Eazy Is His Name And The Boy Is Coming…..
The story of ‘the worlds most dangerous group’ starts with Eric ‘Eazy E’ Wright, a local Compton drug dealer brought in to the game by his older cousin. But when that cousin was gunned down in the streets Eazy decided it was time for a career change. Eazy reached out to his childhood friend Andre Young who had become a local Dj under the name Dr. Dre, and he was fronting an electro funk group called ‘World Class Wreckin Cru’. Dre and his band mate Dj Yella wanted to move away from funk and dance towards the harder street based raps of Ice T, Schooly D and Public Enemy but Dre didn’t have the financial means to achieve his dream so he turned to Eazy.
“I wasn’t happy with where I was, I wanted to do my own thing but I didn’t have the money to do it, so there were a couple of people I knew who had the kind of money that it would take to do what I wanted to do, and Eric was one of those people.” Dr. Dre
With Eazy’s money and Dre’s producing talents they planned to create their own label so they started looking for local talent. The first recruit was teenage rapper O’Shea Jackson who went by the name Ice Cube and was in a group called C.I.A. Cube would go along to the local spots where Dre was deejaying and emcee over popular beats but with his own unique rhymes. Dre liked Cubes raps and his writing skills and soon they would catch Eazy’s attention too.
“So what we did was took a familiar song and flipped it and made it dirty and cussed in it. After hearing those, and how popular they were starting to get in the streets, Eazy was like, yo’ I want them kind of raps. Write them hardcore raps for my groups” -Ice Cube
One of Ice Cube’s earliest assignments was to write a song for a New York group called HBO. He came up with a violent manifesto about life on the streets of LA called ‘Boys N’ The Hood‘, but they hated it.
“They looked at it and was like…this ain’t us, we can’t do this, this is west coast lyrics, we don’t even know how to say half this stuff” -Dr.Dre”
Following HBO’s rejection of Boys In The Hood, Dre suggests that Eazy should take a shot at performing it himself. Eazy was reluctant to do it at first but Dre and Cube managed to eventually talk him round to the idea.
“Eazy was like “turn the lights out”…I turn the lights down and he put on his dark glasses because he was like super embarrassed to do it even though it was just me and him in there. You know it was funny. I remember punching in like each line….Cruisin Down The Street In My Six-Fo’, Jockin The Bitches, Slappin The Hoes….. each line was punched in through the entire song, it took us like 8 or 9 hours to get it done”” -Dr. Dre
But when Dre, Cube and Yella heard the finished record they were all in agreement that Eazy had potential with his unique voice. A clean version Boys in The Hood was passed on to Greg Mack of LA’s K-Day radio and within 24 hours it became their most requested song. With Boys In The Hood they had stumbled upon a formula that would help define a new sub-genre of music called gangster rap and put LA hip hop on the map. The success of the single convinced them to form their own group so they recruited another local rapper called MC Ren and together they chose a name that would match their hardcore vibe.
“It was like, now what we gonna call this group? Then I said N.W.A, and they was like, “What that mean? “Niggers With Attitude,” and they was like, “hell yeah”. It was black people taking that word and trying to use it instead of getting abused by it” -Ice Cube
In March of 1987 Eazy paid a friend for an introduction to Jerry Heller, a 47 year old music industry veteran known for managing pop acts like Elton John and Van Morrison.
“He pulled up in his Suzuki Samurai all tricked out, he had his dark glasses on. I said have you got something for me? He said “yes”. He played me Boys N’ The Hood. It was a track that just stone cold blew me away. I thought it was the most important song that I had heard in over 25 years”
N.W.A. And The Posse
On March 3rd 1987 Ruthless Records was born, with Eazy owning the label and Jerry managing it. The first project was marketed as an N.W.A album but was more of a compilation of previously released tracks from N.W.A, Eazy-E, the Fila Fresh Crew and other artists affiliated with the group.
Initially released on Macola Records, it features the same cover photo as N.W.A’s “Panic Zone” single. The album peaked at #39 on Billboard magazine’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
You Are Now About To Witness The Strength Of Street Knowledge
N.W.A and the Posse was a mild introduction compared to what the group was about to unleash on the world. They went in to the studio and started recording N.W.A’s debut album ‘Straight Outta Compton’, it was finished in 6 weeks for just 8 thousand dollars. At the time hardcore rap was considered unmarketable and non of the major labels were even interested. For many years Jerry Heller had done business with the chairman of Capitol records but when he brought him over a copy of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and ‘Boys N’ The Hood’ to listen to he dismissed the group, adding that nobody would ever buy their music. Heller’s last stop was Priority Records, an upstart label whose biggest success was a release by the California Raisins.
Priority agreed to release ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and Eazy’s solo debut ‘Eazy Duz It’ back to back. National radio wouldn’t touch their music so they shot a video for ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and submitted it to MTV, but MTV rejected it citing excessive violence.
