By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
In ’86 Ice Cube, then a 16-year-old neighbor and follower of the Wrecking Kru, wrote a cussword-packed song for HBO, a long-forgotten New York rap posse, who rejected it as too West Coast. Dre, the Kru’s DJ, along with his aide-de-camp Yella, convinced his neighbor Eazy to try the rhyme. E put on a pair of dark shades, ejected his friends from the studio, and rapped for the first time. Later, he sunk a few thousand dollars into getting the 12-inch record pressed and released.
Depending on who you talk to and when, the seed money may or may not have come from illicit drug profits. Last August, Eazy asked me where I thought he got it. Last week, Dre refused to comment. Ren said, “Eazy had a cousin that was runnin’ everything around here, man, and when his cousin got killed, he was left with all these responsibilities of the street. So many people was getting killed, I guess he realized he had to get out. He invested his money, you know, in the record business. Like he says, that’s no myth.” Eazy silenced him with a glance.
“I know the drug thing sounds glamorous, but I wish they wouldn’t keep saying that,” Jerry Heller says later. “It wasn’t all that much money. And IRS guys will read this thing, too.”
“Boyz-N-the-Hood,” five and a half minutes of cheerful vignettes from the short, happy life of a ghetto hoodlum, became the cornerstone of the California street sound, one of the first West Coast rap records rooted as much in the hardcore New York break style as in Kraftwerk. Eazy’s rapping is a drawling blend of Woody Woodpecker and the vicious, whiskey smooth tenor of Rakim: a superb character voice. The song was considerably slower than the party jams put out by local groups like the Kru and the Dream Team, and the production was knowingly raw — you can pick out Dre’s tinkly two-note keyboard riff and exuberantly tinny beatbox coming from a car radio two blocks away. A lot of people hated the record, because while the urban-gangster life had been romanticized since Capone, nobody had ever made it sound quite so much fun before.
“It is fun,” Eazy says.
N.W.A got an opening slot on the West Coast dates of the Salt-N-Pepa tour in the fall of ’87. KDAY, the local hip-hop station, put “Boyz-N-the-Hood” into rotation before the L.A. date, and the record was requested often enough to jump to No. 1 on their playlist for almost a month. Ice Cube wrote two more: “8 Ball,” a paean to his beloved Olde English 800 malt liquor, and a sneering cautionary tale called “Dopeman,” both of which were released as the first double-sided N.W.A single. (Basically, an Eazy E song ambles, while an N.W.A song cranks: the performers, producers, writers and sidemen are identical.) That 12-inch also sold well.
Macola Records, the distributor, collected 10 or so random Dre-produced sides and packaged them as an unauthorized bootleg N.W.A LP, N.W.A and the Posse, that stayed on the Billboard black album charts for the better part of a year. (N.W.A refuses to discuss this album; more than the money, the dated hi-energy cuts, many of which Eazy originally declined to release, embarrass them.) Macola settled with Ruthless out of court for legal fees and damages but, according to band members, still pays the installments with rubber checks. (“They ganked us, man, straight fucked us with no grease,” Eazy says.) After this, Ice Cube left the group for a year to study mechanical drafting.
Early last year, adjunct N.W.A member Arabian Prince produced a novelty single for some hangers-on, J.J. Fad, as a side project: “Supersonic.” The single sold half a million copies on Dream Team Records. Every record company in the world was after the album. Eazy leveraged J.J. Fad away, licensed them to Atco, and had Dre produce the album, which also went gold, for the aptly named Ruthless Records. “It’s what we call a ghetto LBO,” N.W.A publicist Pat Charbonnet says. “Eazy’s the Gordon Gekko of Compton.”
Arabian left the group. The Priority pickup deal was signed, and Eazy recruited an old friend, Ren, to write three songs — “Radio,” “Eazy-Duz-It,” and a brilliantly funny bank-heist fantasy called “Ruthless Villain” — for a single. Covering his bets, Eazy hired KDAY DJ Greg Mack to do an intro to “Radio” a la Parliament-Funkadelic, and signed KDAY morning-jock Russ Parr’s comedy-rap act Bobby Jimmy & the Critters to Ruthless/Priority. (No ulterior motive is implied here, but the move probably didn’t hurt the record’s chances for a decent rotation.) The “Radio” 12-inch sold 140-odd thousand copies. Ren joined N.W.A, wrote much of Eazy’s album and, when Ice Cube returned last September, helped to write Straight Outta Compton.
Eazy Duz It went platinum, but was largely unremarked upon. N.W.A coined the phrase “reality rap,” which guilty white liberals find a convenient term when explaining why they like the album so much. Word of the N.W.A album was picked up by CNN and the city desk of the Herald — more as a news story (“L.A. Gangs Speak”) than as an entertainment story — and suddenly Eazy and the gang were promoted from amusing hoodlums to spokesmen for a generation. The L.A. Times found them progressive and put them on the cover of Sunday Calendar.