N.W.A (Niggaz with Attitude) was a Compton, California-based hip hop group widely considered one of the seminal acts of the gangsta rap sub-genre. Active from 1986 to 1991, the group endured controversy due to the explicit nature of their lyrics. They were subsequently banned from many mainstream U.S. radio stations and even at times prevented from touring - yet the group has still sold over 9 million units in the U.S. alone. Their second album, Straight Outta Compton, marked the beginning of the new gangsta rap era as the production and the social commentary in their lyrics were revolutionary within the genre. Rolling Stone ranked N.W.A 83rd on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". Although largely unknown at the group's inception, rappers Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren would all go on to be platinum-selling stars as solo artists.
Compton-based former drug dealer Eazy-E began Ruthless Records with Jerry Heller. Ruthless released N.W.A. and the Posse in 1987 with Macola Records. N.W.A was still in its developing stages, and only credited on four of the eleven tracks, notably the uncharacteristic electro hop record "Panic Zone", "8Ball", and "Dopeman", which first brought together (on wax) Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. Also included was Eazy-E's solo record "Boyz-n-the Hood". In 1988, rapper MC Ren joined the group.
"The World's Most Dangerous Group"
N.W.A released Straight Outta Compton in 1988. With its famous opening salvo of three songs, the group reflected the rising anger of the urban youth. "Straight Outta Compton" introduced the group; "Fuck tha Police" protested police brutality and racial profiling, and "Gangsta Gangsta" painted the worldview of the inner-city youth. While the group was later credited with pioneering the burgeoning sub genre of gangsta rap, N.W.A in fact referred to their music as "reality rap".
Jason Raspanti and DJ Yella, as HighPowered Productions, composed the beats for each song, with Dre making occasional rapping appearances. Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote the lyrics. "Fuck tha Police", perhaps the group's most notorious song, brought them into conflict with various law enforcement agencies. Under pressure from Focus on the Family, Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless and its parent company Priority Records advising the rappers that "advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action". This letter can still be seen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Policemen refused to provide security for the group's concerts, hurting their plans to tour. Nonetheless, the FBI's letter only served to draw more publicity to the group. Straight Outta Compton was also one of the first albums to adhere to the new Parental Advisory label scheme, then in its early stages: the now-iconic label then only consisted of "WARNING: Moderate impact coarse language and/or themes". However, the taboo nature of N.W.A's music was the greatest part of its mass appeal. The media coverage compensated for N.W.A's virtual lack of airplay and their album eventually went double platinum.
One month after Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E's solo debut was released. Eazy-Duz-It was dominated by Eazy's persona - MC Ren, appearing on two songs, was the only guest rapper - but behind the scenes it was a group effort. Music was handled by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and the lyrics were largely written by Ren, with contributions from Ice Cube and The D.O.C. The album was another platinum success for Ruthless (in addition to girl group J.J. Fad in 1988 and singer Michel'le in 1989), also going double. 1989 saw the re-issue of Straight Outta Compton on compact disc, and the release of The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better. The album was essentially a collaboration between "The D.O.C. and The Doctor" and notably free of "gangsta rap content", but culminated in the N.W.A posse cut "The Grand Final?". It would be another number one album for the group.
Ice Cube left in early 1990 over royalty disputes; having written 40% of the "Compton" album himself, he felt he was not getting a fair share of the money and profits. He wasted little time putting together his solo debut, 1990's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, but avoided mentioning his former label mates.
N.W.A's next release was some five months later, the EP 100 Miles and Runnin', but would not be equally diplomatic. They alluded to Ice Cube's departure in its eponymous single, stating the group "we started out with too much cargo/so I'm glad we got ridda Benedict Arnold". Also heard on the EP (which also found its way on Efil4zaggin) was "Real Niggaz", a full-blown diss on Cube where the remaining members accuse him of cowardice, and question his authenticity, longevity and originality: "How the fuck you think a rapper lasts/With your ass sayin shit, that was said in the past/Yo, be original, your shit is sloppy/Get off the dick, you motherfucking carbon-copy." The song "100 Miles and Runnin'" is also notable for being Dr. Dre's final uptempo record, which had been a common feature of late-80s hip hop.
N.W.A is referenced on Cube's 1990 EP, Kill at Will, where he name-checks his former group (likely in a mocking manner) on the song "Jackin' For Beats". On "I Gotta Say What Up!!!", Cube gives shout-outs to his rap peers at the time, among them Public Enemy, the Geto Boys, Sir Jinx, et cetera. At the end of the track, in what appears to be an on-the-phone interview, Ice Cube is asked, "Since you went solo, whatever happened to your crew?" and the interviewer is abruptly hung up on.
