Year
1988
Month Day
August 08

Gangsta rap hits the mainstream with the release of N.W.A’s "Straight Outta Compton"

As of 1988, the top-selling hip hop albums of all time were Run D.M.C.’s Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys’ License to Ill, both released in 1987 and both selling millions without ruffling many feathers. In June 1988, Public Enemy released It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, an album that broke new ground both musically and lyrically with its richly layered, aggressive sound and its angry, politically conscious content. Yet even Public Enemy were dwarfed commercially by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, whose kid-friendly single “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and album He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper were both Top 5 pop hits that same summer. The group that would truly revolutionize hip hop was N.W.A—”Niggaz With Attitude”—whose debut album, Straight Outta Compton, was released on August 8, 1988.

The release of Straight Outta Compton marks a critical turning point in the history of hip hop, which was a booming global phenomenon in 1988 but still hadn’t strayed far from its roots as party music. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had established hip hop’s potential for social commentary with their epic single “The Message” in 1983, but Straight Outta Compton offered something far less measured and polite than one usually associates with the word “commentary.” The album’s first three tracks alone—“Straight Outta Compton,” “**** Tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta”—may have contained more explicit language and incendiary subject matter than every previous hip hop record combined, and it contained nothing like a didactic “message.” It may not have been the first recorded example of Gangsta rap—Schooly D and Ice-T mined similar territory somewhat earlier—but Straight Outta Compton is the album that introduced it to the mainstream.

What is remarkable is that the album reached the mainstream at all. Far too controversial and explicit for commercial radio or MTV, Straight Outta Compton was shut out from the traditional route to commercial success. Yet it would eventually be certified triple Platinum, helped in part by a counterproductive effort at suppression in the form of an official letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation warning N.W.A and their label, Priority Records, that “Advocating violence and assault is wrong….Music plays a significant role in society and I wanted you to to be aware of the FBI’s position relative [“**** Tha Police”] and its message.”

N.W.A broke up in several stages between 1989 and 1992, releasing two more hit albums along the way: 100 Miles and Runnin’ (1990) and Efil4zaggin (Niggaz4Life) (1991). Former members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube would both go on to have hugely successful careers in popular music, while founding member Easy E would die of AIDS in 1995, by which time Gangsta rap—the sub-genre he’d helped to create—was the dominant style in the world of hip hop.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

5-day long Russo-Georgian War begins

On August 8, 2008, a long-simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia boiled over into a shooting war between the small Caucasian nation and the superpower of which it was once a part. The brief Russo-Georgian War was the most violent episode in a conflict that began more than ...read more

Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

On August 8, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice to serve on the nation's highest court. Sotomayor's mother was an orphan from rural Puerto Rico. Her ...read more

Brigham Young chosen to lead Mormon Church

After Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormonism, and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered by an angry mob in an Illinois prison six weeks earlier, Elder Brigham Young is chosen to be the Church’s next leader. The ...read more

Soviets declare war on Japan; invade Manchuria

On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union officially declares war on Japan, pouring more than 1 million Soviet soldiers into Japanese-occupied Manchuria, northeastern China, to take on the 700,000-strong Japanese army. The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima by the Americans did not have ...read more

Emiliano Zapata born

Emiliano Zapata, a leader of peasants and indigenous people during the Mexican Revolution, is born in Anenecuilco, Mexico. Born a peasant, Zapata was forced into the Mexican army in 1908 following his attempt to recover village lands taken over by a rancher. After the revolution ...read more

German saboteurs executed in Washington

During World War II, six German saboteurs who secretly entered the United States on a mission to attack its civil infrastructure are executed by the United States for spying. Two other saboteurs who disclosed the plot to the FBI and aided U.S. authorities in their manhunt for ...read more

Nixon resigns

In an evening televised address on August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon announces his intention to become the first president in American history to resign. With impeachment proceedings underway against him for his involvement in the Watergate affair, Nixon was finally ...read more

Lights go on at Wrigley

On August 8, 1988, the Chicago Cubs host the first night game in the history of Wrigley Field. The first-ever night game in professional baseball took place nearly 60 years earlier, on May 2, 1930, when a Des Moines, Iowa, team hosted Wichita for a Western League game. The ...read more

Spike Lee’s first feature, "She’s Gotta Have It," premieres

On August 8, 1986, actor, writer and director Spike Lee’s first feature-length movie, She’s Gotta Have It, opens in theaters around the United States. Made on a shoestring budget, She’s Gotta Have It was a comedy about a free-spirited African-American woman in Brooklyn, New York, ...read more

President Truman signs United Nations Charter

President Harry S. Truman signs the United Nations Charter and the United States becomes the first nation to complete the ratification process and join the new international organization. Although hopes were high at the time that the United Nations would serve as an arbiter of ...read more

Robert E. Lee offers resignation as commander of the Confederate army

In the aftermath of his defeat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sends a letter of resignation as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The letter came more than a month after Lee’s retreat from ...read more

Battle of Amiens

On August 8, 1918, the Allies launch a series of offensive operations against German positions on the Western Front during World War I with a punishing attack at Amiens, on the Somme River in northwestern France. After heavy casualties incurred during their ambitious spring 1918 ...read more