Attitude Check

Four discs trace the development of the original gangstas.

How bad is this package? The new versions of Compton and Niggaz4Life both feature essays by Phyllis Pollack of L.A.'s Def Press. But when it comes to Eazy-Duz-It, Pollack is silent -- which probably isn't a coincidence.

The N.W.A. Legacy 2, released three years after its similarly monikered predecessor, is an attempt to cash in on N.W.A.'s continuing cache, and the folks who assembled it were wise to begin with "Hello," a track from 2000's War & Peace, Vol. 2 album that features Cube, Dre and M.C. Ren. "I started this gangsta shit/ And this is the motherfuckin' thanks I get?" Dre spits by way of confirming that the same societal ills N.W.A. railed against or gloried in throughout Compton are still around -- a notably thoughtful theme, albeit one that's touched upon only briefly.

Several other selections have relatively serious moments as well, including "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted," Cube's 1990 classic, and "Behind the Walls," a prison yarn by Kurupt and Nate Dogg that reached stores in 2000. But most of the other efforts substitute humdrum braggadocio for the radical rebellion that was once at gangsta's core. Snoop Dogg, who wound up in the N.W.A. family tree after guesting on Dr. Dre's influential 1992 headliner, The Chronic, is part of five songs on Legacy, and all of them are purely escapist. "Lay Low" concerns humping, "Got Beef" focuses on muscle-flexing, "Wrong Idea" stresses keepin' it real, "Just Dippin'" does likewise, and "B [as in 'Bitch'] Please" sports romantic lyrics such as "Get down on your goddamn knees/For this money, chronic, clothes and weed/You're fuckin' with some real O.G.s."

Straight Outta Compton scared middle America to death -- and signaled the rise of gangsta rap.
Straight Outta Compton scared middle America to death -- and signaled the rise of gangsta rap.

In other words, the legacy of N.W.A. is more about getting wasted and getting laid than it is about destroying a racist power structure. That shouldn't be a surprise, since the former is a lot easier to accomplish than the latter. But at its best -- and Straight Outta Compton certainly qualifies -- gangsta rap can rattle the Man even as it provides a seductive soundtrack for excess. And that's definitely worth taking credit for.

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