N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton Turns 25
Twenty-five years ago, N.W.A.'s manager Jerry Heller walked into the label chairman Joe Smith's office at Capitol Records and played him the group's debut LP Straight Outta Compton. Smith told him he should stop getting high.
Smith admitted that he loved the name of the record label that Heller had started with Los Angeles drug dealer Eric "Eazy-E" Wright: Ruthless. But as Heller said in 2006, Smith was incredulous that he hoped to release the album on his label. "You're trying to tell me somebody's gonna listen to this, or play it, or buy it?" he said. "The day that happens, I'll retire."
Though his words seem laughable now, in the late '80s, when Ruthless was a nascent startup with only a few releases to its name, gatekeepers like Smith (who retired in 1993) decided which records would even get the chance to be hits. Pre-Internet, grassroots communities could typically only support artists locally—if you wanted a crossover hit, you needed your record on the radio and a video on MTV. And there was no way that any commercial radio station was going to air a track like Straight Outta Compton's "F— Tha Police."
So when the group released their debut through Priority Records in 1988, they did so without radio airplay. They cut a video for the title track, which was promptly banned by MTV. Suburban parents were terrified. And then the FBI unwittingly gave them more exposure than they ever could have paid for. more.
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