the first album i ever bought: n.w.a. – straight outta compton

hopscotch music festival

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.


When I was a suburban Chicago 4th grader, I had a friend a few towns over whose house rules weren’t nearly as strict as mine.  This made his place the ideal location for get-togethers that would stretch from Friday night to my being picked up Sunday morning for church.

After greeting each other with our secret handshake, we’d dash to the basement of the ranch-style house that my friend, an only child, had commandeered for his bedroom.  Amid snack foods, VHS copies of Die Hard 2 and New Jack City, a tattered 1989 issue of Playboy, we inflicted our own musical tastes on each other for hours as we made “radio show” mixtapes on his dual cassette deck boom box.

Production consisted of dubbing tape-to-blank-tape in real time, with interludes provided by a microphone borrowed from another toy.

Raised on a healthy diet of Beatles and Stones, I was only recently beginning to submit to top 40 radio – the Killer B, B96.3.  My friend and I spent far too much allowance on the cassingles of songs we heard on the station, the only one we listened to.  Cassettes still ruled at the time – CD players were the plaything of your dad’s rich friend.

Public Enemy, Boyz II Men, BBD and even Color Me Badd were in heavy rotation on the Max and Conor Basement Radio Hour, but one day Conor’s newest acquisition changed the game forever.

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton.

You know the cover.  All five of them, bedecked in L.A. Raider silver and black, standing in a circle looking down at you, gat pointed at your ass.  The album that the FBI tried to ban.

Conor pushed Play.  We were now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.

The vivid descriptions of nonstop criminal activity, the incredibly filthy language, the catchy beats and sampled Motown hooks – I’d tasted filet mignon and would never eat another burger.  We shouted and jumped all over the couch in poseur karaoke for the next three hours.  There have never been two white 11-year-olds more convinced that they were the baddest gangsta motherfuckas alive.

I had to have my own copy of this masterpiece, so Conor made me a dub of the tape and added 2 Live Crew’s Pop That Coochie to fill out space at the end.  I put the tape in my yellow sport Walkman and listened to it in the family’s maroon ’95 Dodge Caravan on the way to church and everywhere else I went.  I wrote my own rap lyrics about a city I’d never been to (L.A.) on my mother’s green-screen work computer, the way I imagined Eazy-E must have done.  I wondered if he would accept a protege.

It was a couple weeks later that I accidentally left Straight Outta Compton/Pop That Coochie, with introductions by Conor himself (“Yo Yo Max Wassuuupp…”), in Dad’s tape deck in the dining room.  He found it and confronted me.  I was certain that I was headed for military school or perhaps the gulag, but Dad had something else in mind.

“Max, what is this song about?” he asked, after an agonizing 90 seconds listening to “Pop That Coochie” with my father.  This wasn’t even the uncensored version – which is “Pop That Pussy” by the way.

“Um, it’s about, like, girls and uh partying and like,” I babbled, with all the grace and poise of a concussion victim.

“This song is about women having sex for money.”

WHY WHY WHY, I asked myself silently, WHY didn’t I cue the fucking tape up to “Express Yourself,” a song where NWA goes out of their way not to swear while denouncing drug use and other destructive behavior.  “Express Yourself” is a Carpenters song compared to “I like the way you lick the champagne glass/it makes me wanna stick my dick in ya ass.”

My attempted justification of owning this mix tape was by far the worst punishment I could have received.  I gotta hand it to the old man; he fought violence with academic procedure.

The Walkman was confiscated although the tape was not destroyed.  A stealthy master bedroom heist returned it to my possession a few weeks later, forever tainted with the Dad Seal Of Disapproval And Do Not Tell Your Mother About This.  The prepubescent suburban gangster and his criminal empire were undone.

Fuck the po-lice.

Max Stewart is a marketing director in Chicago who listens to Biggie and Tupac while preparing PowerPoint decks.  Real gangstas may follow him @Maxochism.

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