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#ThrowbackThursday: “Express Yourself” by N.W.A

by Sean Smith

The much-anticipated N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton will open in theaters across the country tomorrow. The film depicts the rise and eventual dismantling of the premier gangster rap group of the 1980s.

N.W.A membership over the years has been made up of some variation of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre and Arabian Prince. Regardless of who was in the lineup at any given time, N.W.A  was never afraid to raise eyebrows with in your face lyrics used to shine a light on the issues associated with growing up as minorities in a poverty stricken urban environment.

Perhaps the best song to illustrate this point is their 1988 single “F*** tha Police”, which speaks to the issue of police brutality in an unabashed and unapologetic tone. In the lyrics of the song they mention violence being used against cops as a way to fight back against police brutality. In other words, N.W.A was never a group afraid to express themselves. So with that being the case, this week we are going to remember their 1989 single “Express Yourself”.

The N.W.A released their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton in 1988. The first two singles for the album were the single “Straight Outta Compton” followed by “Gangsta, Gangsta”. The third official single to be released off of Straight Outta Compton was “Express Yourself”. The song is built around the sampling of the popular 1970 song of the same name released by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. N.W.A member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright was the nephew of Charles Wright.

The lyrics for N.W.A’s 1989 version of “Express Yourself” were written by Ice Cube, although Dr. Dre is the featured rapper on the track. The lyrics written by Cube address the issue of freedom of expression, and more specifically how radio censorship takes away from that freedom. The song also throws shade at some other rappers of the time for not using profanity in their music in order to obtain radio airplay. Ironically, “Express Yourself” contains not a single profane word in it; an untypical occurrence for the group who gave us “F*** tha Police” on the very same album as this track.

So in light of the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton opening across the nation  this weekend, we take a moment to reflect back on their 1989 single “Express Yourself”. Enjoy.

N.W. A.

“Express Yourself”

From Straight Outta Compton

Ruthless/Priority Records

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