NOAH ADAMS, host:
This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Noah Adams.
(Soundbite of "Straight Outta Compton," by NWA)
Mr. ICE CUBE (Rapper): Straight Outta Compton, here's the crazy brother-man Ice Cube, from the super-dope gang with a attitude...
ADAMS: The 1988 hit Staight Outta Compton, by rap group NWA, transformed the city from a poor L.A. suburb, to well, a poor and notorious L.A. suburb. To this day, Compton is the city to claim if you're a West Coast rapper looking for a name, but what affect does that notoriety have on a community? In the second of two reports, NPR's Luke Burbank tries to find out.
LUKE BURBANK reporting:
If you want to get a sense for what people outside of Compton think about the City, you have to find a place like, say, a mall near Beverly Hills, and ask them.
Ms. GOLDIE KAHN: My name is Goldie Kahn. I live in West Hollywood, on the third floor.
BURBANK: What's the first thing that comes to mind if I say the name Compton?
Ms. KAHN: Actually, it's a deprived neighborhood. And it's a black neighborhood.
Ms. REBECCA NETZEL(ph): Rebecca Netzel--high crime rate, primarily poor, really.
Ms. KAHN: And, I think of it as a dangerous neighborhood.
BURBANK: Have you ever been there?
Ms. KAHN: No.
BURBANK: Have you ever been there?
Ms. NETZEL: No.
(Soundbite of music)
NWA: Born and raised, born and raised, born and raised in Compton. Born and raised, born, born and raised...
BURBANK: Barbara Kilroy is no fan of hip-hop, and not, she says, just because it's largely responsible for giving her city a bad name. Kilroy is Compton's City Manager. She and her husband raised five kids here. She says people in Compton are, well, like people everywhere. They go to work, they come home, they watch TV. The problem is one of perception.
Ms. BARBARA KILROY (City Manager, Compton): It's very aggravating, it is certainly extremely uncomfortable to sit in a meeting and be told that, as I was recently, Compton is not suitable for some activities. And we all walked out with our jaws on the floor, because we didn't think people still talked like that.
BURBANK: Kilroy wouldn't divulge the exact service they were trying to lure to Compton, for fear of further hurting their chances. I asked her why the city hasn't hired a consultant to do some re-branding. She got a look on her face, and said any extra money she had would be going to garbage men or parking enforcement, not squishy stuff like image work.
MS. KILORY: I don't know yet if there's a marketing strategy that would be worth the money that it would cost us.
BURANK: And it would cost her a lot. She's got to compete with one of the most well known rappers in history.
(Soundbite of song)
NWA: Easy is his name, and the boy's coming right out of Compton. Is a brother (unintelligible) your mother. It make a...
BURBANK: Eric Eazy-E Wright used his profits from selling crack to start NWA. He died from complications related to AIDS back in 1995. But his son, Lil' Eazy-E, is carrying on the rap tradition.
LIL' EAZY-E: You wouldn't know nothing about Compton if it wasn't for my father. He put Compton on the map. Nobody wouldn't know nothing about Compton.
BURBANK: Lil' Eazy-E grew up in the same Compton house, joined the same gang, the Crips, and even throws out gangster rap like his old man did. His forthcoming album is titled The Prince of Compton.
LIL' EAZY-E: I call myself the street CNN. You don't go to want to live it, you can listen to me talk about it. This is how it is, this is how it was, this is how terrible it--you know what I'm saying? It is, and it's not a good thing for anybody to go and want to do, it's just to scare you away from what I'm talking about to come do it.
BURBANK: Off the mike, even rappers will tell you, though, that Compton isn't all drive-bys and bullets. There's another Compton.
Mr. JONATHAN STRICKLAND: Check, (unintelligible) pandering right there, there's three of them on each side.
BURBANK: Jonathan Strickland is the face of that other Compton, though one that doesn't get rapped about. Places like Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum, a free after-school program based at the Compton Airport. Strickland is running his pre-flight check before taking me up in a plane thousands of feet above the city. Oh yeah, and he's only thirteen.
(Soundbite of plane engine)
BURBANK: In exchange for community service, the kids earn credit towards flight lessons. Jonathan sits on a stack of newspapers, just to see over the instrument panel. He's a shy kid, kind of gangly with braces, but once he's in the pilot's seat, it's all business, and it's amazing to watch.
Mr. STRICKLAND: (unintelligible) over Angel's Gate, (unintelligible) north at 2000.
Unidentified Man: Six, four, three, zero, papa, torrance--turn approved as requested--torrance altimeter, 3017.
BURBANK: The program is the brain child of Robin Petgrave, whose own love of flying started when he was just a kid in Boston. He used to hang out at Logan Airport.
Mr. ROBIN PETGRAVE: And I saw this helicopter, and all of a sudden, the whole world stopped, and all I could see was that helicopter. And as it was hovering, I was just tearing-assing through the airport. You see this little black kid's running through all the security things, to see where this helicopter was going. And I was just like, that is so cool.
BURBANK: Petgrave eventually opened his own stunt helicopter business. He uses the money from that to fund the flight school. Anytime he's in the building, there are at least four kids hanging on his every word. Many of the hundred or so who show up on a daily basis come from rough backgrounds, and they love this guy. He's like Peter Pan in a flight suit. Petgrave thinks Compton's image is changing, little by little.
PETGRAVE: In the past, it's been Compton, Compton, gangster gangster. But now this program here, it's so weird, these guys go to different states, and the other kids are envious that they're not from Compton.
BURBANK: Even Lil' Eazy-E, the son of Compton's most notorious gangster rapper, thinks there could be room for-gasp--some optimism.
LIL' EAZY-E: Let's rap about how we done had Easy Street Day, you know what I'm saying? Let's do something good. How we have, how the Compton Parade should be much more better, with no violence. Let these kids have a good time. You know what I'm saying?
BURBANK: You think that would really make for a good song? A song about a park and a parade? Could that, could that work as a song?
LIL' EAZY-E: Hey, it possibly can. It possibly can, you know, in due time. Who knows, yeah.
BURBANK: If that day never comes, Compton could always try something else. Something drastic, like changing its name. City Manager Barbara Kilroy doesn't think that would ever actually happen, but...
KILROY: Yeah, a couple of times, I always thought it would be just a fascinating sociological experiment to see, if you change the name of the city. Nothing would happen immediately. Obviously, everybody would know it was the same place. But what would happen ten, twenty, thirty years down the road?
BURBANK: Who knows. Would Compton be gang fee in thirty years if people just started calling it by another name? Probably not. Which, ultimately, says Kilroy, means that Compton needs a makeover from the inside out. Fix the problem, she says, and the reputation will follow. And really, would anyone bob their head to a song called Straight Out of North Rancho Dominguez? Probably not. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Los Angeles.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: Compton is, Compton isn't too far away. Oh...
Unidentified Man #2: Neither is South Central LA.
ADAMS: And you can hear the first part of this two part series at our website, npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #2: I'm selling, yay. Oh, yeah.