle-soured with three lacto strains before fermentation with Modern Times’ Brett blend, resulting in loads of flavors and in-your-face, citrusy awesomeness.


La Quinta’s Big Medal

La Quinta Brewing brought the Sundaze Session IPA and Poolside Blonde to Coachella—but it was another beer that would earn the Palm Desert-based brewery one of the beer world’s highest honors a couple of weeks later.

On May 6, La Quinta won the gold medal in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer Category at the World Beer Cup for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Koffi Porter. It bested a whopping 66 entries to take top honors.

The brewery takes its popular coffee porter and ages it in bourbon barrels for approximately four months. The coffee used is from local icon Koffi, roasted in Rancho Mirage.

I chatted briefly with Skip Madsen, who is now the brewmaster at La Quinta Brewing. He lived in Seattle for more than 20 years and brewed at Pike Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewing, Big Time Brewing, American Brewing Company and his own company, Water Street Brewing.

Madsen started brewing in the desert in January. Since then, he’s introduced the new Even Par IPA, which comes in at 7.2 percent ABV—pun intended, as 72 marks even par at many golf courses. The beer is brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra hops.

“I like to do all kinds of styles, but I’m known as an IPA guy,” he said.

This marks Madsen’s third World Beer Cup medal—and La Quinta’s first.

Up next for La Quinta: Some new beers and possible bottling of the now-renowned Bourbon Barrel Aged Koffi Porter, likely around the holidays.

Published in Beer

After he was announced as part of the Coachella lineup, Ice Cube said his goal for the performance was to get N.W.A. back together.

It didn’t happen during Coachella’s first weekend. But on the Saturday night of Weekend 2, he managed to accomplish just that.

Last weekend, both DJ Yella and MC Ren joined Ice Cube—but there wasn’t a doctor in the house. But this weekend, Dr. Dre was announced—and the crowd went insane.

While it was late in Ice Cube’s set, Dre joined Yella, Ren and Cube for a shortened version of “The Next Episode,” as well as “California Love.”

Other guests included The Game and Kendrick Lamar. Cube teased the audience a bit when graphics flashed for Parliament Funkadelic. Some people in the crowd thought George Clinton himself might come out and sing “Bop Gun (One Nation),” a 1994 collaboration between Ice Cube and Clinton that sampled Clinton’s original “Bop Gun.” Alas, Clinton was nowhere to be found—but nonetheless, the song was fantastic.

When Ice Cube began the show, he appeared on a throne of fingers shaped like the West Coast hand gesture. Cube then made it known: “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.” This made me wonder: Did gangsta rap make him appear in all of thise family films and horrible comedies?

The set included a lot of Ice Cube’s greatest material, such as “Check Yo’ Self” and “Gangsta Nation,” as well as N.W.A. hits “Dopeman” (performed with Little Easy-E., son of the late Eazy-E) and “Fuck Tha Police” (performed with Ren and Yella). He closed out the show with “It Was a Good Day.”

Given that Ice Cube had made good on his promise to get the surviving members of N.W.A. back together, it indeed was a good day. 

Scroll down to see more photos from Saturday at Coachella, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

The Coachella 2016 lineup will most likely be remembered as one of the weakest in years. While last year’s lineup at least offered variety, this year’s slate somehow seems … limited.

Still, with a little searching, you can find some great acts, both unheralded and well-known.


Friday, April 15 and 22

Volbeat

This Danish metal band is of the more surprising additions to the Coachella lineup, although metal isn’t entirely shunned by Coachella, considering Mastodon played in 2009, and Motorhead played in 2014. Volbeat combines rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll and metal to create an interesting sound. I’ll be the first to admit that Michael Poulsen’s voice is hard to take in, but former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano helps make it all work. Volbeat might be the thing you’ll need to shake off the EDM/electropop vibes on Friday and prepare yourselves for Guns N’ Roses on Saturday.

