"To me, films like 'Cry Freedom' and ' Mississippi Burning' are from the wrong point of view. Hollywood never shows it from the black person's point of view, . . . Even in 'Colors,' they showed it from the police point of view instead of the gangbangers' point of view. Our stuff is more or less documentary. It's what we grew up with.
Because of lyrics as explosive as N.W.A's, rap has split the pop community in ways that haven't been seen since punk arrived more than a decade ago.
For nearly a decade now, much of the media and the pop Establishment has been hoping that rap would simply fade away. But the music has proved resilient and has become a dynamic forum for the expression of black frustrations and aspirations.
Dr. John Oliver, professor of social policy and planning at Cal State Long Beach's School of Social Work, sees a connection between rap and the soul artists who sang of black pride themes in the '60s.
"The rappers have gone back to the way Sly and the Family Stone or Curtis Mayfield or Donny Hathaway spoke about social conditions in the late '60s and early '70s," he said. "They are not only rallying the young rap audience into doing something actively about social problems, but also expressing black (attitudes) to the larger community.
"One of the things that made it (attractive) to young people in the beginning was that it was a way of relieving some of the anxiety and stresses they felt about being rejected by society.
"A lot of the press early on was fairly negative, but the groups were pretty tenacious, and the criticism made them more committed to it. Instead of pushing people away, I think it pushed a generation of young people closer together by giving them something of their own."
Though the commercial door was opened in 1986, when Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys merged rock 'n' rap sensibilities and sold an estimated 7 million albums, the real breakthrough has occurred in the last six months.
At 2 million-plus, Tone Loc's playful "Wild Thing" is the biggest-selling single since "We Are the World" in 1985. The L.A. rapper's album is in the national Top 10 this week--one of more than two dozen rap albums to make the Billboard pop charts in recent months.
On the critical front, nine rap singles made the year's 25 best records list in a Village Voice survey of the nation's pop critics. Equally significantly, Public Enemy's political "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" was voted the album of the year by a huge margin.
This turnaround is especially dramatic because rap was first dismissed by white rock fans as the enemy--some strange bastard offspring of disco. Rock radio stations resisted it. Even critics outside New York sidestepped it, except for an occasional socially conscious record such as Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" in 1982 or Run-D.M.C.'s "It's Like That" in 1983.
Some observers still look at it with disdain.
Mike Ross, who produced and arranged Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" with his partner Matt Dyke, considered rap's turnaround and said: "Every time a new phase of music comes along, people think it's just a quick trend because they don't identify with it. In this case, a lot of white people just saw rap as a bunch of black guys screaming. The music wasn't melodic or anything, and it was hard for a lot of people to relate to the songs.
"But rap isn't going to just go away. It's not just this year's disco. Disco got overexposed, and then the backlash came and boom, it was over. . . . Rap is evolving very quickly. The challenge is for the rap artists to keep changing, and there are signs now that they are capable of that change."
As Ross suggests, outsiders may say that rap all sounds the same, but there are distinct subdivisions--from the shocking street realism of Compton's Eazy-E and N.W.A to the socially minded activism of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions; from the girl rap vitality of Wee Papa Girls to the teen novelty of D.J. Jazzy Jeff; from the sexy strut of L.L. Cool J to the witty pop-culture salutes of De La Soul.
Reflecting on the fast-changing scene, Ross added good-naturedly: "Rap records are kind of like Kleenex for the kids. They love the record or a sound for six months and then they reach back into the box."
"Rhythmic talking over a funk beat."
That's how David Toop describes rap music in "The Rap Attack" (South End Press), his colorful and comprehensive book on the origins of this '80s offspring of such equally durable musical forms as the blues and doo-wop.