“Straight Outta L.A.”: My Thoughts

Who doesn't love nostalgia?

Tuesday night brought us the 14th installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series. This one was “Straight Outta L.A.,” a film directed by O’Shea Jackson, better known to most as Ice Cube. The following is what some would call a review of it.

I was really looking forward to this edition of 30 for 30 ever since I first heard about it two weeks ago. I’ve been a huge fan of this documentary series. From “Small Potatoes” to “The U” to “The Trial of Allen Iverson” and “Run Ricky Run,” ESPN has consistently been able to show interesting and insightful films.

I cannot say the same about Tuesday night’s rendition.

Documentary films of this nature are meant to be subjective, so it should not have been too hard to predict the angle that Ice Cube, the piece’s director and narrator, would take. For him, the time that the Raiders played in Los Angeles was the most important period of his life. It was during the Raiders’ Los Angeles tenure (1982-1994) that Ice Cube got both his favorite football team in his hometown and his break in the music industry as a rapper.

For most, however, the Raiders’ tenure in Los Angeles was a rather unremarkable time. It was a period that made people question if any community in Los Angeles could successfully support a NFL team, whether it be in the inner-city or the suburbs of Orange County.

So it is laughable at times when Ice Cube makes the Raiders’ tenure in Los Angeles out to be a monumental era. Or when he ends the film by saying that the Raiders will always belong to L.A.

He obviously cannot really be blamed for this. If I was making a documentary about my Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it would likely make anyone who is not a fan of the team sick to their stomach.

But it is the frequent use of the word “real” that makes the subjective nature of this film a little deceptive to me.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the film, Ice Cube sets out to link the Raider’s time in Los Angeles with the rise of “gangsta rap.” To Ice Cube, these two entities are synonymous. They each fueled the promotion of one another. The tendency of rappers to wear Raiders gear on stage made the football team more popular, and the edgy nature of the Raiders perfectly fueled the angry lyrics of budding rappers.

Ice Cube likes to say that the Raiders, unlike the then-Los Angeles Rams, represented the “real” Los Angeles. This is how he opens his commentary during the film, and it is a theme that he sticks with. He depicts Los Angeles as a violent and crime-ridden place, which in some parts it is. But are the areas that aren’t characterized by gang violence and murder not the “real L.A.?”

Ice Cube bashes the Rams for moving out of the inner city to Anaheim in 1980, accusing the team of trying to move as far away from African Americans as possible. But the Rams move capitalized on plenty of logical business decisions.

The Los Angeles Coliseum’s capacity of over 100,000 made it difficult to sell out games and combat the NFL’s blackout policy. At 65,000, Anaheim Stadium was a much more reasonable way of drawing important television revenue. Not to mention the move gave the Rams an opportunity to draw a thriving and expanding suburban community that heavily contrasted a more stale area that they were leaving.

The Anaheim Rams: Like Judas with shoulder pads.

Many people around L.A. speak of the Coliseum in an “Oh, that part of town” manner. Regardless of your idealistic dreams, this does not make for a good business decision in the billion dollar industry that is professional football. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to start anything substantial at Orlando’s Florida Citrus Bowl.

When the documentary concludes by showing the negative sides of a Raiders game at the Coliseum, Ice Cube fails to really comment on it. He shows clips of players talking about not letting their families attend their games and brawls breaking out in the stands, but he refuses to give in to the fact that this is why the Rams and later the Raiders left the “real L.A.”

He also does a poor job of connecting the relationship between his rap group, N.W.A., and the Raiders, a relationship that is supposed to be the entire point of the documentary. The entire film runs like somebody talking to two separate groups of friends and then trying to keep them apart so that they don’t really know about each other.

Theme song of the Raiders, according to Ice Cube. Edited version for the kids, my Mom and comedic purposes.

There are stories told about gangsta rap in decent depth and stories told quickly about the Raiders (about two seconds are devoted to the “story” of the 1983 Super Bowl team).

But when the two come to link, they leave viewers wondering, “Huh?”

Former Raiders’ defensive end Greg Townsend has one of the more enlightening moments in the film when he seems perplexed by the idea that the Raiders influenced or represented gangsta rap at all.

Townsend talks about how he was never in a gang, never owned a gun and wasn’t proud of violence. He pondered how anyone could say that a group like N.W.A. represented himself or the Raiders.

In fact no players or staff talked about much of a commitment to anything N.W.A. except for in merchandise sales. Even this seems like a shallow admission and not enough of a connection to spark a documentary. N.W.A. went into Raiders headquarters one day and asked for some Raiders clothes to wear on tour. The promotion-hungry Raiders gave them what they came for and that was about all of the documented direct contact.

Raiders’ officials did not know who they were or what they were about. Marcus Allen and Howie Long weren’t going out to Clubs with Eazy-E on Friday nights or getting VIP treatment from Dr. Dre at local strip clubs. This wasn’t anything like 2 Live Crew and the Miami Hurricanes. This was Los Angeles, and two very different groups of people both happened to enjoy wearing the same colors.

On the other hand, the always street savvy Bill Plaschke and some nerdy white “rap expert” in an orange polo were more than willing to shove links between the Raiders and gangsta rap down our throats for the entirety of the 51-minute long doc.

Original gangster and inner-city expert, Bill Plaschke.

