Though it had been evolving throughout the US since at least '86, it wasn't until '88 that gangsta rap exploded in a flurry of rage and anti-establishment sentiment. The niche, carved by acts such as Ice T and Schoolly D, brought new stories to the hip hop landscape: tales of gun-slinging renegades and dope dealing entrepreneurs featured tough antiheroes, their exploits rooted in the drug-ravaged streets of 1980s Los Angeles. These harsh, often violent stories first exploded into the mainstream with N.W.A's 1988 debut, Straight Outta Compton.
The record introduced three of the most important artists of the coming decade: Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. They were joined by fellow founding N.W.A members DJ Yella and MC Ren, whilst onetime member Arabian Prince left the group prior to the release of their debut. The interplay between the five core members was what made N.W.A such an effective gangsta force. Whilst hardly the most technical skilled emcee, Eazy-E made do on charisma alone: a force that, along with Yella and Dre's infectious beats, defined the group's repertoire. Cube and Ren, the group's foremost emcees, doubled as writers for the less lyrically minded members.
Straight Outta Compton remains a watershed moment in the development of hip hop for a number of reasons: it offended sensibilities with its crude, vivid depictions of sex and violence, challenged authority with relentless critiques of institutionalised racism, and shifted hip hop power dynamics for the next half-decade. These tenets factor into the ageless appeal of N.W.A: funk-heavy, sample-laden irreverence paired with a fuck-you attitude and some youthful exuberance. In setting out to make a record that reflected the culture of Compton, five young artists kickstarted a national music revolution.
In celebration of the Straight Outta Compton's thirtieth anniversary, we're breaking down the many samples on the hugely significant record!
"Straight Outta Compton"
Explosive, incendiary and enduring, "Straight Outta Compton" is N.W.A firing on all cylinders. The track features verses from members Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E. Despite its place in popular culture, the conservative radio DJs of the late 1980s refused to promote the track. It peaked at #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015, prompted by the release of the N.W.A biopic of the same name.
The first sample to appear on Straight Outta Compton is the famous 'amen break,' sourced from the middle of The Winstons' 1969 track, "Amen, Brother." The four-bar drum break, performed by Gregory C. Coleman, has since become one of hip hop's most sampled fills.
Though the track greatly influenced the development of hip hop, breakbeat and drum and bass, Coleman died broke and homeless in 2006.
A second break is sampled throughout the track, first appearing at 0:20. It's taken from the intro to Bob James' "Take Me To The Mardi Gras," a track originally included on his 1975 album, Two. The break has appeared on over 400 tracks.
Though the scratched sample can be difficult to hear throughout the track, it's most easily identifiable at 2:40, in the break before Eazy-E's verse.
The sound of screeching tyres - which first appears at the end of Ice Cube's verse at 1:18 - was sampled from The Gap Band's "Burn Rubber on Me." A much-sampled outfit, The Gap Band included the track on their 1980 record Gap Band III. Another cut from that album, "Yearning For Your Love," provided the sample underpinning Nas' classic Illmatic track, "Life's A Bitch." Dre sampled "Burn Rubber" again on "Genocide," a track from his 2013 LP, Compton.
The flurry of percussion that punctuate's the tracks famously chaotic hook is taken from the opening to Funkadelic's "You'll Like It Too." Another oft-sampled outfit, Funkadelic were founded in 1968 by funk legend George Clinton, who led the band under the banner of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective.
The vocal that calls out N.W.A's hometown of Compton by name isn't actually saying "straight outta--." Ronnie Hudson's "West Coast Poplock" was released in 1982 as a celebration of poplocking, a late '70s dance craze. The hook shouts out the "city of Compton," a familiar phrase that was later used in Tupac's classic ode to Los Angeles, "California Love."
The booming voice that completes the phrase started by Ronnie Hudson belongs to Dezo Daz.
Daz released "It's My Turn," a collaborative single with D.J. Slip, in 1987, one year before N.W.A's chart-topping debut. Daz soon formed Yomo & Maulkie with fellow LA rapper Mark Green, releasing just one album, 1991's Are U Xperienced? The album was produced by N.W.A's DJ Yella and released on Ruthless Records.
"Fuck Tha Police"
A political treatise condensed into six unforgiving minutes, "Fuck Tha Police" outlines the group's grievances with law enforcement. Dre presides as judge over the court-structured cut, hearing testimony from Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy E as to their experiences with the LAPD. One of the most immediately recognisable N.W.A singles, "Fuck Tha Police" has a history mired in controversy: it was the subject of an infamous and allegedly unsanctioned FBI letter, and the group were arrested after performing the track at a 1989 Detroit show.
The track received airplay on just one radio station: Australia's government funded youth station, Triple J. After a politician intervened and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation banned the track from air, the Triple J staff protested by playing N.W.A's "Express Yourself" on loop for 24 hours.
The sample that underpins the track's spoken opening is lifted from the middle of Marva Whitney's "It's My Thing." The 1969 track was a response to The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing." Whitney's track was produced by James Brown.
"Fuck Tha Police," like "Straight Outta Compton" before it, samples Wilson Pickett's "Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9 (Part II)." The sampled element is the metallic hit that punctuates the verses throughout the track, beginning at 0:34.
The same sound effect also appears in JAY-Z's "99 Problems."
The riff that underscores Cube's verse is courtesy of funk/jazz artist Roy Ayers. The sampled track, "Boogie Back," appears on Roy Ayers Ubiquity's 1974 album Change Up The Groove. It's the sole Roy Ayers sample used by N.W.A.
The drums that enter at the start of Cube's verse are sampled from "Feel Good," a track by Fancy, a short-lived 1970s pop outfit comprised of session musicians. The group's biggest hit was the title track from their 1974 debut, a cover of The Troggs' classic hit, "Wild Thing."
The descending drum fill that bridges Cube's first and second bars is taken from James Brown's "Funky President (People It's Bad)." The track - written about Gerald Ford, one of the United States' least funky leaders - was released in 1974.
The track was included on Ultimate Breaks and Beats' SBR 510, the tenth official instalment of the influential sample series. It was one of six Brown tracks included in the series, all of which have become frequent sampled hip hop staples.
The horn hit that punctuates the hooks throughout is a sample of the opening to Please's 1975 track, "Sing A Simple Song."
Please were a Filipino rock outfit who released four albums in their two-decade career. This track - a cover of Sly & The Family Stone's 1969 hit - is their most sampled, having appeared in 20 seperate songs. The track appeared in other classic 1988 tracks by MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh.
Eazy-E's titular refrain, scratched as a hook throughout the track, is sourced from another Straight Outta Compton cut, "8 Ball (Remix)." The original "8 Ball" was included on the group's first release, the 1987 N.W.A. and the Posse compilation album.
That record - dismissed as a bootleg by group member Arabian Prince - is the only N.W.A record to include a period at the end of the group's name.
There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it vocal sample that appears at 1:51, during the hook. It's an ascending wordless vocalisation courtesy of Banbarra, lifted from their 1975 single, "Shack Up."
Though the track was a hit, it was the only release by the enigmatic funk outfit. Comprised of guitarist Lance Quinn and a swathe of other uncredited session musicians, Banbarra recieved not royalty pay after an associate stole their distribution deal.
The drums that underpin Dre telling Ren to give his testimony at 2:13 are sourced from one of hip hop's most distinctive breaks.
James Brown's "Funky Drummer" features an improvised break by Brown associate Clyde Stubblefield, who played with the funk legend for five years between '65 and '70. He settled down in Wisconsin in '71, becoming a fixture in the local music scene.
There's a brief section of Eazy's verse at 4:43 that is clearly mixed differently to the rest of his appearance. That's because it's a single-bar sample of Eazy-E's own "Ruthless Villain," released on his debut solo album, Eazy-Duz-It just one month later. The albums were recorded simultaneously, and as all N.W.A members were involved in crafting Eazy's record, it helped the group shape the sound of their collective debut.
The track that perhaps best exemplifies the N.W.A brand, "Gangsta Gangsta" is a loose story about the exploits of the five-man posse. It features three verses from Cube and one from Eazy, all dedicated to carefree hedonism and reckless gangsta behaviours.
The exclamation that kickstarts the first verse - "Yo Dre! Gimme a funky-ass bass line" - is sampled from the then-unreleased Eazy-E cut "Eazy-Duz-It." The sample was made possible by the group's tight release schedule - Eazy's solo debut, which featured writing and production contributions from all N.W.A members, was released just one month after Straight Outta Compton. As a result, the pair were composed simultaneously throughout '87 and '88.
The subsequent "funky-ass bass line" is courtesy of Steve Arrington. It's sampled from the opening of "Weak At The Knees," a track credited to his band, Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, and included on their 1983 debut, Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, Vol. 1.
The humming that underpins Cube's "right, left, right, left" rhyme is sampled from the opening to Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half Steppin'," one of hip hop's most lauded tracks. Though it's since been recognised as an essential golden era cut, the track was released just one year before Straight Outta Compton, and was included on Kane's 1988 debut, Long Live The Kane.
The sample was almost immediately picked up by producers, and though it was only released in '86, it appeared on '88 cuts such as Eazy-E's "We Want Eazy," Public Enemy's "Cold Lampin' With Flavor" and "Louder Than A Bomb," and N.W.A's "8 Ball (Remix)."
There are two samples from another Eazy-Duz-It cut, "Ruthless Villain," which features verses from MC Ren alongside a hook by Eazy himself.
"That's what they're yelling," which appears at 1:20 on "Gangsta, Gangsta, is sampled from 2:16. "Wait a minute...," which can be heard at 0:16 on "Ruthless Villain," appears at 3:56.
"It's not about a salary, it's all about reality" - a lyric which first appears at 1:21 - is sampled from Boogie Down Productions' "My Philosophy."
A standout track from BDP's conscious sophomore album, which we've previously broken down, it was one of the tracks that helped emcee KRS-One reinvent himself as a 'teacher' following the shooting death of BDP member Scott La Rock in 1987.
The spoken female vocals throughout are courtesy of Lady Reed, an actress, stand up comedian and recording artist. The track was included on her 1974 debut, Rudy Ray More Presents The Lady Reed Album "Queen Bee Talks."
Lady Reed starred opposite Rudy Ray Moore in his career-defining turn as Dolemite.
The drums that underpin Lady Reed's first appearance at 1:25 are taken from Kool & The Gang's "N.T." The track was included on their 1971 record, Live at P.J's, recorded earlier that same year at the West Hollywood club. Interestingly, the album was released as the group's third LP, following on from their second, Live At The Sex Machine. At the time, the group had debuted more new material by way of live albums than through studio LPs, a unique approach.
The "fuck you bitch!" soundbite at 3:25 is taken from early N.W.A cut "A Bitch Iz A Bitch."
Originally released on N.W.A. And The Posse, the track was later included as the b-side to single "Express Yourself." The track was one of four added to the record for the 2002 reissue.
Yet another drum sample appears at 3:58, when the track shifts following a sample of Eazy telling Dre to "cut this shit."
This time, it's borrowed from The Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President," another popular break amongst hip hop producers. The track has been sampled on classic hip hop cuts such as MC Shan's "The Bridge," Dr. Dre's "The Chronic (Intro)," Audio Two's "Top Billin'" and Nas' "The Message."
The vocal sample that announces that "what we're gonna do right here is go way back" is taken from Jimmy Castor Bunch's 1972 track, "Troglodyte (Cave Man)."