The group's second full-length release, 1991's Efil4zaggin ("Niggaz4Life" spelled backwards), re-established the group in the face of Ice Cube's continued solo success. The album is considered by many Dr. Dre's finest production work, and heralded the beginning of the "G-Funk era". It also showed a clear animosity towards their former member, and derogatory references to Ice Cube are found in several songs. The interlude "A Message to B.A." echoes the beginning of his song "Turn Off the Radio" from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted: in it, Ice Cube is first addressed by the name "Benedict Arnold" (after the infamous traitor of the American Revolution) but then named outright in a torrent of abuse from both the group and its fans: "When we see yo' ass, we gon' cut yo' hair off and fuck you with a broomstick", promised MC Ren.
The N.W.A-Ice Cube feud escalated. AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted had avoided direct attacks on N.W.A, but on Death Certificate, Ice Cube?s second full-length released later that year, he fired back. He sampled and mocked the "Message to B.A." skit before embarking on a full-blown tirade, the infamous "No Vaseline". In a series of verses, Ice Cube addressed the group (and responded to "100 Miles and Runnin'", explaining "I started off with too much cargo, dropped four Niggaz now I'm makin' all the dough"), and then MC Ren, Dr. Dre and especially Eazy-E individually, using homosexual metaphors to describe their unequal business relationship with Jerry Heller, who becomes the target of very harsh criticism: "Get rid of that devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple." The song attracted controversy for its perceived anti-Semitism (the beginning of such allegations involving Ice Cube) for referencing Heller's religion; the track was omitted from the U.K. release, and later pressings have had the words edited. The alleged slurs used in lines such as "you let a Jew break up my crew" however, could be explained away as the results of writing in rhyme. "No Vaseline" is considered one of the greatest diss records of all time. The increasingly violent content was reflected in real life as well?on , 1991, Dr. Dre assaulted Dee Barnes, host of the hip hop show Pump It Up, after its coverage of the N.W.A/Ice Cube beef.
According to Rolling Stone reporter Alan Light:
He picked her up and "began slamming her face and the right side of her body repeatedly against a wall near the stairway" as his bodyguard held off the crowd. After Dre tried to throw her down the stairs and failed, he began kicking her in the ribs and hands. She escaped and ran into the women's rest room. Dre followed her and "grabbed her from behind by the hair and proceeded to punch her in the back of the head.
Despite a lawsuit, the group was unrepentant. MC Ren later stated, "bitch deserved it"?Eazy-E, "yeah, bitch had it coming." As Dre described it: "People talk all this shit, but you know, somebody fuck with me, I'm gonna fuck with them. I just did it, you know. Ain't nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain't no big thing?I just threw her through a door."
In this time as well the demographic which were interested in the group also began to change. Although they still rapped about similar themes of the "gangster life" in Compton and South Central Los Angeles, without Ice Cube they were not as serious and hardly political at all, as they were on Straight Outta Compton.
The end of N.W.A
1991's Efil4zaggin would be the group's final album. After Dr. Dre, The D.O.C. and Michel'le's departure from Ruthless for Death Row Records, in which Eazy-E was allegedly coerced into signing away their contracts (while however retaining a portion of their publishing rights), a bitter rivalry ensued. Dr. Dre began the exchange with Death Row's first release, 1992's "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')", and its accompanying video featured a character named Sleazy-E who ran around desperately trying to get money. The insults continued on The Chronic with "Bitches Ain't Shit". Eazy-E responded in 1993 with the EP It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa and the tracks "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" and "It's On". Eazy-E accused Dr. Dre of homosexual tendencies, calling him a "she thang", and the music video for "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" shows promo pictures of him wearing make-up and a sequined jumpsuit. The photos were from Dr. Dre's World Class Wreckin' Cru days, when such fashions were the style of West Coast Electro hop prior to N.W.A.'s popularizing of gangsta rap.
After Eazy-E's AIDS-related death on , 1995, all bad blood between the group ceased. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube would later express their re-evaluated feelings to their old friend on 1999's "What's The Difference" and "Chin Check", 2000's "Hello", and 2006's "Growin' Up".
