Compton Rises Again

Photo by Gregory Bojorquez

At the Edmonds studio on Cahuenga, in a room that smells like skunky bud, Lil’ E and big ol’ black dudes — including Lil’ E’s manager "Bruiser," and Lil’ E’s partner, Pete Farmer — bump the bangin’ new cut titled "Lil Eazier Said," a remake of Eazy’s "Eazy-er Said Than Dunn." Although Eazy-E is no longer physically present, his spirit lives on in 20-year-old Eric "Lil’ E" Wright Jr. The resemblance is scary — looking at Lil’ E is like looking at Eazy-E, like a little gangsta Mini-Me. The main difference is that Lil’ E prefers tight cornrows to his dad’s Jheri-curls. Listening to the signature N.W.A 808 bass drops with Lil’ E’s lyrics — "My name is Eazy, yeah this is true/blowin’ up the West is what I’m gonna do" — takes me back to a time of black Chevy Astrovans and Los Angeles Raiders Starter caps. As the bassed-up song comes to an end and Lil’ E professes, "Dedicated to my father, Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright, the godfather of gangsta rap/A legend always remembered/Rest in peace, Pop," I feel the need to grab a 40-ounce of Olde English malt liquor and pour a little for a dead homie. Eazy did it; he put Compton on the map.

Compton was just another post-industrial Southside city, and everyone in the hood was bumpin’ Bobby Jimmy and the Critters’ clownin’ rap from their Cerwin-Vega speakers — that is, until a short, Jheri-curled, loc’d-out dude named Eric Wright took his hustlin’ money, walked into a studio and, as fate would have it, spewed out the gangsta-rap anthem "Boyz N the Hood," creating not only the all-star super ghetto group Niggaz With Attitude (N.W.A), which included Andre Young (Dr. Dre), O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube), Lorenzo Patterson (MC Ren) and Antoine Carraby (DJ Yella), but founding Ruthless Records as well.

Because of N.W.A, anyone from any hood with a pad and pencil could now tell his story. It was like hearing the Ramones for the first time — learn your three chords and attack. Eazy’s influence was enormous, and the N.W.A family tree branched out to include West Coast rappers such as the D.O.C., Snoop Dogg, Westside Connection, and The Game, who has not only "N.W.A" tatted on his chest but Eazy’s image on his forearm.

March 26 will mark the 10th anniversary of Eazy-E’s death, and Eazy’s eldest child (of nine), plans to further the family’s music legacy with his debut and not-too-subtly-titled album, N.W.A.

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"He’s a legend, like Bob Marley!" says Lil’ E of his late father. "I just want everybody to remember my dad as a legend, that’s my main focus."

While Robert Nesta Marley’s revolutionary reggae music stirred up South African warriors before they went into battle, Eric Wright Sr.’s rebellious rap music fired up tribes of a different kind, the Crips and Bloods, in their South L.A. street wars.

Although he was born and raised in Compton, from preschool to eighth grade Lil’ E attended the diverse Montessori Children’s Academy in nearby Downey, where Eazy’s mother was the principal. "All the kids would run to the gate, and they’d gather around my dad’s car," he recalls with a smile.

Even while eluding the FBI’s and LAPD’s threats following the release of the seminal "Fuck tha Police," Eazy-E still made time for his son. "I remember the time my dad was taking a shower and asked my opinion about his song ‘Just Tah Let You Know’ — I thought it was a cool beat," says Lil’ E. Cool beats, and a cool dad who would let his young son hang out backstage at N.W.A shows.

Born in 1984, the year of the L.A. Summer Olympics, Lil’ E grew up on Eazy-E’s hard discography: Eazy-Duz-It, N.W.A and The Posse, Straight Outta Compton, 100 Miles and Runnin’, Niggaz4life, even the beef stuff with Death Row, It’s On (Dre) 187um Killa. That was a tough time, but not as rough as when his father got ill.

"I was told he was sick and went to visit him a couple of times in the hospital. I remember the last time I visited him was when he went to surgery, and after that he couldn’t speak no more, he had tubes in his mouth. So I seen him one more time, and then he passed away," Lil’ E recollects. On March 26, 1995, at age 31, Eric Wright Sr. died of AIDS-related pneumonia. Lil’ E was just 10 years old.

Those who really knew Eazy-E said he was quiet and private. Lil’ E inherited those traits — low-key and reserved, occasionally opening up for a brief smile and a great laugh. The only time he really seems to get boisterous is when he talks about his dad’s lack of recognition and about his new album.

Lil’ E insists he isn’t trying to ride any coattails. "I never exploited the fact, I never used his name," he says. At Long Beach Millikan High School, where he went for two years, not one person knew who his father was, and that was cool with him. He doesn’t talk about his dad unless people approach him on the street and ask, "Are you Eazy’s son?" and only then, he says, to "remind you of the legend that started it all." In fact, he didn’t sign with Ruthless Records, which is headed by his stepmother, Tamika Wright, because, "It’s about being my own man, standing on my own two."

Standing on his own two? This dude’s runnin’ with inherent talent and the same tenacity that drove his father. At 5-foot-6 max, he transferred over to Compton Dominguez High "for football reasons," and Lil’ E became an all-league running back. Of course, he didn’t have the size to play professionally for N.W.A’s favorite team, the Raiders, but Lil’ E has other skills, and rips the mic like Bo Jackson running through Brian Bosworth.

People forget Eazy-E was never supposed to be a rapper. He was the money and the brains behind N.W.A and Ruthless Records. Legend has it that the New York rap group HBO walked out of the studio rather than do Ice Cube’s West Coast lyrics. With paid-for studio time on their hands, Dr. Dre suggested Eazy get in the booth. Otherwise we might never have heard Eazy’s now-infamous high-pitched voice spit, "Cruising down the street in my six four." On the other hand, Lil’ E, whose voice is slightly deeper, has had time to learn and polish his craft, and even has had the help of one of the fiercest lyricists, the D.O.C. (Tracy Curry). Lil’ E might not be as raw as his father — Eazy’s 1980s reality was much more intense — but Lil’ E does have his father’s vulgar charisma.

About N.W.A, Lil’ E says, "I’m a nigga’ with an attitude. A lot of people sugarcoat it. I’m gonna lob it up for a nigga, and if you wanna catch it, catch it." Don’t get it twisted, the blue cap with the white "C" Lil’ E’s wearing doesn’t stand for Cincinnati or Chicago; it’s a symbol of Eastside Compton and the neighborhood Compton Crips.

Virgin Records already has a CPT dude in Guerilla Black, who’s been holding it down for the Hub City in the sleeper album of last year, Guerilla City, but Lil’ E feels his spring/ early-summer release on the Virgin Records subsidiary Kings of L.A. will represent West Coast gangsta rap to the fullest. N.W.A will include cameos by the original Niggaz: Dr. Dre will produce, Ice Cube and MC Ren will rip new lycs, and Lil’ E’s younger brothers’ godfather, DJ Yella, will lend support. Besides an N.W.A track, the project will also contain unreleased, unheard Eazy-E cuts. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (originally signed to Ruthless) will show their love and get thuggish, while hot producers like Scott Storch, Hi-Tek and Midi Mafia will be behind the boards. Until then, Lil’ E has a couple of mix tapes, "Confessions" with The Game and "Us Against the World" with 2Pac and Biggie, that KDAY DJ and longtime Eazy-E friend Julio G. has been bumpin’ on his Westside Radio program.

Ten years later, Lil’ E, "a new young nigga" with an old soul, is on a mission, branching out and signing with Creative Artists Agency for an upcoming movie based on his father’s life. Guess who’s playing Eazy?

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