N.W.A. celebrates 20th anniversary of gangsta classic

Straight Outta Compton (20th Anniversary Edition)

N.W.A.

Capitol/Priority

The former members of Niggaz With Attitude have had it rough in recent years: Eazy-E’s dead from AIDS; Ice Cube’s doing children’s movies; Dr. Dre’s busy looking for the next Eminem; Yella and MC Ren joined forces for a porn soundtrack. But back in 1988, N.W.A. revolutionized the rap world with its breakthrough disc Straight Outta Compton, arguably the most influential album released in the last two decades.

“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge,” goes the spoken-word intro, and then comes Ice Cube with a savage opening salvo that places the listener within the deadly confines of Compton on the album’s title track. Cube trades verses with Eazy-E and Ren, while Dre and Yella concoct frantic beats. The result is the greatest gangsta anthem of ’em all. Next comes the track that really stirred up the controversy. “Fuck Tha Police,” with lyrics mostly by Ice Cube, it was a number so inflammatory that Dr. Dre originally refused to do it, according to this special edition’s liner notes. “Young nigga got it bad ’cause I'm brown,” Cube spits. “And not the other color so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority.”

The album proceeds to chronicle the reality of the crack epidemic that plagued Los Angeles. N.W.A. refused to portray their ’hood differently than the way they saw it: crack dealers and gangstas were the heroes; gold-digging and drug-addicted women were bitches and ho’s; and the police were the common enemy. Graphic as it is, “Dopeman” might be the greatest anti-drug message ever recorded.

In terms of sonics, it’s mostly sparse bass and Boogie Down Productions-informed atmospherics, but the Dre-produced synths that came to be a hallmark of the ’90s G-Funk era can also be heard on numbers like “Gangsta Gangsta.” As far as “anniversary edition” goodies, the new disc has crisper sound, but the five bonus tracks are weak, except for a highly stylized remake of “Gangsta Gangsta” featuring killer verses by Snoop Dogg.

4.5 (out of five) stars

Audiobiography

BOBBIE NELSON

Justice

Bobbie Nelson has been there for her little brother Willie from the time she was a child teaching him songs on the piano to that day last year when the siblings got busted together for having pot and ’shrooms on their tour bus. For decades, Bobbie has been in Willie’s band, playing the keyboards on songs like “Moonlight in Vermont,” which in the liner notes Willie says she taught him when he was six years old. Audiobiography is the first disc to spotlight Bobbie, who in addition to “Moonlight,” offers gorgeous, understated instrumental renditions of standards like “Stardust,” her brother’s self-penned standard “Crazy” and uptempo numbers such as “Death Ray Boogie.” Book-ending the 12-song album are two recordings featuring Bobbie joined by Willie on guitar and vocals. Both are new originals; the opener, “Back to Earth,” is a poignant, beautifully bitter ballad along the lines of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” The closer, “Until Tomorrow,” may not be goosebump-inducing, but it’s a sublime love song all the same, with Nelson’s jazzy vocal phrasing selling the candid lyric with finesse. Hearing the interplay between Bobbie and Willie — two elderly siblings now in their mid 70s, sharing a connection they have nurtured since childhood — is something to behold.

3.5 stars

Crawl Inside Your Head

SNMNMNM

Unschooled

Geek-rock doesn’t get much more gratifying than SNMNMNM on their latest outing Crawl Inside Your Head. The foursome formed a decade ago while attending the private Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and has hit a high mark with this quirky, catchy amalgamation of indie-rock weirdness, power-pop appeal and impassioned lyrics about being a shy, scholarly outsider. Subject matter ranges from the pros and cons of sleeping in (“Lost a Day”) and aging (“39 and Holding”) to the near-perfect pop confection “Addy Will Know,” the greatest paean to librarians ever recorded. As for sonics, these guys are music nerds in the best sense of the word, using synths and computer madness with live instruments that include the standard guitar, bass and drums set-up as well as such added pleasures as tuba, trumpet, and accordion. 3.5 stars

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