Reunions and legacy
Having both found themselves exploited by Ruthless Records, tensions eased between Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Ice Cube made a cameo appearance in Dr. Dre's "Let It Ride" video in 1993. The two recorded the hit song "Natural Born Killaz" for Snoop Doggy Dogg's 1994 short film and soundtrack Murder Was the Case. MC Ren appeared on Dre's 1999 album The Chronic 2001, and the three remaining N.W.A emcees would reunite for "Hello", from Ice Cube's 2000 album War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc), featuring the hook "I started this gangsta shit/And this the motherfucking thanks I get?". The West Coast and "gangsta" music scene had however fallen out of the spotlight since the death of Tupac Shakur in 1996, and it was only after Dr. Dre's successful patronage of Eminem and his ensuing comeback album 2001 would the genre and its artists regain the national spotlight. 2000's all-star Up In Smoke Tour would reunite much of the N.W.A and Death Row families, and during time spent on the road Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and honorary member Snoop Dogg began recording in a mobile studio. A comeback album entitled Not These Niggaz Again was planned (and would include DJ Yella, who had not been present on the tour). But due to busy and conflicting schedules, and the obstacles of coordinating three different record labels (Priority, No Limit and Interscope), obtaining the rights to the name "N.W.A", and endorsing the whole project to gain exclusive rights, the album never materialized. Only two tracks from these sessions would be released - "Chin Check" (with Snoop Dogg as a member of N.W.A) from 1999's Next Friday soundtrack) and "Hello" from Ice Cube's 2000 album War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) - both songs would appear on N.W.A's remastered and re-released Greatest Hits. There would also be partial reunions on "Set It Off", from Snoop Dogg's Tha Last Meal (2000), which featured MC Ren and Ice Cube as well as former Death Row "Inmates", and The D.O.C.'s "The Shit", from his 2003 album Deuce, which featured MC Ren, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Six-Two. Dr. Dre and DJ Yella have nothing to do with either song, however they were present in the studio for the latter. In addition to the Greatest Hits originally released by Priority in 1996, Capitol and Ruthless Records released The N.W.A. Legacy, Vol. 1: 1988-1998 in 1998, an album that contained only three songs from the actual group but various solo tracks from the five members. The success of the album prompted a second volume, The N.W.A. Legacy, Vol. 2, two years later. It followed the same format of the first album, containing only three "N.W.A" tracks and many songs from them as solo artists. In 2007, a new greatest hits package was released, The Best of N.W.A: The Strength of Street Knowledge.
With the success of Notorious, New Line Cinema reps announced to Entertainment Weekly's "Hollywood Insider Blog" that N.W.A.'s story is in development to become a theatrical release in 2010. According to IMDB the script was researched and written by filmmaker S. Leigh Savidge and radio veteran Alan Wenkus who worked closely with Eazy E's widow Tomica Wright. Producing the film will be Tomica Wright, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre. A director has not been chosen yet; however, the producers are reportedly seeking a helmer on par with 8 Mile director Curtis Hanson. The cast has yet to be disclosed. MC Ren and DJ Yella have not yet commented on whether or not they will be involved in the production.
Main article: Eazy-E
Eric Wright was a former Compton drug dealer when he founded Ruthless Records with Jerry Heller, and the two would oversee numerous platinum-selling releases, most notably those of N.W.A. He was said to be the leader of the group until they split up.
After the group's break-up - while Death Row Records remade hip hop in its image - Eazy-E's solo career was largely dominated by his hip hop rivalry Ruthless vs. Death Row feud with Dr. Dre, evidenced by records such as the Platinum EP It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa which featured the famous 'diss' towards Dr. Dre in the song "Real Muthaphukkin G's". Nonetheless, he continued to run Ruthless Records, releasing albums by MC Ren, Above the Law, and in 1994, the four-times platinum debut of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Eazy was working on a come-back album, Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton which would have involved artists such as 2Pac, Guns N' Roses and Notorious B.I.G when he checked into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on , 1995, believing he had asthma. In a publicized statement on March 20, Eazy-E announced he had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Six days later, Eric Wright succumbed to the disease. He was 31. On his death bed days before, Eazy married long-term girlfriend and mother of his child Tomica Woods, and she inherited his share of Ruthless Records.
Main article: Dr. Dre
Andre Young began his career as a DJ for electro-hop group the World Class Wreckin' Cru, and was featured on their 1984 debut 12-inch single, "Surgery". The fashions of this period would later come back to haunt Dre several years later during a feud with Eazy-E. After two albums and allegations of mispayment, Dr. Dre and fellow World Class Wreckin' Cru member DJ Yella left Alonzo William's Kru-Cut Records for Eazy-E and Jerry Heller's Ruthless Records in 1986, where they would move into production.
After producing several platinum-selling albums for Ruthless, Dre found himself regarded as one of the top producers in hip hop but once again under-compensated for his work. Together with The D.O.C., he would leave to form Death Row Records, and embark on a solo career unmatched by any of the N.W.A alumni. Dr. Dre's 1992 solo The Chronic would introduce the world to the sounds of G-Funk and rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, whose five-times platinum debut would be the last album entirely produced by Dre. While Death Row began its near-domination of hip hop, this marked the end of Dr. Dre's prolific era.
Dr. Dre left Death Row before its eventual self-destruction, and would form his own label, Aftermath Entertainment. After years of fruitless and failed projects, most notably that of the 1997 supergroup The Firm, Dr. Dre's reputation would be vindicated with the phenomenal success of Eminem in 1999, leading to the West Coast comeback album, 2001. Dre's success continued with that of Eminem, and in a joint-venture, the two signed 50 Cent in 2002, who would go on to sell over 20 million records. Dr. Dre meanwhile has developed into a master of the recording process, and maintains his status as one of hip hop's premier producers. A long delayed third solo album, Detox, has been anticipated for several years.