Mavis Staples

At the age of 76, Mavis Staples (pictured above) has been enjoying a career rebirth thanks to collaborations with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and a new album, Livin’ on a High Note, produced by M. Ward. Staples was part of the Staple Singers with her father, her brother and her two sisters. At The Band’s last live concert in 1978, she sang “The Weight.” While she’s been singing gospel for most of her life, and you’ll definitely hear some in her set, never fear: She’s got a powerful voice and will be a delight of your first afternoon at Coachella.

G-Eazy

G-Eazy is a rising star in the hip-hop world. The Oakland native has toured with 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. He also was part of the Vans Warped Tour in 2012. His most recent album, When It’s Dark Out, features collaborations with Big Sean, E-40, Chris Brown, Kehlani, Grace and others. Check out his recent track “Me, Myself and I.”

M83

M83 has been around since 2001, but it took a decade for the band to reach is critical and commercial peak to date, thanks to the concept album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. This French electronic band records music that’s catchy, ambient and haunting. The group will soon be releasing the follow-up to Hurry Up, titled Junk, which is sure to be a smash-success. Fun fact: The new album is inspired by ’70s and ’80s shows such as Punky Brewster and Who’s The Boss?


Saturday, April 16 and 23

BADBADNOTGOOD

The name is quite funny, but this Canadian group (right) has left a serious mark on the modern music world. While the group has recorded jazz instrumentals, it is also connected to the hip-hop world, and recently recorded an album with Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul. BADBADNOTGOOD is no stranger to Coachella; the band played the fest in 2012 and surprised the audience when it backed Frank Ocean. The jazzy instrumentals are fantastic, as is the collaborative spirit. Who knows what tricks the band members will have up their sleeves for Coachella 2016?

The Damned

If you call yourself a punk-rocker, and you aren’t familiar with The Damned, it’s time for school on Saturday. The Damned is one of the early British punk bands that formed in 1976 and defined the genre along with The Sex Pistols and The Clash. With goth, psychedelia and punk-rock attitude, The Damned was in a league of their own. Guitarist Captain Sensible struck out on his own in 1978 while The Damned were on hiatus and recorded a recover of “Jet Boy, Jet Girl.” He then went on to have hits with songs such as “Happy Talk” and a hilarious song titled “Wot,” as in, “You say Captain; I say ‘Wot.’” Be sure to make time for The Damned at Coachella; who knows when you’ll be able to see the group again?

Deerhunter

Hailing from Atlanta, Deerhunter is part of the awesome psychedelic rock scene you’ve been hearing thanks to a new group of bands. Frontman Bradford Cox identifies as gay; the title of the group’s debut album, Turn It Up Faggot, referenced what audiences used to scream when the band was first starting out. Few bands have been able to combine shoegaze and the indie-psych garage band sound together so well.

Ice Cube

While many people know Ice Cube for his horrible comedies, his hip-hop career is the stuff of legends. He penned most of NWA’s early material and then went on to a very successful solo career (even if a lot of his early material was in response to NWA’s diss tracks against him for leaving the group). Ice Cube was a straight-up gangsta rapper who had a voice and attitude that sounded like he was kicking in your door to come and get you if you were on his shit list; much of that attitude is still present when he performs live. While Ice Cube said he’d “try” to make a partial NWA reunion happen at Coachella on the heels of the biopic Straight Outta Compton, don’t expect Dr. Dre to show up; if anyone does appear with him, expect Yella, MC Ren, or possibly both.


Sunday, April 17 and 24

Pete Yorn

When you listen to Pete Yorn, not only do you hear some indie-rock; you also hear folk music and a bit of that Bakersfield country music sound from the ’70s. One of the best songs I’ve heard Yorn do is his cover of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Considering this guy has shared the stage with everyone from the Foo Fighters, to the Dixie Chicks, to Coldplay, take some time to check him out.