“On Mtv they play heavy metal music with people worshiping the devil and all this but when we do a video telling the truth about how it is out here on the street so they can be aware of it, they don’t wanna play it, sayin we promoting violence, promoting drugs, but I disagree with that”
Just the very nature of being a young black man with an attitude, representing a force that the police department and society were trying to keep under wraps was very unsettling to the people making decisions at the top. But it was this kind of censorship that just made the kids want to listen even more.
Released August 8, 1988, Straight Outta Compton redefined the direction of hip hop. The album resulted in lyrics concerning the gangster lifestyle becoming the driving force in sales figures. The album reached double platinum sales, becoming the first album to reach platinum status with no airplay support and without any major tours.
Fuck Tha Police
The authorities stance on N.W.A was that the group glorified violence but N.W.A always maintained that they were simply reporting the reality of life on the streets, calling it “Street Knowledge”. N.W.A was born out of Compton’s crack epidemic. In the mid 80’s gangs and drugs had overrun the streets of their home town and the L.A.P.D was taking an increasingly aggressive approach to law enforcement. Police brutality was an incredibly harsh reality within the black communities of L.A and it was inevitable that rap artists would eventually begin to talk about it through the music. The albums second track “Fuck Tha Police” was deemed particularly controversial in that it appeared to condone violence towards police authorities; lines such as “I’m a sniper with a hell of a scope/Taking out a cop or two, they can’t cope/with me” and “A sucka in a uniform waitin’ to get shot/by me, or anotha n***a” directly reference the murder of police officers. In August 1989 the group received a letter from the F.B.I, denouncing the song and accusing N.W.A of inciting violence against law enforcement.
“The letter makes valid everything (the rap group) said on the record. Their life is a lifetime of hassle and it never stopped being that way.” -Pat Charbonnet. N.W.A. Puplicist
N.W.A had a talent for exploiting the controversy. They became the poster boys for “freedom of expression” and the letter from the F.B.I was their badge of honor. In the summer of 89 N.W.A was a group Mtv could no longer ignore. The network agreed to air their new video “Express yourself” on Mtv Raps. The video was a gentler, but no less potent expression of rebellion.
With little to no radio play Straight Outta Compton had sold a million copies in less than a year and Eazy E’s solo debut Eazy Duz It went platinum even quicker. They were the hottest thing in hip hop, headlining a nationwide tour and Eazy E in particular appeared to be taking full advantage of his fame, especially with the ladies.
“Eazy used to call himself a thrill seeker meaning he would just bare-back, you know, have sex without condoms and what have you. He called me and Cube R.A.T.S; Rappers Against Thrill Seekers” –Dr.Dre
But not everybody was as content as Eazy who as owner of Ruthless records was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Eazy would be eating lobster and Dre and Yella and Ren and Cube would be eating McDonalds” -John Singleton, Dir. ‘Boyz N Tha Hood’
Ice Cube claimed that he had only received 32 thousand dollars in royalties for his work on ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and ‘Eazy Duz It’. When Jerry Heller showed up in the middle of an N.W.A tour with a 75 thousand dollar cheque for each group member provided they sign a contract to officially become a group, Cube got suspicious.
“More money was coming in, more than I had ever made but it wasn’t all the money I was supposed to get. I told Jerry Heller, look that 75 thousand is mine anyway regardless of whether I sign it or not. He was like nope you ain’t getting it unless you sign it. I thought that was shady” -Ice Cube
According to Ice Cube, Jerry wouldn’t hand over the 75 thousand unless the contract was signed, but Cube wasn’t comfortable signing the deal until he had his own legal advisors look over it. The incident led to an argument among the other members who took his reluctance as him turning his back on the group. Cube also felt that Jerry was poisoning the other members against him, convincing them that he didn’t care about N.W.A. Soon after Ice Cube left N.W.A and never looked back.
“When I started feeling that they was buying in to that and believing all of that, I was like yo’ it’s time for me to bounce” -Ice Cube
After N.W.A It was very uncertain what direction Cube’s career would take. At the time most people felt he was crazy to walk away from the biggest rap group in the world but his gamble paid off. Armed with a notebook of pre-written songs meant for Eazy-E, Cube linked up with Sir Jinx (Dr. Dre’s cousin), and they set off for New York to record his solo debut. Soon after touching down in the big Apple he bumped in to Chuck D who was on his way to record the track “Burn Hollywood Burn” with ‘Big Daddy Kane’. Chuck asked Cube if he wanted to jump in on the track so Cube quickly took him up on the offer. This chance encounter with Chuck meant Ice Cube’s sound was about to be laced with some east coast flavor under the production guidance of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad and by February 1990 the classic ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ was in motion. The album was a smash hit that laid to rest all skepticism that he wouldn’t make it solo. With Cubes star rising, N.W.A were eager to show that they could succeed without him so they quickly put out an EP called ‘100 Miles And Runnin’ which took shots at Cube for leaving the fold.
