NWA Fridays: Express Yourself

I had an usual work assignment in Compton last week and spent three late nights in the part of Los Angeles synonymous with late 80s-early 90s gang violence. I had re-educated myself with N.W.A., a band that I cranked up so loudly when I was in high school and college that I'm sure I pissed off and/or freaked out the neighbors and more conservative dormmates at my Southern university. Gangsta rap was embraced by Gen-X rebels and feared by the ruling class, and N.W.A. led the music industry-changing tsunami.

N.W.A. (even the name of the group itself was enough to scare the shit out of the Man) became ground zero for controversy in the early 1990s and became the focal point for both artists' censorship and race relations, more specifically police violence against minorities and rampant corruption in Los Angeles.

Anyway, this series kicks off with a song about artistic freedom and individualism. Express Yourself samples the original song of the same name circa 1971 from Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. The NWA version includes funk licks which conjures up soulful 1960s black power and juxtaposes those revolutionary and empowering themes against the daily life of plight in the hood.

Express Yourself was the first ever NWA video to be aired on MTV. It debuted on Yo! MTV Raps, which was the first time that middle America got to see the insanity of Eazy-E. Looking back at this video, I couldn't help but marvel at the burgeoning talent of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, both of whom would eventually split in ensuing years from the group and establish solo careers.


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