Ice Cube also fails to mention that the peak of the Raiders in L.A. and the rise of N.W.A. did not occur at the same time. By the time N.W.A. made a name for themselves on the music scene, the Raiders were a below .500 team and were headed into the Mike Shanahan era that is so angrily discussed in “Straight Outta L.A.”

During this time, Ice Cube admits that the Raiders were no longer cool (read: they were losing). This led to a significant drop in fans, a giant reminder why there should probably never be a professional football team in Los Angeles.

Easily the most sickening portion of the documentary is Ice Cube’s sit-down interview with Al Davis.

After watching interviews with gang members that have committed numerous crimes in their lives, Davis still comes off as the film’s worst antagonist. As cynical and arrogant as ever, Davis carries the eery appearance of an ancient monster. Some would draw sympathy in a state like this, but Davis still has a way of generating disgust,

He really shows no commitment to either Oakland or Los Angeles. The Raiders do not belong to a city. They are the Raiders and they will play wherever the hell they feel like playing.

He even tells Los Angeles that “the door is always open” for them if they build a new stadium. With this, Davis further cements his legacy as the worst man in football.

Not just a handshake, a partnership.



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4 responses to ““Straight Outta L.A.”: My Thoughts

  1. By now you probably know that I have this whiplash “oh sh*t” reaction every time I see a Bryan Holt post centered on, uh, black people. But I think you pretty much nailed this one, and I commend your level-headedness. I’ve actually got this queued up for tonight, but just a couple of pre-viewing thoughts…

    Great point about having to move out of the Coliseum to avoid TV blackouts. Kudos if you came across that thought independently. Spot on.

    My first reaction when seeing the trailer: Didn’t they already make this film? Cube – the guy in “Are We There Yet?” – wishes he was as badass as Mike Irvin.

    In line with the Bill Plaschke argument… I think it’s weird how ESPN basically uses Dan LeBatard as its default “black” guy because they can’t find any real black people. Bad job by you, ESPN, and the journalism industry in general.

    And as for the NWA phenomenon, I think that a lot these musical/cultural movements tend to be romanticized and blown out of proportion in hindsight (maybe that’s just the nature of history). You see it in shows like “I Love the 80s” where they spend 20 minutes on these “huge” fads that most people don’t even remember. This isn’t to say that gangsta rap wasn’t important or influential, but – just for the sake of comparison – “Straight Outta Compton,” the hit, sold 2 million copies. The other major pop acts of ’88 – MJ, George Michael – were doing five times that.

    Also, something about stadiums in the hood totally jack me up for football games. There was always this extra rush, for instance, associated with night games in the Orange Bowl. The seedy surroundings made the place special. And I remember walking in to a few Thursday, bad-moon-rising type games around ’00 thinking, “Something very bad is gonna happen to the other team tonight.” R.I.P Old Lady.

  2. Pingback: “Tipping Point” and Other Google Trends: The Week in Review, Redux « Sports Casualties

  3. Kyle

    So I had this on my DVR and I waited to watch it because of this review. Then I finally wanted to decide for myself, and wound up turning it off about halfway through. I feel like no one is saying anything negative because they’re worried about looking racist. If there were a 30 for 30 about how nice it was for the Rams to move out of the dangerous parts of LA because there were too many black people and too much violence, there would be riots in Bristol.

    Ice Cube’s message for the first 30 minutes were, “The Raiders belonged to the Black people in LA. The Rams were the White team. Fuck the Rams.”

    Another part that bothered me was Snoop Dogg all of a sudden being a huge Raiders fan. He’s always been a huge Steelers fan, so for him to talk about how the Raiders were the first team he loved and then wear a Steelers jersey everywhere else and talk about how he’s loved them forever just pissed me off.

    It’s like they were trying to further the stereotype of black males being violent and thugs. And with recent hits like “Barbershop”, “Barbershop 2”, and “Are We There Yet?”, how can you not side with him?

    The whole thing just bothered me. It’s like how everyone is ok with an all black cast remaking a movie with an all white cast. Death at a Funeral was made like 3 years ago. It was a British movie. If an all white cast remade Barbershop or Friday, people would be pissed and call it racism.

    Ok, ok, rant over. Good write up though, Bryan.

    • bholt11

      Nice rant, Kyle, and I strongly agree with the points that you made.

      I made the mistake of reading a solid 10 reviews of “Straight Outta L.A.” before I wrote this and they only made me hate it worse. All of them were positive. NO! You’re an old, white critic that pleasures yourself to “Citizen Kane” and “Gone With the Wind” every day. There is no way in hell you enjoyed this documentary. Tell the truth. You probably didn’t understand the jumbled message that Ice Cube was apparently trying to portray, and even if you did, you likely hated it.

      Trust me, I could have written an edgier and more telling post about how I felt about this thing, but SC does have two names on top of it, so I try to keep my opinions a little level-headed on occasion to avoid conflict.

      As far as Snoop, that was one of those “as if this thing could get any worse” kind of moments.

      A – He’s a Steeler fan and uses the same “hard-nosed” team argument that he uses to describe the Raiders all the time with Pittsburgh.

      B – Rap music created “Raider Nation?” REALLY? I’m pretty sure they had a solid following in Oakland previously and even in Los Angeles before anyone began giving a damn about rap music. As I mentioned here, this entire thing was pointless to me because by the time NWA made it big, the Raiders sucked. And if there’s one thing that the film makes clear, it’s that the black/rap community stopped supporting the Raiders when they began losing.

      So the whole thing made no sense to me. I’m glad to see some others aren’t faking it either.

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