30 for 30: Straight Outta L.A.

In Straight Outta L.A., MC Ren explains why the Raiders gear was right: "The black hats just matched with everything. Purple and gold: I don’t think that would have looked good on NWA."

30 for 30: Straight Outta L.A.

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Ice Cube, Marcus Allen, John Madden, Al Davis, Bill Plaschke. MC Ren, Todd Boyd, Howie Long, Snoop Dogg
Network: ESPN
Director: Ice Cube
Air date: 2010-05-11
Just keep sticking it to 'em.

-- Al Davis

"We did have that appeal, that bad boy image." Remembering the Los Angeles Raiders, Marcus Allen seems understated. This especially as his observation is lined up with others at the start of Straight Outta L.A., Ice Cube's thoughtful paean to the team's short hot burst during the 1980s, when they roared in from Oakland -- before they roared out.

The documentary, airing as part of ESPN's remarkable 30 for 30 series, shows how this burst occurred on and off the field. And for those who saw it, the thrill was unforgettable. Just ask Snoop, who recalls that the eye-patched pirate was the perfect emblem for his own youthful attitude, asserting something like, "We're here to take what we came here to get, by any means necessary." Or columnist Bill Plaschke, who asserts, "I don’t think there's ever a team that has revealed the true heart and spirit of the real Los Angeles more than the Raiders." You know, that "real" Los Angeles, the one that loomed so large and so intimidating, the one that has former Raiders media relations rep Steve Hartman saying, "It's amazing, looking back, that more people weren’t seriously hurt or even killed during those days."

Okaaay. Even if the Raiders weren't quite so bruising and brutal as all that, they did bring an image -- premised on Al Davis' pugnacious self-performance (he sued the league, and won, to be able to move the team to LA) and enhanced by a range of factors: the team's use of the Coliseum (the Rams had moved over to Anaheim), the "diversity" of the fans and head coach Tom Flores, as well as the players' own smackdown style. By their second year in town (the first being abbreviated by a players' strike), the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII, pummeling the Redskins, 38-9. From Marcus Allen to Greg Pruitt to Howie Long (who remembers the culture shock of moving out to the Raiders from Villanova, "where there's a priest on every floor: it's obviously a different kind of feeling"), the players were booming and fans were ecstatic.

Amid the hubbub, the team and the city developed a sort of symbiotic relationship, fueled in part by their shared interest in image. It was Hollywood, after all, and as gritty and tough as the team might have started, it was soon swept up in its own hype. Ironically, as Ice Cube recounts, NWA had something to do with this evolution, as gangsta rap was changing the political and cultural terms initiated back in NYC. NWA and Ice T were telling stories of their neighborhoods -- how real people, caught up in Reaganomics, lived and imagined their lives: "It's not for the pop chart," insists Are We There Yet? producer Ice Cube. At first, he says, NWA wore Raiders gear because it looked great. "The black hats," remembers MC Ren, "Just matched with everything, you know what I'm saying? Purple and gold: I don’t think that would have looked good on us."

The Silver and Black style -- gangsta gone commercial -- was self-expressive, self-assertive, and self-referential. And over time, the Raiders became an occasion more than an inspiration. As David Beckerman recalls, "The Raiders were clearly a brand. They were the Darth Vader of the league. They were mysterious, they were strong, they had a personality. They were black and they were connected to the music business. We reveled in it." Here "we" is a very broad category -- including consumers, of course, but also owners, managers, and entrepreneurs like Beckerman, who ran Starter Corporation, a sporting goods business.

Straight Outta L.A. doesn't hammer the point, but it makes clear that the Raiders and rap, however meaningful they were and are, also have to do with money. And, in hindsight, it's clear that the Raiders-NWA connection was only the beginning. For all the initial hard edge of LA rap, it was always as much about making money as critiquing the system in which only rich people had money. As it changed to accommodate mass audiences, the original artists were rethinking their place. Ice T, bless him, maintains: "Hiphop is rock and roll, so it's got to have an edge to it or it turns into pop and Britney can do that, so fuck it."

As definitions of authenticity shifted to accommodate other realities or promote marketable fictions, the Raiders also started falling off. Davis hired and fired Mike Shanahan, he fought some more with the league, and at last he decided to take his marbles back to Oakland. In his interview, he insinuates the reasons for these decisions can't be shared, and Ice Cube, respectful of the man who so (unknowingly) affected his own early career, nods. Both know something about meeting challenges and beating expectations. And both share an abiding appreciation for the Los Angeles Raiders, still representing.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.