The Vandals

Along with Pennywise, the Descendents, Black Flag and Social Distortion, The Vandals are one of the bands people think of when it comes to Southern California punk. The band also has a humorous side, including hilarious takes on cowpunk, and a well-known Christmas album and song titled Oi to the World. Bassist Joe Escalante also well-known for being a lawyer, a radio show host and a conservative. Regardless of politics, nobody can deny that the Vandals kick ass.

Death Grips

The group Death Grips has a wild reputation. The experimental hip-hop trio from Sacramento has shunned the traditional ways of doing business and instead opted for shock value and performance art. The group used a picture of a member’s penis as the cover art for the album No Love Deep Webb. This was initially rejected (before later being used with a black slipcase over it); one of the alternative covers featured the legs of a man wearing khakis, white socks and black shoes. Written on the socks: “SUCK MY DICK.” One of Death Grips’ shows in 2013 ended quickly when the intro played, and a career suicide letter appeared onscreen—the group’s way of saying the show wasn’t happening. It seems Death Grips was never meant to be taken seriously, which is probably why it’s such a great group. Warning: Don’t get too close to the stage.

Major Lazer

I don’t think there’s a soul on this planet today who does not know who Diplo is. He’s been interviewed by Charlie Rose, produced a Madonna album, made a cartoon TV show … and made many infamous tweets. When Diplo gets together with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire for Major Lazer, it’s quite a spectacle. At Coachella in 2013, when they performed in the Mojave Tent, it was crammed beyond belief—and the energy drove the over-capacity crowd nuts to the point where I feared for my life. Major Lazer (below) will likely be performing at the same time as headliner Calvin Harris on the final night, but the group will bring the party. And remember: No Coachella story should end with the phrase, “and then I watched Calvin Harris.”

Published in Previews

I did not realize until I had watched the entirety of Straight Outta Compton, the thrilling new N.W.A. biopic, that Ice Cube’s son was playing Ice Cube.

It’s not like the guy is named Ice Cube Jr. He’s actually named O’Shea Jackson Jr.—his dad’s birth name with Jr. tacked on to the end.

Jackson Jr. is the No. 1 reason to see Compton, a blast of a film that chronicles the rise of the rap group, the eventual infighting and the birth of some gigantic solo careers and record labels. Besides Jackson, Jason Mitchell is a revelation as Eazy-E, while Corey Hawkins is a nice anchor as Dr. Dre.

The film works best when covering the creation of the legendary album that shares the movie’s title. The film also spends plenty of time on the band’s management problems with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti in a moderately distracting wig) and Eazy-E’s eventual death from AIDS. At a running time of almost 2 1/2 hours, plenty of ground gets covered—in a way that never gets boring.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. is the spitting image of his dad, especially in the way he talks and raps. This lends an invaluable level of authenticity to Compton. It’s a real blessing that Ice Cube’s kid, making his film debut, is a supremely capable actor, because he blows up the screen like Ice Cube did when he made his film debut in Boyz n the Hood back in 1991.

The movie’s music melds original N.W.A. work with actors doing their own vocals. Watch and listen closely, and you’ll catch moments when Jackson and Mitchell prove they are more than capable of re-creating the N.W.A. sound. According to Rolling Stone, the actors re-recorded the original Compton record as an exercise—and that exercise paid off.

Adding to the party are Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, and Keith Stanfield, who totally embodies the part of Snoop Dog. R. Marcos Taylor is quite fearsome as the cigar-chomping Suge Knight. The real Suge Knight is currently in jail, awaiting trial for a hit-and-run death that occurred during a promotional shoot for the movie.

There is one brief scene featuring Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) laying down a track. The scene feels tacked on and obligatory, and probably should’ve been relegated to the cutting-room floor.

