The cover of the 1987 album N.W.A and the Posse does not look like something released by one of the most important rap groups of all time. Actually, just looking at the photo, who would believe that some of the guys in this alleyway would change the course of popular music forever less than a year after the flashbulb popped? Who would guess these men were capable of creating their own genre of music, putting their fingerprints on nearly every hip-hop song written in the past 20 years? In fact, this picture is a perfect snapshot of one of the most important scenes in the history of popular music. Stare for a moment and you can see a myth about to be born. That myth, gangsta rap, enabled four guys in this picture — Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E — to titillate and terrify America as Compton-based rap group Niggaz With Attitude. The mythical power of N.W.A certainly doesn't come from the clock necklaces, the running pants or the Jheri curls. Look to the left, at the bottles of malt liquor, the plain jeans and the black ball caps. Those props (and that's the right word) hint at what's going on here, which is the gestation of gangsta rap.
From a music critic's perspective, N.W.A and the Posse is nothing special. Certainly not compared to Straight Outta Compton, the culture-changing epic released less than a year later. In fact, Compton has proved so important that it has since supplanted Posse as the group's "first record" in most histories of N.W.A. That's not an altogether-unfair version of things.
Actually, N.W.A and the Posse, which featured songs by N.W.A and some other groups Dr. Dre did production work for, is just what the name suggests: N.W.A with a gang of friends and associates destined for bit parts in a grander drama.
As Jerry Heller, the band's famously demonized manager, says in his memoir, it was "the product of a loose amalgamation of DJs, musicians and MCs."
"N.W.A and the Posse is unquestionably raw production, not quite ready for prime time," he wrote. "It has elements of greatness, rap songs that later became monsters: 'Boyz-n-the-Hood,' 'Dopeman,' '8 Ball.' Listen to the version of 'Boyz' on the Posse album and then compare it with Dre's remix a year later that appears on Eazy-Duz-It, Eazy-E's first solo album. The difference is clear. Posse was a trial run, a rehearsal."
So, if this is a rehearsal, who are all those extras?
Anyone who knows anything about rap can pick out at least two guys in this photo: Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. If you're into the old school, you can probably identify four of the dozen, adding MC Ren and Eazy-E. A true N.W.A fan could pick out Arabian Prince, who is standing next to Cube.
Pretty much no one not in the photo — not even the most hard-core hip-hop heads — can ID the rest of the posse pictured, other than maybe giving a 20-year-old street name. Until now, that is.
It took a lot of work, but we've tracked down all 12 guys from the Posse record cover. Some of these guys are on Hollywood's A-list, others drive trucks, but they were all once part of the same posse.
AKA: Mik Lezan, Professor X
Before the photo: He was one of Ruthless Records' house producers, also working on J.J. Fad's hit single "Supersonic." (You've probably heard part of "Supersonic": Fergie's "Fergalicious" samples the hook.)
In the photo: He's making no pretense to wear "gangsta" clothing. "I've always been a club cat," Prince tells me. "I want to make people hype, I want to make people party. And when we did the N.W.A thing, I was cool with it because I grew up in the hood as well, but I've never been gangsta. My uncles was gangsta, my cousins was gangsta, and I'm like, 'I'm not really gangsta.'"
After the photo: Arabian was an actual member of N.W.A. He's pictured on the back of the record with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, the core of the group at the time. He left the group while Straight Outta Compton was being recorded, releasing a solo record called Brother Arab in 1989. Like the others who later left the group — including Cube and Dre — Arabian cites financial improprieties as the main motivator behind his departure.
Now: He's working on a cartoon/music project called Funky Lil Anime, "like an animated Black Eyed Peas kinda thing."
AKA: Anthony Wheaton
Before the photo: If there's a golden link in the chain connecting everyone on the N.W.A and the Posse record cover, it's Sir Jinx. The cousin of Dr. Dre, Jinx was nevertheless always more closely aligned with Ice Cube. At the time the photo was taken he was in the rap group C.I.A. (Cru' in Action!). The other two members of C.I.A. — Cube and Kid Disaster — are also in the photo. They're the two guys in white wearing Flavor Flav–style clocks around their necks, right next to Arabian Prince.