But Cube wasn’t the only one having problems with the N.W.A financial situation. As Dr. Dre began to produce the groups second full length album ‘EFIL4ZAGGIN’, he was starting to have doubts about his future with N.W.A. Niggaz4Life was released in May of 1991 and reached number 1 on the billboard pop charts. It was the first hardcore rap album to ever do so. The albums success solidified gangsta raps place in music but it generated another violent reaction among conservative critics. Various state and local governments tried to ban the sale of hardcore rap declaring it obscene. N.W.A. and other artists were targeted under obscenity laws and conservative groups pressured record chains to remove the albums from stores. But their attempts ultimately failed as music fans rebelled against what they saw as censorship.
Released in May 28th 1991, Niggaz4Life (also known as EFIL4ZAGGIN) was the second and final studio album by N.W.A. and debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart. The second week it climbed up to number 1, making it the first hardcore rap album ever to so.
NOTE: On the cover the title appears as a mirror-image of the text “NIGGAZ4LIFE”. The name of the new album had been revealed in “Kamurshol” from N.W.A’s previous release 100 Miles and Runnin’, but only by playing a vinyl copy backwards could the otherwise unintelligible sound be deciphered as “niggaz for life”
The Break Up Of N.W.A
N.W.A was at the height of it’s notoriety and Ruthless Records was pulling in millions of dollars each month. Now Dr. Dre was more determined than ever to renegotiate his deal.
“I’m recording platinum records and getting 2 points as a producer so I step to Eazy at this time and told him look man I’m not dealing with Jerry Heller anymore, I don’t want him in my mixture.” -Dr. Dre
Dre gave Eazy an ultimatum that he either gets rid of Jerry or he will walk away from N.W.A. Eazy E got back to Dre a couple of days later telling him he was keeping his manager Jerry on board. No longer able to tolerate conditions at Ruthless, Dre made the final decision to leave the group. That’s when Suge Knight entered the picture and the beef between Eazy E and Dr Dre would soon begin.
Stranded On Death Row
On April 29th 1992 four police officers where acquitted of the beating of Rodney King. Anger and shock spread through the city and triggered riots throughout South Central Los Angeles 6 days of looting and arson left a billion dollars in damages and 53 people dead. While South L.A was burning, the N.W.A era was finally at an end. Eazy and Ruthless records brought racketeering lawsuit charges against Suge, Dre and Death Row but eventually dropped the charges (possibly through fear) and agreed to let Dre go from his Ruthless Records contract but with conditions.
Dre’s solo debut featured a new rapper called Snoop Doggy Dogg and went on to sell 4 Million copies. But the bad blood between Eazy and Dre continued with Dre and Snoop mocking Eazy and Jerry in the ‘Dre Day’ video and Eazy firing back with ‘Real Muthaphukkin G’s’. This bitter feud would last the remainder of Eazy’s soon to be shortened life.
Eazy’s Hope’s Of An N.W.A Reunion
With Dr. Dre gone, N.W.A was effectively broken up, so Eazy got on with the business of running Ruthless records developing a slate of new acts like Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. But those closest to Eazy say his biggest hope was to reunite N.W.A for one final album. When Eazy ran in to Ice Cube in New York in 1993 it was all he could talk about.
“He was talking about putting the group back together you know, burying the hatchet, and I was like you gotta work the deal with Dre, you get that together and call me and I’m down, I ain’t trippin” -Ice Cube
But that reunion would never happen because within four months Eazy would be dead.
The Death Of Eazy E
The news came as a massive shock to the world of hip hop. Eazy had learned the news himself only weeks before. In early 95 he started complaining of a reoccurring cough and weakness. His doctor ordered a full panel of tests. When the test results came back they showed that Eazy was in the final stages of full blown A.I.D.S. Eazy’s girlfriend Tomica was tested but the results showed negative for the disease.
“He just kept apologizing because at that time the only ones who knew I was pregnant was he and I. We got married at the hospital because we didn’t know if he was gonna make it through. He went through the whole list of who to trust and who not to trust. Apologizing for any negative things he brought on to my life”
On March 17th Eazy made a public statement through his attorney. That’s how many of his friends found out he was sick.
“I am now in the biggest fight of my life and it ain’t Eazy. But I just want to say much love for those who have been down with me, especially my brothers from N.W.A and thank you all for your support.” –Eazy E
On March 26th 1995 Eric ‘Eazy E’ Wright died of complications from Aids. He was just 31 years old.
“I felt real bad, I felt partially stupid, the couple of years we spent mad at each other was nothing compared to the time that we spent together and had happy times. So I felt bad that we didn’t get to kick it and have more fun before he passed away”
“I couldn’t believe it. Here is somebody that I kicked it with, formed the worlds most dangerous group with, and you know we couldn’t do that again. It was gone”
On April 7th 1995 Eazy E was laid to rest at a public service outside of Los Angeles. More than 3000 people lined the streets to watch his gold coffin pass.