At the height of their career in the early 90s, N.W.A. were the most controversial and creative artists in the United States. A bi-product of impoverished West Coast youth, the rap group helped solidify Los Angeles as the new capital of hip-hop nation, captivating the country with stories of inter-community rivalry, police violence, anger towards government, and institutionalized racism. Simply put, the group changed the rap game forever by helping to curate the gangsta sub-genre and setting the stage for future artists for years to come.
Thus, it’s no surprise that the group’s biopic Straight Outta Compton is one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer. Directed by The Italian Job’s F. Gary Gray, the film will examine the revolutionary group’s rise and fall amidst a racially charged atmosphere. Starring alongside O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube’s son), Corey Hawkins, and Paul Giametti, Hollywood newcomer Marlon Yates Jr. will play The D.O.C., the creative mind behind arguably the greatest vehicle to drive gangsta rap into the 21st century.
Before the film hits theaters on August 14, I got to chop it up with the South Central Los Angeles native about how he joined the cast, the group’s influence, what it was like working alongside Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, police violence in America today, and more.
Interview by Nadirah Simmons (@nadirahsimm)
GFM: Before Straight Outta Compton, what other projects have you been a part of?
MY: I’ve done a ton of commercials; a couple of Timberland commercials, McDonald’s commercials. I can go down the list for a while…I grew up playing football my whole life so when football didn’t work out I was like “I have to figure something out, something else that I actually really have a passion for,” and that was acting. So I stepped into that.
Were you a fan of N.W.A. before the film?
I didn’t have a relationship [with them]. I’m a little too young to understand—to have listened to them, but I knew who they were. I mean I heard their songs, but I couldn’t recite them for you. It was kind of a new experience for me to actually tap into that time. It was cool.
How did you come on board with this film? If I’m not mistaken, you actually tried out for another part first.
I went out for Dre originally, and I talked to the director the next day. But he was like “you had a great reading man, but that might not be the part for you. I might have to ugly you up a little it, you’re a little too handsome.” I noticed that they casted the Dre role a month later when I was looking on the internet and I was like “damn!” And then I got a call maybe three weeks later from universal asking me to come in for The D.O.C. and I was like who the hell is The D.O.C.? So I did my research and I was like oh, The D.O.C. was a big deal at the time!
How did you prepare for the role? The D.O.C. is an elusive figure and sometimes people forget him, which is kind of sad because he played a huge role in N.W.A. and his music career alone has been successful.
As soon as I got the call for The D.O.C. I looked him up. I just looked at all of his original videos. Before he even met Dre he was in Fila Fresh Crew. I started listening to his original music. He had a song called “I Hate to Go to Work,” I looked at that video. I added his station to my Pandora and I would just ride down the street and listen to his music just hearing where he came from and what he went through.
Are you going to be rapping in the film?
I was supposed to be rapping, but due to legal issues my character’s music couldn’t be released, so they had to do a whole lot of rewrites. That was kind of a bummer. Like I talked to a few of the producers and they were like “yeah man we had all of these plans but we couldn’t get the music released” and all this sh*t and I was like damn!
Did you get to meet him at least?
Yeah, he came out there a few times. We talked, laughed, and he had talked to me about certain scenes he had seen already.
Describe your experience working with Dre and Ice Cube.
Oh my God. Working with Dre and Ice Cube was great. I had the opportunity to sit with cube on the way to the set one day and he was telling us about the whole process of casting and how they wanted to get people from different walks of life…it was like we were boys.
This is your first big film. Are you nervous?
I’m super nervous. I’m anxious. All kinds of stuff going through my body.
With songs like “Fuck the Police,” all of their music is very racially charged and political, and we’re living in a time right now in America with a lot of racial tension. How do you think the movie parallels what’s going on now?
I think the timing of this movie is amazing. The irony behind the movie coming out now and what’s going on in the U.S. right now is crazy. The fact that police brutality happened 20 years ago with the L.A. riots and the fact that it’s still going on today shows we have a lot of work to do in this nation.
We were shooting the LA riots scene and the director came up to us, and usually he was really cool, laughy laughy. But for this specific scene we all had to come to him individually to talk to him about how important this scene is. It was a nonverbal scene and we had to just drive through the LA riots to check it out like “look at this shit,” “look what’s going on dog.” And he was like, think about it, think about the Ferguson situation. This stuff is still going on today, and this was the 1990s…this is one of the most powerful scenes so y’all got to come with it. And the fact that this madness is going on today is crazy, and I think this movie touches on it in a great way.
Aside from that scene, was there anything else during the process that was difficult for you or the whole team?
Not really. Everything was cool. We just had this brothership, this bond…the director did a story with him and how the bond was with the guys and he said we were like brothers. Me and Eazy-E—me and my boy Jason Mitchell that plays Eazy-E—we clicked like we had known each other for like 40 years or something. It wasn’t just like okay we were going to work on set and be out. We would hang out, go drink after, do whatever we did after to create this real bond. That’s what we needed for this film, and we gladly did that.
What’s one thing you want people to take away from this film?
That you can do anything no matter what your circumstances are. You can accomplish anything in the world. These dudes come from nothing, the ghetto. That’s the same place I come from. Never in my life did I think I would be a part of a major Universal project–never. And the fact that I am a part of it is like “yo, if you apply enough pressure to something you really want in life, just give it some time and it will reveal itself.”
And this is Good*Fella Media, so you know I have to ask about your music tastes! Who do you listen to?
J. Cole, he’s my favorite. He’s like the new age Nas.