Ice Cube documents hip-hop's ties to the Raiders

Apr 26 2010 - 5:15pm

NEW YORK -- When the groundbreaking hip-hop group N.W.A. was forming in the mid-1980s, they didn't care much for the colorful Troop suits then being worn by rappers such as LL Cool J.

Instead, the group -- which included Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube -- decided to wear black. Since many of the Compton, Calif., crew were fans of the Los Angeles Raiders, that meant wearing a lot of Raiders gear.

For years, Raiders apparel would be synonymous with N.W.A. and gangsta rap.

Cube, whose real name is O'Shea Jackson, has made a documentary about his old group's connection to the Raiders: "Straight Outta L.A.," a pun on N.W.A.'s 1988 debut album, "Straight Outta Compton." The film was to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday and will air on ESPN in May as part of the network's "30-for-30" series.

"It was a team we could identify with, from the neighborhood that we came from," says Cube. "The Lakers was real glitzy and glamour; the Dodgers were seen as a little out of reach. But the Raiders, it seemed like my uncles played for the Raiders."

ESPN asked Cube, who has worked as actor and producer in such movies as "Boyz n the Hood" and "Friday," to contribute a film to "30-for-30." But he had only directed once: 1998's "The Players Club."

"I thought about it for a minute, and this was the story: the L.A. Raiders coming to L.A. and how their image and persona, in a lot ways, changed the trajectory of hip-hop," he says.

The Raiders, who made the Los Angeles Coliseum home from 1982-1994, were appealing because they were good (they won the Super Bowl in 1976, 1980 and 1983), a little brash and, thanks partly to owner Al Davis, had something of a renegade about them. The silver and black colors, with a pirate logo, also fit the violence of Compton.

"To me, they were always known as the bad boys of the NFL," Cube says. "It was some kind of crazy synergy."

In the film, Snoop Dogg chimes: "Good guys wear black."

Before they knew it, N.W.A. would play in Denver and elsewhere and see Raiders jerseys everywhere. Raiders merchandise began selling wildly.

But the love affair among hip-hop, L.A. and the Raiders didn't quite last. The team developed a thuggish reputation and moved back to Oakland not long after the L.A. riots in 1992.

Former Raiders linebacker Rod Martin says in the film that he thought N.W.A. was "too hardcore" and wasn't "a good advertisement" for the team. Since then, many rappers have sought to associate themselves not with a sports team's apparel, but their own gear. Master P, for example, launched a line of jerseys for his No Limit Records label.

Cube, too, eventually questioned why he and N.W.A. should fill the Raiders' coffers. On his 1991 solo album, "Death Certificate," he rapped: "Stop givin' juice to the Raiders/ Cause Al Davis never paid us/ I hope he wear a vest."

Cube interviewed Davis for the film, an experience he compares to "talking to Yoda." Those rap lines are long forgotten to Cube, still a rabid Raiders fan and an admirer of Davis.

"In rap, being clever and rhyming is key," he says. "So, you know, that record was done in '91. It was a whole different time."

Nevertheless, from 2 Live Crew and the University of Miami's football team to Jay-Z and the Yankees, few connections between rap and sports have been stronger than that of N.W.A. and the Raiders.

"Sports without music is just a game," says Cube. "The music adds the same thing it does for the movie soundtrack: It tells your emotions where to be."

 

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