“Rap was about rage not beauty. Rap hated most women.” –Michel’le
After Straight Outta Compton premiered in theaters last year, many remarked how the film completely avoided depiction of N.W.A.’s violence against women. Here’s the counterpoint. It’s hip-hop artist Michel’le’s powerful and courageous story. As Michel’le narrates the film, this is her truth. Raised by her grandmother in Compton, Michel’le learned to expect men to hit women. That it was just something men did and that women should avoid provoking men and if he hits you to “fix it.” There’s this tragic conditioning of women and acceptance of violence against women. This is Michel’le’s story about her experience in the rap world, particularly her relationships with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight.
Plucked from a department store, Michel’le [adeptly portrayed by Rhyon Nicole Brown] starts singing on N.W.A. albums. She’s a surprise as she speaks in a high voice like Minnie Mouse but sings in a deep, gorgeous tone. She almost immediately attracts Dre’s attention and the two start dating. Michel’le remarks: “We were like family. They were like my brothers. Except for Dre of course.” Dre [Curtis Hamilton] had five children and “didn’t take any of these girls seriously.” Almost every guy that Michel’le knew had a baby. She said it was nearly a “Compton right of passage.” She and Dre move in together and she records her first album.
In the studio, Dre comes up and punches her hard. Repeatedly. It’s a disturbing scene. Being young and in love and not understanding love, Michel’le stayed with Dre. Another time he chokes her and exclaims: “Sing the song stupid bitch now.” They’re together for several years and have a son together. Here’s this distorted perception on love and loyalty. Women are afraid of men who control them. It’s often difficult to leave. Many women don’t feel self-confident enough to do so. She’s also young, inexperienced and swept up into this wild scene with drugs, booze, parties. In order to numb the pain, Michel’le started drinking and doing drugs. She also starts becoming successful apart from Dre. She opens for MC Hammer on tour in 1990. She also becomes an alcoholic and drug addict. Death Row Records co-founder [and Dr. Dre’s business partner] Suge Knight [R. Marcos Taylor] becomes an ally, a protector of sorts, and offers to get her into rehab. While Suge’s in jail, they marry. She has a baby. She takes her child to her grandmother because she doesn’t feel confident enough in raising her own child. When Suge beats her, Michel’le leaves him.
See this film. It provides a memorable and potent first-hand female perspective on the rap world. Although a music critic, I only know what I read in the news about the rap world. Alternative music has always been by genre. It’s literally about a woman being knocked down and picking herself up and carrying on. Tremendous respect to Michel’le for this film.
Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le premieres Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.