The Newseum’s latest exhibit “Louder Than Words” explores the relationship of rock, power and politics, bringing together artifacts from artists who have exercised their First Amendment rights in their music. In a special celebration of this exhibit, DJ Yella of the influential hip hop group N.W.A. and Lil Eazy E, whose father was a member of the group, visited the Newseum to discuss their own experiences with the First Amendment and their work.
In 1988, N.W.A. released their album “Straight Outta Compton,” which became the first album to carry the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label. The controversial lyrics shocked and angered many, but the members of the group insisted that their music was a way to bear witness to what was happening in their communities, and bring it to the attention of the American public.
Attention is what the album got, even up to a letter from the FBI condemning one of the group’s songs. Meanwhile, MTV and certain radio stations refused to play the album. This only fueled the group’s success, and 25 years later “Straight Outta Compton” is still seen as an album that successfully pushed the limits of free expression in art.
DJ Yella and Lil Eazy E discussed what it was like to live in the public eye during the controversy, from their perspectives as a group member and the child of a group member. They both admitted that, at the time, they could not fully comprehend just how big “Straight Outta Compton” was. Now, in 2017, with social media completely changing the music industry, its true impact on free expression has become apparent.
Visitors can see the FBI’s letter to N.W.A., as well as many other artifacts from rock’s most historic moments, at “Louder Than Words,” open at the Newseum through July 31.
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Contributing support for “Louder Than Words” has been provided by Hilton Hotels & Resorts, SoundExchange and Altria Group.