The depiction of always-evil cops in this film is borderline cartoonish, but what do you expect? This is a movie about the creation of the gangsta rap group that sang “Fuck tha Police.” I didn’t expect to see any warm and fuzzy cops scratching their heads and protesting while Cube, Dre and E are unjustifiably face-down on the pavement. Save the good cops for another movie. This is about Compton in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a war zone where nobody was doing anything right, and the likes of Ice Cube were definitely not feeling the love from the boys in blue. The real-life former members of N.W.A. had a hand in producing the movie, and I’m thinking they are perfectly OK with the depiction of cops in this movie.

Compton was directed by F. Gary Gray, who worked with Ice Cube two decades ago on the very funny Friday. Compton actually has some good laughs to go with its drama. Gray has stumbled a bit with some bad films (Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen) since his last pairing with Ice Cube, but Compton shows he still has plenty to offer.

Straight Outta Compton is a solid cinematic time capsule that gives some deserved glory to an influential group that forever changed the landscape of hip hop and brought much-needed attention to a very troubled part of the world. It does the band and the biopic genre proud.

Straight Outta Compton is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I totally lost it thanks to a laughing fit during 22 Jump Street. There’s a pivotal scene in this always-funny sequel that had me laughing to the point where tears were coming out of my eyes, and I couldn’t breathe.

I noticed that a lot of folks around me were having the same problem.

I won’t tell you about the scene; you’ll know what I’m talking about when it happens. I will tell you that this sequel is as good as the film that birthed the franchise.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, an unlikely duo if there ever was one, basically repeat the same steps of the very funny 21 Jump Street, and they do it in a way that keeps things fresh—while recycling the same plot. This film acknowledges what it is—a run-of-the mill sequel—for its entire running time. It’s a self-mocking technique that works well thanks to its stars and the deft comic direction of returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. (Lord and Miller are on a roll; they also directed this year’s The Lego Movie.)

This one picks up where the first film left off, with Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, in serious comic overdrive) giving Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) an undercover assignment at a college, where they will do exactly what they did in the first movie: Infiltrate the drug-dealers, and find the supplier.

Once they show up in college and put their stylin’ beanbag chair in their dorm room, Schmidt and Jenko set about making friends and looking for the new drug of choice, called WHYPHY. Of course, the two ingest the drug at one point, which leads to a hilarious trip in which Schmidt ends up in some sort of hell where Creed plays on the loudspeakers, while Jenko has a more pleasant time involving rainbow colors and getting tickled.

Schmidt continues to be the only one who gets lucky in the Jump Street universe, this time scoring with Maya (Amber Stevens), who, much to his surprise, happens to be related to somebody prominent in his life. Jenko definitely has a better time in college than he did in high school, hitting it big with Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell), the football team’s quarterback. Jenko becomes a star athlete while Schmidt has girl problems and eventually finds himself ostracized.

Some of the film’s best gags occur while Ice Cube is on the screen; there’s also a great bit involving Maya’s roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), and her hilariously deadpan observations after having to endure sex noises all night. Twins the Lucas Brothers (that’s how they’re credited) play Keith and Kenny Yang, Schmidt and Jenko’s odd neighbors across the dormitory hall, who share thoughts and are responsible for Schmidt and Jenko’s surprise WHYPHY trip.

As for cameos, Rob Riggle makes a triumphant return as Mr. Walters, who lost a very important piece of his anatomy in the first movie, and Dave Franco is back as Eric the drug dealer, who’s living a life of pure hell as Mr. Walters’ cell-block husband. Stick around for all of the credits for a final joke involving those two, as well as a short cameo by Richard Grieco as Booker, a vet of the 21 Jump Street TV show. Nothing beats Johnny Depp’s cameo in the first movie, but Riggle and Franco’s cameo come close.

Some of the film’s biggest laughs occur during the credits, during which Schmidt and Jenko keep getting assigned to new schools (magic school, dancing school, etc.), with accompanying fake movie posters.

It seems as if the post-credit future-premise jokes exhaust all ideas for new installments. Please don’t let this be true. I want more Schmidt and Jenko movies.

22 Jump Street is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews