"Express Yourself"
Express Yourself EP.jpg
Single by N.W.A. from the album "Straight Outta Compton"

Released

March 27, 1989

Format

12" single

Recorded

1988

Genre(s)

Hardcore hip hop, Political hip hop, West Coast hip hop

Length

4:26 4:42 (Extended Mix)

Label

Ruthless, Priority

Songwriter(s)

Ice Cube

Producer(s)

DJ Yella, Dr. Dre

N.W.A. singles chronology

Previous

"Gangsta Gangsta" (1988)

Next

"100 Miles and Runnin'" (1990)

"Express Yourself" is a song recorded by American hip hop group N.W.A., performed solo by Dr. Dre. The song, off their 1988 album Straight Outta Compton, samples Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's song of the same name. Unlike most songs on the album and by N.W.A, the song is devoid of profanity. "Express Yourself" was released in 1989 as the album's last single, the album version of the track features rap vocals from Dr. Dre only whereas the 2002 reissue, single edition and video version features small verses from MC Ren and Ice Cube, the writer of the song. The song reached number 26 in the UK in September 1989.

History[edit | edit source]

The song's vocals are primarily handled by Dr. Dre though an extended version features interludes from Ice Cube and MC Ren. The song samples Charles Wright & the Watts 103 Street Rhythm Band's hit, also titled "Express Yourself" (1971).

The song's lyrics focus on the concept of free expression and the constraints placed on rappers by radio censorship. The song is notable for including lines criticizing other rappers for not swearing in order to get radio airplay despite the song itself containing no profanity, being based on a pop music sample with a clearly 'radio friendly' tone.

In May 1990, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's music radio station Triple J notably stunted by playing "Express Yourself" on a loop. The station's staff had gone on strike over the suspension of Triple J's news director, Nick Franklin, after he had played a portion of fellow N.W.A. song "Fuck tha Police" in a segment discussing the song's subject matter. The station had, notably, been playing the song without incident for several months, but ABC's radio head had requested that the song be given a "rest". The song was played 82 times in a row until the employee was reinstated. Triple J paid tribute to the event in April 2014, when the launch of its new service Double J (which replaced ABC Dig Music) was preceded with another loop of "Express Yourself", including the original recording and covers performed by Australian musicians, such as Darren Hanlon and The Audreys.

Music video[edit | edit source]

The music video starts with a black and white video of slaves working on a plantation. The video then moves to the ghetto, as the band members walk through it and dance with the local residents. A "No Rapping" sign is shown. A mounted officer (played by Skeeter Rader) enforces the law on the crowd. Occasionally band members are depicted rapping in a prison environment. Later on Dr. Dre plays the role of the US president. At one point he is talking on the phone with Mikhail Gorbachev, and a photo of Martin Luther King can be seen in the background. A parody of John F. Kennedy's assassination follows. The video ends with Dr. Dre being executed in an electric chair. In the version appearing on the EMIYouTube channel numerous parts are blurred out including logos and faces.

Cover versions[edit | edit source]

Silkk the Shocker recorded a version of the song on the N.W.A tribute album, Straight Outta Compton: N.W.A 10th Anniversary Tribute that also was released as a single and had a promotional music video.

Between the Rancid releases of ...And Out Come the Wolves and Life Won't Wait from 1995 to 1998, Tim Armstrong recorded a version of "Express Yourself" with the band The Silencers on the Life Won't Wait Demos. The first half of the demo consists of Rancid demos and the second half consists of The Silencers demos. Stretch Arm Strong also recorded a version of "Express Yourself" for "Engage."

Labrinth released his own rendition of the song in 2012.

German metal band Rammstein sampled the intro to "Express Yourself", albeit slower, in their song "Klavier" off their sophomore album Sehnsucht.

The Basque band Negu Gorriak released his cover version in their ultimate album Salam, Agur in 1996. This last album was only made of covers, "Express Yourself" is the last one, named "Adieraz zaitez" in Euskara.

Track listing[edit | edit source]

  1. "Express Yourself" (Extended Mix) – 4:42
  2. "Bonus Beats" – 3:03
  3. "Straight Outta Compton" (Extended Mix) – 4:54
  4. "A Bitch Iz a Bitch" – 3:10

Charts[edit | edit source]

Chart (1989-1990)) Peak position
Australia (ARIA) #96
UK Singles (Official Charts Company) #26
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard) #45
US Hot Rap Songs (Billboard) #2

Certifications[edit | edit source]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI) Silver 200,000
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.