A novelty track and forerunner of the impending disco wave, "Troglodyte" has since been sampled by acts such as Erykah Badu and DJ Shadow. N.W.A themselves would sample the track again on their 1991 track "The Dayz of Wayback."
The animated phrase that follows on from Castor - "as we go a little something like this, hit it!" - is courtesy of British-American rap legend Slick Rick.
The vocal comes from Doug E. Fresh's "La Di Da Di," a 1985 b-side that has since become an early hip hop classic. The titular refrain has been interpolated on hits by Miley Cyrus and Salt N Pepa. Rick's melody was famously interpolated as the chorus on Biggie's "Hypnotize."
Dre and Yella lift drums from The Headhunters' 1975 track, "God Make Me Funky." The popular sample, which appeared on Ultimate Breaks and Beats SBR 511, can be found on all three official N.W.A releases: on "Gangsta Gangsta" from Straight Outta Compton, "Sa Prize (Part 2)" from 100 Miles And Runnin', and "Approach To Danger" from Efil4zaggin.
The climbing synth at 4:07 is sampled from Ohio Players' "Funky Worm," one of the funk group's most successful singles. It was included on their third album, 1972's Pleasure, and peaked at #15 on the Billboard 100 the same year.
The song - specifically the sampled synthesizer line - proved influential in the conception of G-Funk, the west coast hip hop subgenre pioneered by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Warren G.
Eazy incorporates a direct vocal sample into the middle of his verse. The sample is lifted from a mid-'70s soul hit.
"Be Thankful For What You've Got" was DeVaughn's biggest hit, peaking at #4 on the Billboard 100. DeVaughn quit his government job to focus on his debut album, which was named for the single. He would go on to release two more albums in 1980 and 2008.
The sixteenth and final sample on "Gangsta Gangsta" appears at the open of the final chorus. Dre and Yella lift the drums from Steve Miller Band's "Take The Money And Run," later sampled on "Something Like That" and "Quiet on Tha Set."
"If It Ain't Ruff"
"If It Ain't Ruff" finds MC Ren in the spotlight. In hindsight, it acts as a reminder of Ren's indispensability within the group. The years since have done much to lionise the trio of Dre, Cube and Eazy, though it was Ren who, alongside Cube, wrote most of the lyrics on Straight Outta Compton. After Cube's exit in '89, Ren became even more essential - he's credited with writing on almost every track on N.W.A's sophomore album.
The main riff sampled on the instrumental is taken from Average White Band's "Star In The Ghetto," featuring soul singer Ben E. King. The track was featured on Benny and Us, a 1977 collaborative LP by the two acts.
King is best remembered for his 1961 hit single "Stand By Me," whilst Average White Band scored their biggest hit with their 1974 instrumental, "Pick Up The Pieces."
There's a fleeting sample of a horn hit lifted from The Brothers Johnson's 1978 single, "Ain't We Funkin' Now." The track was co-written and produced by legendary producer Quincy Jones, and included on their third studio album, Blam!.
As was the case with "Gangsta Gangsta," the titular refrain on "If It Ain't Ruff" is sampled from a lyric in another track. The voice belongs to MC Ren, who raps "cause if it ain't ruff it ain't me" on the third verse on "Quiet On Tha Set."
"Quiet On Tha Set" is also sampled on Eazy-E's "Eazy-er Said Than Dunn," released just one month later. Whilst "Quiet On Tha Set" has been sampled in 10 tracks, it itself makes use of 19 samples.
Ren's line at 1:14, "well lemme bust a freestyle then," is sampled from Eazy-Duz-It cut, "Ruthless Villain."
Both verses on the track were handled by Ren after Eazy had difficulty with the fast-paced cadence: Ren, as Eazy's chief writer, was more lyrically dextrous.
Eazy's interjection at 2:05 - "yo, Ren!" - signposts Ren's impending verse. The exclamation itself should seem familiar, as it's sampled from title track "Straight Outta Compton."
