ESPN 30 for 30: Straight Outta L.A. (2010)

Directed by Ice Cube

I think the first reaction to this film came before I even had the opportunity to put the DVD into my player and sit down to watch it. At first glance through the list of films my mind went to the directors of these films. Admittedly I noticed names like Steve James, Barbara Kopple and Barry Levinson first, but my eyes were then quickly drawn to the curiosity on the list, Ice Cube. Ice Cube is known as a hip hop/rap pioneer as a founding member of the rap group NWA, who was one of the first iterations of gangster/west coast rap. He has since gone on to an acting career, true, being featured in such films as Anaconda, Boyz N the Hood, and Three Kings. So what does he have to offer a series of documentaries on sports? He has directed before, The Players Club, a film I have never heard of and which holds a low score on IMDb.

Well, the fact remains that Ice Cube is a hip hop/rap pioneer and as such has a great knowledge and level of experience to present in a film that focuses on the connection between the rise of west coast/gangster rap with the success of the Raiders football team which had moved from Oakland to Los Angeles after the Rams moved out of town to Anaheim. Al Davis was the iconic owner of the franchise committed to excellence and the silver and black soon became synonymous with the harsh LA rap scene and the success of the team, who brought a championship to the city. Theirs was a unique marriage which brought prosperity and fame for a period of time. But like all good things, they must end and the Raiders began losing consistently and moved back to Oakland, but the legacy built between the two was a cultural phenomenon and is an important part of both NFL and hip hop history.

The story is there, of that I am fairly confident, and in fact it is small enough that it should fit nicely into a 50 minute installment of the series. The problem is that it doesn’t. For whatever reason Ice Cube really does seem like the problem here. He is credited as the director, but I really question what direction he really wanted the film to go in. There seems to be a number of different focus areas, and when I use the word focus, I use it very loosely. The topics are slight and it feels like we are barely scratching the surface with any given event or storyline. We see Ice Cube conducting these interviews with important subjects and seemingly getting nothing of good use out of any of them, especially perhaps the most important of them, Al Davis.

The strangest part of the film is how Ice Cube seems to insert his own personal narrative into the larger picture of the impact of the marriage between hip hop and the Raiders brand. We get a brief history of the formation of NWA as well as one or two other asides which are jarringly featured with some animation. The film is just way too Ice Cube driven to be able to answer the questions it sets out to answer and to cover the subjects it sets out to cover in any depth. The film starts and ends with awkward statements from the director and there is even an informal meeting between Ice Cube and fellow west coast rapper Snoop Dogg at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Raiders played their games. Ice Cube and his buddies are more focused on a trip down memory lane than actually doing anything meaningful with the film.

It is a shame because there seems to be an interesting story in there somewhere, but this isn’t it. I am fascinated with the development of gangster rap, and if you can believe it, I actually enjoy listening to it from time to time, even though I have not heard an extensive amount. I would also be interested in learning more about what it arguably the most highly visible and singularly unique franchises in professional football, the Raiders. Al Davis is a great personality, but he hardly features here. They touch on so many little things that seem like they could lead to great segments, but never do, and I can’t get over how detrimental the presentation of the film is to the subject matter. I think Ice Cube should stick with the music business.

** – Poor

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