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 the photo: Dre — positioned between Ice Cube and Eazy-E — almost blends into the background of the Posse record cover. He's neither wearing any sort of distinctive clothing nor taking any sort of stance in particular. It's almost as though he knows the picture will go on an album that the group will not promote in earnest. And he very well may have. Ronin Ro's excellent biography of Dr. Dre makes an important point about the cover: Macola, the group's first label, likely knew the group was shopping for another label at the time it commissioned the picture. As Arabian Prince noted in Ro's book, when a band got a deal with a new label, Macola's M.O. was to quickly release every song the group had done.
After the photo: The early days of N.W.A are filled with great ironies: One original member of Niggaz With Attitude was a Latino, and pop-rapper Candyman is on the cover of Posse. Another hilarious bit of trivia concerns the group's label, Priority Records. When N.W.A signed with Priority, the group was only the label's second signed act. The other was the California Raisins. That's right: The first noncompilation album released by Priority was The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs. The second was Straight Outta Compton. Eazy and Dre got a leg up in the music business because of a cartoon band's cover of Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through the Grapevine."
From there, Dr. Dre's career has had only the most minor of setbacks. His work with N.W.A was stellar, his solo debut, The Chronic, is regarded as one of the best rap albums of all time, and nearly everyone he's produced (Eminem, 50 Cent, the Game) has had great success.
Now: Nary a week goes by when Dre is not either rumored or confirmed to be doing something big and important. The latest? He's apparently selling computers for H-P, planning a new joint album with Snoop Dogg and, of course, working on a new record called Detox, a long-delayed project that is fast becoming hip-hop's Chinese Democracy.
AKA: Eric Wright, Little Rat, The Greatest Gangsta
Before the photo: Nearly everyone in the Posse photo was either involved in the Compton club-music scene (with a DJ crew, a rap group or an electro-funk outfit) or was just a hanger-on. Eazy-E was the exception. A drug dealer, a high-school dropout and a member of the Kelly Park Compton Crips, Eric Wright aspired to get involved in the music business by starting his own record label with the help of Jerry Heller, a down-on-his-luck former manager to stars like Elton John and Marvin Gaye. As this photo was taken, the pair's business had just started to build up enough steam to engineer a major coup: N.W.A's jump from Macola Records to the upstart Priority Records.
In the photo: No one we talked to for this story could identify everyone else on the Posse cover by real name or by anything beyond a 20-year-old street name. Eazy likely would have been (again) the one exception, since he was well-acquainted with even the hardest guys to track down: mysterious Mexican Krazy D, the DJ Scratch who isn't EPMD's DJ Scratch and "Ren's Homie" MC Chip.
After the photo: Eazy-E was at the center of the development of N.W.A and gangsta rap. Though he originally did not intend to be a rapper himself, his fluke success rapping "Boyz-n-the-Hood" (when another group on his label refused) made him officially join N.W.A for Compton. As Heller tells me: "Eric used to say it best. He would say he was the conceptualizer, Dre was the musicalizer, Cube was the verbalizer and Jerry was the financializer." That system worked for a while — long enough to change popular music forever, anyway. Things went well for N.W.A until financial disputes drove Ice Cube, then later Dr. Dre, away from the group.
Following the dissolution of N.W.A, Eazy continued on a solo career and signed new acts to Ruthless Records. Ruthless' most successful post-N.W.A group was Cleveland's Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, which later eulogized Eazy with their No. 1 hit "Tha Crossroads."
Now: Eazy-E passed away at age 31 on March 26, 1995, after issuing a final message to his fans: "I was a brother on the streets of Compton doing a lot of things most people look down on — but it did pay off. Then we started rapping about real stuff that shook up the LAPD and the FBI. But we got our message across big time, and everyone in America started paying attention to the boys in the 'hood.' Soon our anger and hope got everyone riled up. There were great rewards for me personally, like fancy cars, gorgeous women and good living. Like real nonstop excitement. I'm not religious, but wrong or right, that's me. I'm not saying this because I'm looking for a soft cushion wherever I'm heading, I just feel that I've got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn about what's real when it comes to AIDS. Like the others before me, I would like to turn my own problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin. Because I want to save their asses before it's too late."