Along with the late Eazy-E, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, MC Ren and Ice Cube (yes, the same Ice Cube who is in the family comedy Are We There Yet?), Dr. Dre created the rap group N.W.A. This group created a firestorm of controversy with the explicit language and content in their lyrics.
They rapped about their own lives and the problems they faced everyday. Mainstream American culture was simply not ready for the realism within their music. N.W.A. sparked a musical revolution still felt today not only in rap music but in all of pop music.
Most of my middle school students know Dr. Dre for his headphones. When I was growing up I knew him as producer mainly creating the background beats for Snoop Doggy Dog and Eminem. It was only recently that I discovered N.W.A.’s music and was floored by Dr. Dre’s skills on the microphone.
“Express Yourself,” the last single off of N.W.A.’s 1989 album Straight Outta Compton featured Dr. Dre rapping about the power of self-expression.
N.W.A. sampled Charles Wright & the Watts 100 Street Rhythm Band’s 1971 hit of the same name.
On top of this infectious sample Dr. Dre explodes in the beginning of the first verse:
I’m expressing with my full capabilitiesHe goes on to call out hypocrisy with the way other people talk about drugs, and the way rappers change what they do to get on the radio. Throughout the song he has entertaining and clever similes and rhymes like “moving like a tortoise, full of rigor mortis." Like Smokey Robinson’s classic Motown lyrics, there’s a sense of fun in the rapping and the wide vocabulary on words the Dr. Dre utilizes.
And now I’m living in correctional facilities.
Cause some don’t agree with how I do this,
I get straight, meditate like Buddhist.
While the song has a softer message the video links together the character slave driver, policeman and executioner. N.W.A. also evokes imagery of Kennedy being shot. All of this juxtaposed against this light-hearted song reminds us what N.W.A. is really all about.
There is freedom and joy in genuine self-expression, even if what you are expressing are darker parts of the human experience. "Express Yourself," walks this line carefully encouraging others to be who they are while calling out the problems that keep people from being genuine.
It's amazing to see how far these artists have gone. Dr. Dre is still around and when he hits the mic he still does it better than most of the younger guys out there right now. There is something special about hearing him rap more than twenty years ago. There's an energy and excitement that makes you not only want to rap along but create your own music to express yourself.