The original vocal is part of a more recognisable exchange: "yo, Ren" - "what's up?" - "tell 'em where you're from!" The N.W.A classic has been sampled nearly 200 times in the last 3 decades, including three seperate samples on Ice Cube's solo debut.
The "get funky" vocal grab at 2:11 is lifted from Kid 'n Play's "Gittin' Funky," a track on their 1988 debut, 2 Hype. Though the album was released in October of that year, "Gittin' Funky" was issued as a single at least a few months prior, which would have made it possible for Dre and Yella to sample the work of their significantly less gangsta contemporaries.
The bizarre vocalisation at 2:12 will be instantly recognisable for fans of Public Enemy, though it's actually originally sampled from Whodini's 1986 track, "Fugitive."
It famously appeared on "Don't Believe The Hype," a single from Public Enemy's 1988 record, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
"Parental Discretion Iz Advized"
Over five verses, all four rapping members of N.W.A - Dre, Ren, Cube and Eazy - remind the listener why they're bad. They're joined by The D.O.C., a Ruthless Records-signed artist best remembered for co-founding Death Row Records alongside Dre and Suge Knight. He contributed lyrics to all N.W.A releases, as well as Eazy-Duz-It and The Chronic, continuing to work in the aftermath of a horrific '89 car crash which altered his voice.
The Isley Brothers have been sampled in some true hip hop classics - Ice Cube would later use the riff from "Footsteps In The Dark" on "It Was A Good Day," and Notorious B.I.G. would use the sultry "Between The Sheets" for "Big Poppa."
"8 Ball (Remix)"
A remix of "8 Ball," a track originally included on N.W.A. And The Posse, "8 Ball (Remix)" features four verses from gangsta rap godfather Eazy-E. The 16-sample track makes extensive use of hip hop tracks, featuring samples from N.W.A contemporaries Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Eric B. & Rakim.
The vocal sample the opens the track - "get that shit!" - is courtesy of Public Enemy's Flavor Flav. it's sourced from "Terminator X Speaks With His Hands," a DJ-heavy cut from the group's debut.
Ice Cube would go on to work with Public Enemy producers The Bomb Squad after leaving N.W.A in 1989. They produced his debut album, Amerikkka's Most Wanted, which helped establish Cube as a formidable solo artist.
"8 Ball (Remix)" contains the second sample of Ronnie Hudson's "West Coast Poplock," a track clearly useful for its shoutout to the "city of Compton." It's that shoutout that Dre and Yella sample throughout the track, though it first appears at 0:13.
The guitar riff that enters at 0:17 is taken from The Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can Can." The opening track to their 1973 debut, "Yes We Can Can" was written by legendary New Orleans composer Allen Toussaint. It quickly became the group's first hit, peaking at #11 on the Billboard 100, and has since been covered by a swathe of artists.
The track came a full decade before the trio reached their commercial peak with Break Out.
The recurring "cold kickin' ass!" soundbite is courtesy of Sweet Tee. It's taken from Sweet Tee and Jazzy Joyce's "It's My Beat," a Hurby Luv Bug-produced single from 1986. Tee released just one album, 1988's It's Tee Time, which was a minor success.
The yell that closes out the Sweet Tee soundbite is taken from The Real Roxanne's "Bang Zoom (Let's Go-Go)," a 1986 single featuring Howie Tee.
The Real Roxanne is best remembered for her key role in The Roxanne Wars, a hip hop feud that stands alongside The Bridge Wars as one of the first notable beefs. Though the rivalry was initially between Roxanne Shanté and The Real Roxanne, it soon became a city-wide musical event.
The voice that tells you to "pull up a chair" at 0:29 belongs to none other than hip hop legend Rakim. The vocal sample is lifted from "My Melody," a track included on Eric B. & Rakim's highly influential debut, Paid In Full.
Straight Outta Compton was released just a couple of weeks after Eric B. & Rakim's sophomore album, Follow The Leader. We did a similar deep-dive on that record, which can be found here.
