Straight Outta LA

So these 30 for 30 things by ESPN are showing up on Netflix streaming. I was just flipping through the documentaries and Straight Outta LA popped up. Despite my hatred for the Worldwide Leader, I do love these sports documentaries, but I haven’t seen many of them. I hit play on this one thinking I’d check it out and I checked it out for an hour (I watched it all, yes). This is where you realize that not having cable doesn’t exempt you from becoming a TV-watching zombie.

It was directed and narrated by Ice Cube, who describes the interaction of the rise of LA style gangster rap with the move of the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982. You may know Ice Cube as a TV and film guy, but he became famous as a member of NWA, the ground breaking LA musical group who wrested hip-hop from the clutches of New York City.

I did not like hip-hop back then, nor did I respect it. I was 16 in 1982 and listened exclusively to heavy metal, but my musical tastes have changed a lot since then. As they played tunes from Straight Outta Compton during the documentary I became angry with myself (again) for shutting out rap at such a young and impressionable age. It was precisely because I was young an impressionable that I shut it out; and it was precisely because I was young and impressionable that I could have benefited from respecting this music.

I also didn’t like the Raiders back then, but I did respect them. My friend was a huge USC fan and he loved Marcus Allen. Plus, the Raidahhhs (Berman) were always good, so the silver and black got a lot of air time in my life.

Ice Cube brings together a distinguished crew to discuss the football side (Al Davis, Marcus Allen, NFL Marketing) and the rap side (Kid ’n Play and Russell Simmons]). And to break up the action, we get Ice Cube slinging a football around in the LA Coliseum with Snoop Dogg and talking Raiders. It was good theatre and I really enjoyed it.

It was a confluence of sorts in the early 1980s. The Rams had moved to Anaheim leaving LA and the LA Coliseum without an NFL team. Al Davis wanted things (money, fame) and was itching to make a splash. Hip-hop was becoming famous but most of the artists were east coast based, so LA rappers didn’t get much respect. ESPN and MTV were coming into their own and beginning to mature into the marketing machines they would become. And finally, there were a lot of social injustices in LA to rap about, arguably more than in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago.

NWA grabbed this Raider persona, clothed themselves in silver and black, and churned out rebellious, groundbreaking gangsta rap that caused quite a stir. Straight Outta Compton hit in 1988, about six years years after the Raiders came to LA, and was a huge hit. The Raiders won a Super Bowl in 1983, but the rise in their popularity was much greater than a little football victory would suggest. The hip-hop scene, the changing landscape of sports marketing and promotion, and a city thirsting for good football drove Raider Nation to new heights.

But it didn’t last forever. In fact, it was sort of brief. Things went south for the Raiders despite people like Tim Brown, Bo Jackson, and Todd Marinovich trying really hard. In 1995 the Raiders moved back to Oakland for what felt like many of the same reasons they moved to Los Angeles. A sports franchise is at the whim of the owner, so it doesn’t matter what external forces are in play. If the owner is concerned primarily about money and fame, things like stadium deals and tax breaks are going to dictate big decisions more than rabid fans and tradition.

It was a good time, this hip-hop/Raider confluence, but couldn’t last forever. Rapid rises often lead to rapid falls.