As the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton continues to rake in big bucks at the box office, accusations that the film sanitizes history persist. Yes, the Compton rappers produced truly groundbreaking music. They reigned for a while as the “world’s most dangerous group.” And they indeed delivered powerful, provocative messages against police brutality and racial profiling.
But the film has been criticized for all too conveniently glossing over less-than-flattering moments in the gangsta rap pioneers’ past, including Dr. Dre’s savage, drunken physical assault on TV host Dee Barnes at a Hollywood party in 1991.
“Dre, who executive produced the movie along with his former groupmate Ice Cube, should have owned up to…what he did to me,” Barnes wrote at Gawker shortly after Compton premiered. “In his lyrics, Dre made hyperbolic claims about all these heinous things he did to women. But then he went out and actually violated women. Straight Outta Compton would have you believe that he didn’t really do that.”
Barnes reminds readers of the “other women Dr. Dre beat up,” beyond just herself, and references the long-controversial misogyny in N.W.A’s rhymes.
“I wasn’t in the studio to hear them record their disgusting, misogynistic views on women in songs like ‘A Bitch Iz a Bitch,’ ‘Findum, Fuckum & Flee,’ ‘One Less Bitch,’ and perhaps most offensively, ‘She Swallowed It,’” she writes.
Regarding “She Swallowed It,” Barnes mentions that in the song, N.W.A member MC Ren “brags about violating [a] 14-year-old girl: ‘Oh shit it’s the preacher’s daughter! / And she’s only 14 and a ho / But the bitch sucks dick like a specialized pro.’”
The track also includes the line, “if you got a gang of niggaz, the bitch would let you rape her.”
There is, however, another salient point that Barnes doesn’t address in her essay: MC Ren didn’t just rap about violating a teenage girl—he was once accused of it.
In 1993, former members of the rap group settled a lawsuit brought by a young black woman named Sheila Davis, who claimed that MC Ren had raped her aboard the group’s tour bus in Alabama in July 1989. (MC Ren, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and Dr. Dre were all named in the suit.) Davis, who was 16 years old at the time of the alleged assault, said that the incident resulted in a baby. Her attorney, Gusty Yearout, told the Associated Press at the time that a paternity test showed a 99.8 percent probability that MC Ren was the biological father. MC Ren and former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller maintained that no proof of paternity was presented, and that the rapper had passed a polygraph test.
“It was an interesting and important case to me,” Yearout recently told The Daily Beast. Yearout remembers Davis as “attractive, intelligent, and articulate.”
“I could see the significant effect the incident had on her,” he continued. “She very easily could have had an abortion, and she didn’t.”
During the course of the civil suit, Yearout says he flew to Los Angeles to take the depositions of the four recording artists. “I was the white guy who didn’t understand anything about Compton,” he recalled. He describes all of them as calm and polite—with the notable exception of Eazy-E.
“Eazy-E was kind of a smart-ass during the deposition,” he recalls. “He said things like...Ren would never rape anybody without wearing a prophylactic.”
Soon after the depositions were taken, Yearout was paid a surprise visit at his office in Birmingham by yet another notorious figure in hip hop: Suge Knight, who co-founded Death Row Records with Dre in 1991. While discussing certain particulars of the case, their conversation slipped into what might as well have been ripped from a tabloid.
“[Suge] told me that N.W.A members had these bets with each other that when they went into towns on tour, that they could end up having sex with a girl who did not [initially] want to have sex,” he recounted. “Some sporting thing—honor among thieves.” (Yearout clarified that he did not interpret this alleged custom as acts of rape.)
The case was eventually settled out of court for $2 million. After all these decades, the lawsuit has been reduced to little more than a footnote in N.W.A’s history. According to Yearout, Davis is now deceased. The child resulting from the alleged rape would now be a young woman in her mid-20s.
Representatives for MC Ren, other N.W.A alumni, Knight, and Heller did not respond to requests for comment for this story. When asked about the lawsuit, Dr. Dre’s legal representative emailed back just two words: “No recollection.”
— With additional reporting by Michael Moynihan.