Main article: Ice Cube
Ice Cube left N.W.A. at the peak of their popularity in late-1989 but would become a highly successful rapper in his own right. By 2008 he had released eight solo albums. Whereas N.W.A. rapped about gang life on the street, Ice Cube continued to include social commentary on his records on subjects such as gun control in the ghetto and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. His political albums are most remembered for referring to America as AmeriKKKa, as well as addressing hypocrisy and issues such as gang life and racism. All of his solo albums, except his first, debuted in the top five. His first three albums (AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Death Certificate, and The Predator) were big hits; they all achieved platinum status, and were greeted with rave reviews by critics. His fourth solo effort, Lethal Injection, was recorded on the back of projects with his crew, Da Lench Mob, and starring in Boyz-N-The Hood. Ice Cube has experience as a film actor and director, starring in films such as Friday, Next Friday, Friday After Next, Three Kings, xXx: State of the Union, Barbershop, Are We There Yet?, and Are We Done Yet? He has also released a reality TV series in March 2006, named Black. White.. He released the album, Laugh Now, Cry Later, in 2006 on his own record company, Da Lench Mob Records. Ice Cube's latest album entitled Raw Footage was released on August 19, 2008.
Main article: MC Ren
As the N.W.A album Niggaz4Life reached the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 in 1991, financial conflict between Dr. Dre and Ruthless Records led to the group disbanding. Eazy-E, along with the group's manager Jerry Heller, was accused of skimming money. Dr. Dre left to form Death Row Records and MC Ren subsequently released his debut album with the help of Eazy-E in 1992, entitled Kizz My Black Azz. With little commercial promotion, the album went platinum. MC Ren's next album, Life Sentence, was scrapped due to the fact that he converted to Islam and changed a lot of his old views. Shock of the Hour was released the next year in 1993. It also features the single "Mayday on the Frontline" which appeared in the film CB4. Following this, there was the release 'Forget What Ya Heard'. Two years followed before an E.P. sampler for the 'Villain In Black' album hit the streets. This particular 12" is considered a collectors' item. Incidentally, during the 1992-94 period, Ren along with the likes of Dre, Warren G (Dre's half brother) Eazy-E and Snoop Doggy Dogg were instrumental in pioneering what would become known as 'G Funk' - a direct evolution from the N.W.A. sound. This sound can actually be traced back as far as the 1987 N.W.A release 'Dopeman'. However it wasn't until the N.W.A. group split that the likes of Ren, Dre and Eazy developed their own brand of G Funk. MC Ren's "Same Old Shit" and "Fuck What Ya Heard" being good examples of his own style. Soon after, tragedy struck MC Ren when DJ Train died in a house fire before the release of The Villain in Black (1996). Before leaving Ruthless Records, MC Ren released Ruthless for Life (1998) which proved a worthy comeback. He appeared on the posse cut "Some L.A. Niggaz" from Dr. Dre's 2001 album, but only took part in the intro, speaking. In 2000 he appeared on the song "Hello" which featured Dr. Dre and Ice Cube on Ice Cube's War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) album. He joined the Up In Smoke Tour that same year. MC Ren would go on to release the straight-to-DVD movie entitled Lost in the Game in 2004. His most recent work has appeared on more politically-oriented projects such as Paris' album Hard Truth Soldiers Vol. 1 as well as on Public Enemy's album Rebirth of a Nation (2006). MC Ren appeared on the 2006 edition of the VH1 Hip Hop Honors talking about Eazy-E in the tribute to him.
MC Ren is currently in the process of finishing his next album entitled Renincarnated.
Main article: DJ Yella
There was not much of a commercial solo career for DJ Yella to pursue, thus he was the lone member to remain loyal to Eazy-E after the breakup. He continued producing Eazy-E's records, including a couple of tracks for Eazy-E's prot?g?s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's debut EP Creepin on ah Come Up. He also claimed he was the lone member of N.W.A to be at Eazy-E's deathbed when he died. After the death of his friend, DJ Yella released a solo album as a tribute to his former band-mate, but as with N.W.A, DJ Yella did not touch the mic; instead, he hired guest rappers such as Dirty Red, Dresta, Traci Nelson, Leicy Loc, B.G. Knocc Out, and Efil4zaggin lyricist Kokane to perform.
Main article: Arabian Prince
Arabian Prince found the going tough when he departed the group for a solo career in 1988. His progressive album Brother Arab barely scraped the bottom of the R&B and Pop Charts in 1989, His album credits include Where's My Bytches and "She's Got a Big Posse" as well as work on N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton and production for various other West Coast hip-hop artists. In 2008 he released an album entitled Innovative Life: The Anthology.