Straight Outta Compton: Locations and Design

Locations 

While research and in-depth conversations with members of N.W.A were essential to the actors’ portrayals and laid the foundation for the filmmaker’s vision for Straight Outta Compton, telling the story correctly wouldn’t be possible without delving into the backdrop before which their turbulent tale played out.

The city of Compton circa the mid-’80s, with its violent history and its proud denizens, is as integral a part of N.W.A’s rise as any other element. N.W.A’s defiant name, coupled with hard-hitting lyrics, spoke directly to living life in this predominantly black, working-class neighborhood punctuated by gang life and violence. When clearly and simply resounded by N.W.A, the complex story of this complex city resonated with millions of people across the country.

The group’s music became an anthem about what young black men everywhere were living, allowing them, their friends and their families to voice their rage against police brutality and injustice. Reality rap was born from it all.  As he is a product of that era in Los Angeles, Gray has his own recollections: “I grew up in South Central L.A., and it was pretty rough in the 1980s. It was the Reagan era, the economy was really bad and there was this huge shift in the culture on the streets. N.W.A just laid it out uncensored and unfiltered. At times, living life was good and at times it was dangerous, and they captured all of that in their songs. N.W.A and Compton are a historical bookmark.”

Before principal photography began, Mitchell made the pilgrimage to Compton to understand its relevance. “When I came to California for the first time, which was when I booked Straight Outta Compton, I did as much research as I could,” says the performer. “A large part of that is seeing firsthand where he came from. So if you find out about Compton you can find out a little bit moreabout Eazy.”

The city of Compton is part of the fabric of N.W.A, and the oft-repeated mantra/phrase “Compton is the sixth member of N.W.A” is spoken confidently by those who grew up there. And because of N.W.A, shout-outs from West Coast rappers like Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, and successful homegrown rappers like The Game and Grammy Award-winning Kendrick Lamar (both Dr. Dre protégés) who hail from there, the small city is still known globally.

At the time, East Coast rappers were shouting out to their hometowns. Nobody was yelling out Compton, and that was something Eazy-E meant to change. Says Ice Cube of Compton’s importance to them all: “It was one of Eazy’s main objectives: He wanted to make good records, make a lot of money, and put Compton on the map. Compton was always on his mind and always in the MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube are N.W.A. forefront of what he wanted to accomplish. It was a big deal to him.”

Filming in South Los Angeles brought out neighbors who hoped to catch a glimpse of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and MC Ren. The “Kings of Compton” were home to tell their story, and they were welcomed with open arms. Says Brown as he recalls the days filming in the “Hub City”: “Just like with N.W.A.’s music…if you make Compton happy, you are going to make the world happy.”

Wherever the production was scheduled to film, the news spread quickly. People from the old neighborhood would wave or shout their names to Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who would stand slack-jawed as people reintroduced themselves and reminded them of a good party or so-andso’s cousin from back in the day.

Capturing the flavor of South Central in the late 1980s and early 1990s was key to Gray’s approach to visualizing Straight Outta Compton. Working closely with his behind-the-scenes team of production designer Shane Valentino and costume designer Kelli Jones, they tapped into every resource at their disposal. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Woods- Wright and their families shared so many photos, videos and collective memories of growing up in the midst of LAPD’s crackdown/war on drugs—at a time when it seemed as if every black male was a target. The collateral damage of Daryl Gates’ war on drugs and gangbangers was the hard-working, churchgoing families who lived in the neighborhoods and were caught in the cross fire.

As much as the cast strived to inhabit their characters, the tweaks that finalized their looks would be made with hair and makeup, costumes and a diverse production design that ranged from the rough-and-tumble streets of Compton to the sleek million-dollar homes in Los Angeles’ wealthiest enclaves.