Mac N' Shack: The Legacy of NWA
Mac N' Shack speak on it.
This biopic pimp walks through the career of ghetto swag gangsta rappers N.W.A, working its way through a hit list of the major events. The acting and filmmaking is confident, which makes the movie feel strikingly relevant.
It opens in 80s in the infamous South Central Los Angeles, a time when rap was dismissed as a little more than a violent chant. But artist Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) launches Ruthless Records with his manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) as a way to promote the music he makes with his friends Ice Cube (O'Shea JacksonJr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge). Working together as N.W.A, their album Straight Outta Compton hits on the street, selling millions even though its controversial lyrics make it impossible to play on the radio. As money starts rolling in, problems develop in the group. Cube is gets on one because Jerry isn't paying him a fair share of the royalties, so he goes solo. And later Dre also leaves to start his own label, Death Row, with Big Boy Thug Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor).
The movie is structured as a series of set-pieces, usually drawing on the musician's camaraderie, which turns into rivalry, sparking tensions and a verbal and musical battle, which escalates into physical violence. These are alpha-males who don't like being told what to do, so they struggle to trust each other. Their clashes begin to feel somewhat repetitive, but the actors are excellent.
Jackson and Hawkins anchor the film as smart guys expressing themselves artistically about racial injustice. Mitchell's Eazy comes across as more of a party boy, while Brown and Hodge kind of merge into the entourage. Taylor adds some spark as the thuggish Knight, while Giamatti's autopilot performance is a fine counterpoint.
Instead, the focus is on the music, and director F. Gary Gray builds a strong sense that these young men are struggling to impact an industry that doesn't yet know what to do with rap music. There's also a strong resonance to N.W.A's repeated rants against racist police brutality, something that's still a big issue 20 years later. This puts their most iconic track F**** Tha Police into striking context as an impassioned cry for justice, rather than the anti-cop tirade the establishment pigeonholed it as at the time. And this is the film's true strength: showing us a side of N.W.A we've never seen, so we can understand that the music industry isn't the only thing they changed.