3. N.W.A., STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
As much as I tried to believe I was valuing my favorite cock rock bands on the basis of their individual artistic merit, the fact remains that there really wasn't much of a sonic difference between the Strypers, Poisons, and Metallicas of my youth. Or maybe there was, and I was just too enamored with all of their elegant hairstyles to notice (or maybe I'm just feeling the urge to backpedal right now, for fear of receiving death threats from people named "firstname.lastname@example.org").
I was destined for change. I could never make a good metalhead. I was too young for "OZZY" knuckle tattoos. I was terrified of the Devil. Most crippling of all, there was no way my parents were going to go let me grow my hair out long enough to fully celebrate the Headbanger's Ball. I had a wussy, two-inch-long rat tail for about a month in the 6th grade, but it disappeared one night in my sleep (no pity coins left under my pillow, thanks for asking). It wasn't remotely long enough to whip around rebelliously like the Living Colour guitarist or Aimee Mann. But thankfully, rebellion comes in many different manifestations. I was about to evolve. I was about to discover the joy and wonder of the Parental Advisory sticker.
I once again need to credit my dear boyhood friend Billy with this paradigm shift in my personal taste (I'm realizing the name "Billy" is completely sweet-sounding, like someone who would happily introduce you to "Baby Beluga" by Raffi, not "Dick Almighty" by the 2 Live Crew). I've been referencing Billy so much lately that I probably should have changed his name by now, to protect the innocent and stuff... Oops. Let's just call him "Koolthar" from here on out. Good ol' Koolthar. Ok, that's not much better, but at least it sounds vaguely 80s Rap and 80s Metal simultaneously. Appropriately enough. And, it's still light years better than "Anthrax".
I'm not here to rave about 2 Live Crew (or Anthrax), though I quite easily could. They too demanded (begged for?) a Parental Advisory sticker - and therefore my undivided attention - for about a solid month of my 8th grade existence. But no, I'm not talking about Luke's posse. The group I'm currently scrambling for an appropriate segue into is one bearing a moniker so inflammatory, they can only be referred to here as an acronym shared by an international airline. Ladies and gentlemen: N.W.A.
Koolthar and I were inseparable. Koolthar and his walkman were inseparable. Koolthar's walkman and N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton were also inseparable, which means that I was mathematically linked to the album before I even owned it (or a device to play it on). I aimed to change this. During a family vacation in Colorado, I snuck out of my parents' eyesight at a Wal-Mart and practically sprinted to the music section. I found the cassette almost immediately - the familiar black-bordered cover with the scrawled red font framing the iconic image of Eazy, Dre, Ren, Cube, Arabian Prince, and Yella glowering down at me. I forked over my pre-counted $7.99 and stuffed the tape into my back pocket. I prayed that my shirt was long enough to conceal the rectangular bulge on my way out of the consumer empire.
Let me back up here for a minute. I forgot to mention that around this time, under the gentle persuasion of Koolthar (who was Korean), I fully realized that I wanted to be black. Or at least brown. White people were helplessly boring. Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird? Please. It didn't take a totally lame Nintendo game to settle that debate for me. Jordan represented natural grace and beauty. Bird just kind of reminded me of a mixture of my dad and hairy armpit sweat. I began looking at my former musical heroes the same way. Gene Simmons vs. LL Cool J? Mama said knock you out. It's interesting to note just how quickly I transitioned from the whitest of all music genres to the blackest.
Back to Wal-Mart. Had I not been so anxious to travel home from Colorado to Hawaii to the little portable stereo in my sister's bedroom (she was perpetually away at college and couldn't catch me wearing out her A-ha, Alphaville, and Wham! tapes), I might have noticed that there was a small but infinitely important component of my Straight Outta Compton cover art missing. This was possibly the second-most important component of my entire adolescent rap infatuation (the first being all that covetous dark skin). There was a certain sticker on the cover of Koolthar's version that I noticed was curiously missing from mine. And as soon as I pushed "play" on my sister's Casio, I realized, in a panic, that there were hundreds of other vital components missing as well.
"You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge..." (my heart pounding out of my chest in anticipation, and then, finally) "Straight Outta Compton, is a crazy brother named Ice Cube, from the stupid dope gang with attitude..."
Stop button. Click. Wait a minute! Weren't there supposed to be at least eleven F-bombs in that first classic line? I paid nearly eight dollars for this thing! And, most horrifying of all, "Stupid Dope Gang With Attitude"?! I quickly checked the album cover. Phew, my eyes hadn't deceived me; the group name wasn't listed as "S.D.G.W.A." Then what the heck was this? I kept listening. Sure enough, every glorious obscenity had been replaced by an awkwardly wholesome phrase. To make matters worse, the second song - my personal favorite - was completely omitted (evidentially, "Darn tha Police" didn't have the same bite). I lowered my head in shame. I was the proud owner of a Wal-Mart-approved "clean version". Waif me.
I was stuck in an interesting paradox: I now owned a tape that my parents would probably have no major reason to object to; one that I could probably play to my heart's content. The songs were still basically the same. Dr. Dre's groundbreaking production was still intact. But yet, it was worthless to me. And if Koolthar found out? Sheer humiliation. It would be worse than the time when I proudly announced that I really liked "It Takes Two" by Rob Base because Eazy-E was the D.J. (I know, I know. Eazy was never a D.J. And the other guy's name was "D.J. E-Z Rock". Confusing those two is like the metal equivalent of mistaking Rob Halford for Rob Thomas). My solution was possibly the most brilliant problem solving feat of the late 1980s. I walked into a local record store, nervously peeled an advisory sticker off an unsuspecting Big Daddy Kane tape, and walked back out, the adhesive barely sticking to my sweaty palm. Within an hour, my Tipper Gore-approved N.W.A. tape had a new, edgier look. I vowed to take the secret to my grave. Oops.