Rap music, already widely linked in the public mind to gang violence, came within a heartbeat of another black mark Thursday night when a fight broke out near the stage during N.W.A.'s concert at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim.
It was an especially delicate moment because N.W.A. is the hot new Los Angeles-area group whose sometimes X-rated tales about gang violence are already drawing criticisms from those who feel the records glorify gang behavior.
As part of the regular precaution for rap shows at the 2,500-seat theater, security guards held hand metal detection devices against everyone who entered the building and made women open their purses.
Inside, the atmosphere was calm as the three opening acts served up rap with varying degrees of effectiveness.
But the intensity level increased dramatically when N.W.A. walked on stage shortly after 9:30 and soon went into “Gangsta, Gangsta” and "---- tha Police,” two of the most provocative numbers on the quintet’s “Straight Outta Compton” album.
Midway through the equally graphic “Dopeman,” the fight broke out and a chill of tension swept the hall. Ice Cube, one of the principal N.W.A. writers and rappers, saw the flurry of activity and was faced with a challenge. Would he maintain the group’s “neutrality” stance or simply ignore what was going on to appear cool?
In a brave and revealing moment, Ice Cube, 19, stopped the song and used the microphone to try to combat the potential flare-up. Speaking in the same angry tone as the song, he shouted: “This ain’t (the movie) ‘Colors’. . . . You didn’t come to see a fight, you came to see a concert.’ ”
With the help of security guards, order was quickly restored, although about 40 males later spilled outside, causing nearby Anaheim police to dispatch a dozen squad cars. The youths then raced away; no arrests were made.
Inside the theater the concert continued uneventfully. Ice-T, who helped popularize the L.A. gangster rap image, was the evening’s headliner, but N.W.A. was the more galvanizing force. For all its crudeness, the group--which also includes Eazy-E, MC Ren, Dr. Dre and D. J. Yella--exhibits a sense of artistic spirit and vision.