GUNS OF BRIXTON
RAP CONCERTS are notorious. Not, as some would have you believe, for violence, but for a lack of ebullience onstage. It’s hardly surprising: all too many hip hop acts use one turntable to spin copies of their records and offer little more than a half-hearted mime. As such, the likes of BDP, The JBs, Boo-Yaa and Stereo MCs, deserve praise for actually making an effort to incite a series of thrills. And NWA? Well, NWA certainly work hard even though half the time they needn’t bother. As with PE, part of the excitement is inherent in their very physical presence.
For this first visit to the UK, NWA have brought along an army of bodyguards — some have even apparently been assigned to their roadies — and two of the acts signed to Eazy E’s Ruthless label. Above The Law perform the ferocious ‘Murder Rap’ and one other before a technical hitch sends them away in a huff and Michel’le, who dresses like Penelope Pitstop and has a voice not dissimilar to Minnie Mouse, presents some atrociously sloppy electro soul songs. What on earth Eazy sees in her is a mystery. Perhaps it’s best left that way.
To the sound of sirens and gunfire, MC Ren, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella storm the stage and pile through ‘Gangsta Gangsta’, ‘If It Ain’t Ruff’ and ‘Compton’s N The House’. It’s immediately obvious that they’re sorely missing the recently departed Ice Cube. It’s not that DJ-turned-rapper Dre is a particularly unsatisfactory replacement, it’s just that because he’s had to take a vocal role, only one set of decks are in use and the music is nothing but a blitz of sometimes accurate, sometimes askew beats. With the appearance of Eazy E, six songs into the set, Dre would have been better employed providing support for Yella instead of wandering aimlessly about the stage.
Like the rest of the group, Eazy proudly wears the county blues, the seat of his pants flapping around his knees as they launch into a blistering version of ‘Straight Outta Compton’, the lyrics altered during Dre’s opening sally, Eazy’s voice sounding far tougher than on vinyl.
Eazy is a strangely charismatic character and he almost manages to look cute as he peers over the top of his sunglasses and grins at the girls squashed at the front. Ren plays a much more malevolent role, goading his partners with insults, spiking his rhymes with a torrent of obscenities and attempting to instigate fresh outrage. At one point he stops a song in mid-flow and kneels at the edge of the stage to announce that “there’s some white bitch down here taking photos who ain’t singing along with everybody else.” The rest of the group gather round to join in a chorus of “BITCH! BITCH!” Not that it was anything personal: they went through the same routine both nights at the Academy.
In fact, NWA simply put on an act, eagerly playing up to their brutal image and living the life of a gang-banger onstage through set-pieces which, although based on truth, are pure fantasy. They may have been criticized for glorifying the LA gangs and they may have tried to defend themselves by saying that they’re merely reporting what happens on the streets of Compton and Carson every day. But this show suggests that NWA are simply about providing entertainment. In this context, even ‘F*** Tha Police’, which is left until the very end of the set, sounds more like a rumbustious party song than a seditious threat. As Ren declares at the end, “NWA aren’t about violence, NWA are here to tell everybody what time it is”. Zebedee couldn’t have done a better job.
© Push, Melody Maker, 9 June 1990