Straight Outta Compton puts city on world map

COMPTON, CALIFORNIA • Some see it as an opportunity, while others believe it is a chance to show how far a troubled community has come.

But all are in agreement: Straight Outta Compton has put the American city on the world map - for better or worse.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, best known for his music videos, the biopic about the pioneering rap group N.W.A. traces the roots of the young men's rage against mostly white police in their gang-ridden home of Compton and other parts of the Los Angeles area.

The film, which opened in the United States on Aug 14, has been a surprise hit with cinemagoers and has topped the North American box office in its first two weekends in theatres.

Lonzo Williams - a music producer and owner of nightclubs who was instrumental in the rise of N.W.A. and one of its original members, Dr Dre - was delighted at the exposure. He says the gangsta rap genre that has become synonymous with Compton "gave a very bad reputation to the city. When we listened to some songs, it seemed that the streets were littered with bodies".

Mr Masai Minters - a counsellor at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees the city, the hometown of a new generation of rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, is not always fairly represented in music or film.

"There are some very stable, comfortable and successful families in Compton. I feel very safe."

But it was not always like that, especially in the 1980s, when N.W.A. began making their name. Film-maker Jo Brown, a friend of Minters, said: "At the time N.W.A. started, the city became infected by a conflict between the Crips and the Bloods. Gangsta rap was born out of that and as things became more violent in Compton, the music started to reflect that."

Times might have changed for the better in Compton to some extent, but some say what gave rise to gangsta rap - anger at perceived police brutality and discrimination - is as relevant as ever. Last year's killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, triggered protests in the United States and was the first in a series of high-profile similar incidents over the past 12 months.

Mr Minters said: "It's still the same problems we're facing now - jobs, police brutality."

Others, such as Corey Takahashi, a journalist and professor at Syracuse University, say Compton is different these days. "In 1989, the city recorded 86 homicides; it had only seven this year. Violent crime has gone down 50 per cent and crime is down 71 per cent over the last 20 years," he said. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Straight Outta Compton puts city on world map'. Print Edition | Subscribe