“When Kendrick Lamar arrives this Friday evening at a cavernous photo studio in the flatlands of industrial Hollywood, he’s 30 minutes early. And the occasion has been nearly 25 years in the making: Lamar, 28, is here to interview the four living members of N.W.A for their first magazine cover together since Ice Cube went solo in 1991 and the group collapsed into a famously bitter feud. Eazy-E died in 1995, at 31.
But today, Lamar meets with four men who defined his hometown of Compton, Calif., as a cradle of politically engaged, uncompromisingly hardcore hip-hop. With a modest demeanor that suggests nothing of his status as rap’s leading visionary and an entourage numbering just two associates and a publicist, he seems genuinely humbled to be here. When the group arrives, he is quick to pay his respects: first to Dr. Dre, then Ice Cube, then DJ Yella and MC Ren. They all share warm smiles and hugs.
“Ain’t nobody we’d rather have do this interview,” says Cube, 46.
“Have you seen the movie?” asks Dre, 50.
“Not yet,” answers Lamar. “Didn’t want to go to a preview and see it in a privileged setting. Would rather wait for it to come to the neighborhood and see it with everyone else. That way it’ll mean the most to me.”
The movie is Straight Outta Compton, which on Aug. 14 emerges from 13 years in development purgatory. Universal ultimately green-lit the project with a budget of $29 million; a screenwriter, Jonathan Herman; and a director, F. Gary Gray, all orchestrated with close oversight by Cube and Dre. (Cube is played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., 24.)
The result is a hard-hitting narrative replete with the conviction and turmoil that typified N.W.A in its heyday.
That heyday kicked off in 1988 — the same year Lamar turned 1 — with the release of the movie’s namesake album. No one had yet seen how Los Angeles could contribute to the simmering rap culture. And Compton, a gang stronghold just south of Watts, held no place in the American imagination…”