There's a subtle yet recognisable guitar riff that underpins Eazy's verses on "8 Ball (Remix)." The hard-hitting riff is courtesy of Australian rock legends AC/DC. The title track from their 1983 LP, "Flick of the Switch" failed to chart on the Billboard 100.
There's a brief sample of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" at 1:12. It arrives on cue, as Eazy talks about listening to Marvin Gaye's greatest hits as he cruises around Compton.
The "I was" that Dre splices throughout the first chorus is taken from Kool Moe Dee's "Go See The Doctor." The track was one of the four singles issued from his self-titled 1986 debut, and was produced by a young Teddy Riley, a pioneer of New Jack Swing.
There's a fleeting vocal sample from gangsta rap forebear Ice-T at 1:31. Dre samples a lyric from Ice-T's "Dog 'N The Wax (Ya Don't Quit-Part II)" - "raised in L.A." - and juxtaposes it with the preceding Kool Moe Dee sample to give the impression of authorship.
There's an obvious sample of Eazy-E's "Boyz-N-The-Hood" at 1:34. The opening lines of that track - "cruising down the street in my 6-4" - are some of the most iconic rap lyrics of all time.
The song, famous for being Eazy's first-ever rap performance, was included on the 1987 N.W.A compilation. It was remixed and included on Eazy's own 1988 solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It.
The distinctive sample that caps out the ten second flurry of vocal samples - "too much posse!" - is the titular lyric from a 1987 Public Enemy track.
"Too Much Posse" has been sampled just thirteen times, including thrice by Esoteric on his 2006 solo debut, Too Much Posse. Every track on PE's Yo! Bum Rush The Show has been sampled a handful of times, bringing the album's total number of times sampled up to 582.
"8 Ball (Remix)" features the second sample of Beastie Boys' "Girls." The "yeah" at the close is courtesy of member Ad-Rock, and has become a much sampled soundbite.
"Girls" was written by Ad-Rock and Rick Rubin, and was one of a handful tracks on their debut LP, Licensed To Ill, that wasn't hip hop. The track has apparently been performed live just once, at a 1995 Sacramento show.
The vocal sample is immediately followed by a second Beastie Boys sample, taken from the opening of another Licensed To Ill track.
The sample is of the guitar hit that kickstarts "Fight For Your Right," an irreverent party staple. This status was never intended: the track, which was a parody of party-hard frat attitudes, caused a bizarre disconnect between themselves and their fanbase, many of which took the song as earnest.
These two Beastie Boy samples are followed by a third, also taken from a Licensed To Ill track. It makes sense that this album is the focal point of Dre and Yella - the group wouldn't release their sophomore album, the almost entirely sample-comprised Paul's Boutique, until July 1989.
The track was perhaps most famously sampled on J Dilla's "The New," which extensively uses elements of the titular refrain.
A second Public Enemy sample appears at 3:24, where Flavor Flav threatens to "stomp a mudhole in your ass." This outrageous threat is sourced from "Yo! Bum Rush The Show," the title track from their 1987 debut.
"Something Like That"
This hip hop duet between Dre and Ren finds the pair trading bars back and forth, spitting in unison and just generally having fun with it.
The drums on "Something Like That" are taken from the opening of Fat Larry's Band's "Down On The Avenue." The track was included on Ultimate Breaks and Beats SBR 506, one of the popular DJing series released in 1986.
The instrumentation throughout "Something Like That" is sampled from "I Think I'd Do It," a 1972 track by blues artist Z.Z. Hill. Hill was a noted blues artist who achieved both critical and commercial success throughout the '70s, releasing fifteen albums over the course of seventeen years. His career was cut short by a fatal heart attack in 1984.
Hill was most famously sampled on Madvillainy cut "Fancy Clown."
At 3:10, Dre samples the worldless "woo woo" vocals from the opening of Steve Miller Band's "Take The Money And Run." The successful single was originally featured on the group's most famous album, 1976's Fly Like An Eagle.