“Parental Discretion Is Advised: The Rise of N.W.A and the Dawn of Gangsta Rap” (Atria Books), by Gerrick D. Kennedy.
If you stepped away from the 2015 blockbuster film “Straight Outta Compton” thinking you knew the story of N.W.A., consider the movie as a double-decker bus tour of the group’s narrative. And now Los Angeles Times writer Gerrick D. Kennedy is offering an in-depth walking tour with his new book “Parental Discretion Is Advised: The Rise of N.W.A. and the Dawn of Gangsta Rap.”
Kennedy points out all the major landmarks fans already recognize — to your right, the “sonic Molotov cocktail” of an album, 1988’s “Straight Outta Compton,” and to the left, the dismayed reactions of radio stations, TV networks, politicians, parents and more to N.W.A.’s “ghetto noir.”
The information isn’t necessarily new. But the history, geography and smatterings of minutiae that Kennedy shares along the way makes his chronicle of N.W.A. shine.
“Compton wasn’t even on a map in 1985,” he writes, painting a picture of “wooden bungalows. porches and sprawling yards lined with towering palms and bananas trees.” And, within that context, he places Richard and Kathie Wright, parents of N.W.A. frontman Eazy-E.
Kennedy’s exposition, touching on rioting, recession and public policy, allows readers a chance to see, within a matter of pages, how Compton went from a California Dream, to — only a few decades later — the nightmarish environment reported in N.W.A.’s lyrics.
Kennedy’s methodical unpacking continues as he details the group’s formation, detailing each member’s route to finding their place in N.W.A. Sure, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre might be the most recognizable of the group, but in Kennedy’s book, MC Ren and DJ Yella have their moments in the spotlight. Kennedy also taps into the stories of those just outside the group, including D.O.C., who confessed that it “stung” to never formally be considered an N.W.A. member.
There are details of Cube’s decision to go solo — a move that, as the book unfolds, seems to have happened little by little, an inevitable end from the group’s beginning.
There are shocking accounts of physical altercations, including a detailed look at Dr. Dre’s infamous assault on television personality Dee Barnes. And Kennedy puts it in context, revealing the group’s long history of misogynistic lyrics and world views, some that might be even more shocking to audiences today than they were in N.W.A.’s heyday.
By way of interview gems, surprising backstories and more, Kennedy provides an incredibly vivid look at one of music’s most iconic groups. “Parental Discretion Is Advised” gives readers a chance to see N.W.A. — not just as superstars — but as reflections of the world around them.