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N.W.A. and “100 Miles and Runnin'”


N.W.A. — an acronym for Niggaz With Attitude — emerged in the 1980s as pioneers of gangsta rap, a subgenre of hip hop characterized by its aggressive style. The group — composed of Los Angeles, California natives — was known for using violent and sexist raps to bluntly comment on the harsh reality of black inner city life. Their album Straight Outta Compton in 1988 even resulted in a warning from the FBI about their promotion of violence and disrespect toward law enforcement [1]. N.W.A. released “100 Miles and Runnin’” in 1990 on the album 100 Miles and Runnin.’ Although the track dials back on bluntly sexist and profane language, it still explicitly references police brutality and the repression of black communities. And it does this by invoking a layer of sensationalism.


N.W.A.’s “100 Miles and Runnin'” music video [2].


A step out of reality

In “100 Miles and Runnin,’” one way N.W.A. invokes a world outside of the bounds of reality is through sampling. Before proceeding, it is important to briefly look at the significance of sampling in hip hop. Sampling, the reuse of part of a sound recording, has historically been an element of the black musical tradition, intended to signify the African American musical lineage. Scholar Tricia Rose suggests that sampling is a type of cross-generational “‘homage,’ a ‘means of archival research, a process of musical and cultural archeology’” [3]. DJs initially used turntables to bring in pre-recorded sounds and when affordable samplers became available in the late 80s, they began to loop, layer, and blend parts of songs to incorporate into their own. It is interesting to note that sampling is inherently futuristic. In transferring clips of music, or data, to new work, artists synthesize material and reconfigure its meaning. The act of generating new associations from previous material is essentially what leads to more advanced technological applications, as Chuck Galli points out in his analysis of hip hop futurism [4].

N.W.A.’s use and placement of samples from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the 1979 film The Warriors signal a step away from reality. After Eazy E raps the third verse, there is an interlude that begins with sample from The Warriors. An omniscient female narrator says, “This one goes out to the four brothers from Compton. You’re almost there, but the FBI has a little message for you.” Immediately after, we see the white FBI agent in the video laugh. His laugh is  sampled from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which in turn is layered over a sample from “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas. Eazy E, who has been caught by the FBI, looks at the camera and smirks. “Nowhere to Run” and the laugh from “Thriller” come to an abrupt halt as Eazy E makes a break for it and ironically runs away. There are several things to unpack here. First, the “100 Miles and Runnin’” narrative mirrors the storyline of The Warriors, a movie about a gang trying to return to their home territory in Coney Island [5]. By mirroring the narrative of a fictional movie, N.W.A. become removed from reality. Additionally, the fact that Eazy E looks at the camera when he smirks shows how he steps out of the narrative to assure the audience that he is in control.

One aspect of this montage particularly speaks to N.W.A.’s aim in stepping away from reality. The use of the villainous laugh from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” evokes a fantastical universe. The exaggerated laugh, which is that of Vincent Price, an American actor known for his work in horror films, evokes a theatrical and surrealist universe. But the source of the sample is significant, too. With his racial and sexual ambiguity, Jackson serves as an example of deconstructing reality and challenging perceptions [6]. Ruchi Mital even suggests that Jackson embodies the future, as he is able to transform himself into a “post-human” performance. In his private life, she notes, Jackson spread rumors about himself to the media in order to control the creation of his own reality. Further, in his moonwalk, in which he appears to move forward but in fact moves backwards, Jackson becomes “otherworldly, seemingly freed from the laws of motion” [7]. The “Thriller” music video epitomizes this step into the future, as Jackson transforms from human to werewolf. Although viewers can not know for certain whether N.W.A. consciously chose to sample Michael Jackson for these reasons, the laugh certainly propels the narrative outside of reality.

N.W.A. further uses fast paced backbeats and extra musical sounds to create a sense of turbulence. By doing this, N.W.A. is ensuring that it is heard. The sounds of sirens, car screeches, gunshots, and turntable scratching, along with the emcees shouting their verses over the chaotic background sounds, create a sense of urgency. These features are characteristic of N.W.A.’s sound and are representative of the violent conflict and tensions present in Compton at the time [8]. Chaos is further evoked at moments when certain sounds mirror the lyrics. For example, when Eazy E raps the line “Got the stick and runnin’ just to find the gun that started the clock,” listeners hear the sound of a ticking clock. This enhances the urgency of the moment. N.W.A. inserts these sounds over a fast backbeat, sampled from James Brown’s “Give it Up or Turnit a Loose,” a funk song released in 1969. The sense of exaggeration and sensationalism is reinforced through various visual components. For example, the police siren being dramatically placed on top of the police car in the forefront of the screen at the beginning of the video produces a exaggerated effect. Further, the explosion in the video, the quick cuts, and the blue filter placed over some shots further evoke chaos. In creating this chaotic space, N.W.A. are making sure that they are heard. In reality, they are physically constrained but in this sensationalized loud world, they are audibly in the forefront.






[1] Erlewine, Stephen, “N.W.A.: Biography,” Accessed Dec. 6, 2018.

[2] N.W.A. Vevo. “N.W.A. – 100 Miles and Runnin’”. YouTube video, 5:02. Posted February, 2009.

[3] Perchard, Tom, “Hip Hop Samples Jazz: Dynamics of Cultural Memo y and Musical Tradition in the African American 1990s,” University of Illinois Press: American Music 29 (2011): p. 277-307.

[4] Galli, Chuck, “Hip-Hop Futurism: Remixing Afrofuturism and the Hermeneutics of Identity,” Rhode Island College (2009).

[5] Chesterton, George, “Old music: 100 Miles and Runnin,’” The Guardian, July 12, 2012.

[6] Mercer, Kobena, “Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” Welcome to the Jungle, Routledge, p. 35-50. 1994.

[7] Mital, Ruchi, “Tomorrow Today: Michael Jackson as Science Fiction Character, Author, and Text,” Michael Jackson: Grasping the Spectacle, Burlington: Ashgate, p.131-144. 2012.

[8] Kajikawa, Loren, “‘Let Me Ride’: Gangsta Rap’s Drive into the Popular Mainstream,” Sounding Race in Rap Songs, University of California Press, p. 85-117. 2015.