NWA best song is 100 miles and runnin’.
During quarantine, I’ve been going back over what I consider the golden age of hip-hop, the mid-80s to early 90s.
Hip-hop had existed for a while but it was still early on in the genre and there was room for experimentation.
It had evolved, and there were tropes developing. It still hadn’t quite crossed over to the mainstream yet and MC Hammer was just around the corner.
Full disclosure my hip hop heroes are Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.
How come I like these two? I love how they are self-aware.
There’s a degree that you feel like they know how silly they are. For my money that self-awareness is best encapsulated in the Beastie Boy’s Intergalactic even though it didn’t land till the late 90’s. It’s overblown, ridiculous and revels in it.
I also love the contrast in the groups.
In Public Enemy the very serious Chuck D is repeatedly undercut by the goofiness of Flava Flav.
In Beastie Boys you have the high pitched nasal tones of Mike D, and Ad-Rock balanced out by the gravel-voiced MCA.
Anyway, that’s a bit of background on my love of that era of hip hop.
Not an NWA fanboy
Now onto a more controversial opinion.
I don’t really rate NWA.
Like they’re alright, but they’re almost too over the top for my middle-class white boy sensibilities.
Sometimes it feels like NWA researched the worst fear-mongering regarding hip hop group and proceeded to live up to it.
There are some bits that are so nasty that you can’t take it seriously. That over the top aspect meant I still found it accessible in a way that the more “serious” rap of Biggie and 2pac left me cold.
Even NWA’s best-known tracks “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck the police” are just list songs that I rarely give a relisten.
In fact, I have a low key hatred for “Straight outta Compton”.
Why, because it birthed the basic bitch rap sub-genre “This is where I am from”.
A style wherein the rapper tells you, at length what there hometown is like.
No one cares, we’re all from somewhere and everyone thinks their hometown is special.
In fact all of Northern Irish specifically Belfast hip hop is like this. Belfast rappers only seem to be able to rap about how they are from Belfast.
NWA’s Fuck the Police starts by telling you the police are corrupt. It continues to say to you that the police are bad and culminates by telling you the police are bad.
I have zero issues with the messaging; it’s just I prefer a bit of progression in my song, a change of value. You know what I mean?
If you want something similar but better check out Body Count’s Cop Killer. (This song is still so controversial it’s not on the band’s official Spotify.)
What’s the point of all this?
The point I’m trying to make is that I’m not an NWA fanboy.
NWA and their best song
NWA is responsible for one of the greatest songs, maybe even ever.
100 miles and running is easily NWA’s best song. (DO NOT WATCH THE OFFICIAL VIDEO ALL THE WORDS ARE REPLACED WITH RADIO FRIENDLY BS)
The song is about the group being chased by the cops and FBI.
They’re trying to get back home.
There you go, a clear narrative direction. Simple set up and you’re being told a story.
100 miles and runnin came out after Ice Cube had left and to be honest you don’t miss him.
MC Ren takes the reigns, and he’s got a great voice, he’s defiant, he’s angry. The repeated use of colour imagery highlights the racial divide in downtown Los Angeles. I love how he holds off on mentioning the police explicitly. There’s suspense in his rhymes.
The song has no chorus in the traditional sense. Each verse is signed off with the MC repeating “100 miles and runnin”. Instead of a chorus what they have is police radio chatter.
This reiterates the looming threat of the authorities bearing down as they close in on the group.
Even Dre is on top form. I don’t rate Dre as a rapper, but here he’s got some of the best rhymes which double up as callbacks:
And Dre is back from the C-P-T.
Droppin’ some shit that’s D-O-P-E
So fuck the P-O-L-I-C-E.
And any motherfucker that disagrees.
I can’t do it justice or fully explain it, but there’s something so good about how he spells it out. When you hear it you can’t help but sing along.
Eazy E is up next, and again the rhymes and the wordplay is top-notch. His reference to “Compton’s 50 miles,” pulls you back into the journey of the narrative. It acts like a ticking clock.
Now what takes this song to the next level is the production. It’s a song where the instrumentation and all the samples complement the song rather than pad it out.
There’s the funky bass line makes you think of cop shows and car chase movies. They even use the sting from the Issac Hayes Shaft theme tune to hammer the point home.
There’s a richness and layered approach to the soundscape.
NWA incorporate footsteps and heavy breathing into the song too.
A constant reminder they’re being chased.
Even as the song nears the end they incorporate sirens and you feel like the police are closing in.
The reference to the film The Warriors is the cherry on top to a superbly iced rich cake.
The ending of the song is also ambiguous, who’s surprising who? Did the group lead the cops into an ambush or were there cops waiting for them?
NWA’s 100 miles and runnin feels like the group managed to convert suspense into song form. Which I love.
I’m not NWA’s biggest fan, but for one beautiful moment, it all came together. They produced one of the best examples of the hip hop genre. They were able to tell a story that wasn’t about tough-guy posturing. Instead it was a chase with the group at a disadvantaged. They are literally on the back foot.
I understand if it’s not your thing but give this song a listen.
It’s an example of what hip hop can be.
Did you like that?
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Thank you and have a great day,