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.
In the photo: Sir Jinx is on the top right, wearing all black. "All that writing on the picture? I did all that," Jinx tells me. "Eric went and bought a bunch of neon spray cans. He knew I did graffiti, so I did as much as I could. If you look at the picture, and you look at me, my name is right next to me, you see 'J-I-N.' Everybody then kinda grabbed a spray can and the neon cans and wrote on the wall behind us."
After the photo: Sir Jinx produced songs for all Ice Cube's early albums, including AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Death Certificate, The Predator and Lethal Injection. Included in his credits are two of Cube's most controversial songs, the diss track "No Vaseline" and the Korean shopkeeper bashing "Black Korea." Jinx also produced Xzibit's 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz.
Now: Jinx recently did some studio work with Dr. Dre and keeps busy doing DJ gigs and appearing places like The Jimmy Kimmel Show and The Orlando Jones Show.
AKA: LaMont Burnett, King Scratch
Before the photo: Scratch was part of a tight-knit clique that included Sir Jinx, Candyman (bottom right in the Posse photo) and Tupac's future producer, the late Johnny "J."
In the photo: Scratch didn't want to have his photo taken because he hadn't had his hair done properly but was persuaded to jump into the shot by Eazy-E, who said Scratch looked like part of the Ruthless Records gang. "The picture was going to be taken later in the day, and we all had to get Jheri curls done and all that. Dre called early and said, 'We're gonna take the picture,' so I wasn't even going to get in the picture at all. I jumped in the car and I took Jinx and Candyman down there," Scratch tells me. "We went up there, and I wasn't in the picture. I actually had another camera, and I was just snapping them. And Eazy was like, 'Come on, get in the picture. You look Ruthless. Get in the picture.'"
After the photo: Scratch says Eazy-E once asked him to be his DJ, but he refused, out of loyalty to Candyman. Candyman had a huge hit with "Knockin' Boots," but he proved to be a one-hit wonder. Scratch has no regrets though: "Everything happens for a reason."
Now: Scratch lives in Barstow, California. He says it's a place where he has a house that's "nice and cheap and big." He's a family man with children and grandchildren. Scratch has recorded some new music and has also started a company that does merch for other musicians.
AKA: Lorenzo Jerald Patterson, The Villain in Black
Before the photo: Though he's lined up right next to Eazy, Cube, Dre and Arabian Prince — rounding out the so-called classic lineup of N.W.A — Ren was not actually a member of the group when this record cover was shot, he says. Rather, he was just another solo rapper signed to Eazy-E's record label. "I was with Ruthless, signed right out of high school as a solo artist, so I was with Eric every day," Ren tells me. "I was going to do a song for Eric, but I wasn't in the group at that time. He just told me to come up there and get in the picture with him because everybody was having their homies hooked up."
In the photo: MC Ren, like his friend MC Chip, is wearing the traditional N.W.A uniform, which is a black baseball hat, T-shirt and jeans. "If you look at the picture, it don't even look how N.W.A look, you know what I mean?" Ren says. "If you look on that album cover, you'll see that me and my homie Chip got on the Raiders hats. That was my thing — the Raiders hats and all that. That was before I even got in the group."
After the photo: MC Ren has released six solo records, the most recent coming out in 2009. His first solo record, Kizz My Black Azz, went platinum and peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200. He's also done verses on solo records released by both Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.
Now: In addition to having a new EP in the works, Ren is rumored to be part of the N.W.A movie project that Cube and Dre are working on.
AKA: Clarence Lars
Before the photo: DJ Train was a childhood friend of MC Ren and Eazy-E who became one of Ruthless Records' top DJs, working with J.J. Fad and other acts on the label.
In the photo: Train is blocked out by the letters Macola stamped on the front.
After the photo: Train went on to start a group called C.P.O. (Capital Punishment Organization) with rapper Lil' Nation (aka Boss Hogg) and producer Young D. The group's debut, To Hell and Black, peaked at No. 33 on Billboard's hip-hop chart.
Now: DJ Train was killed in a house fire on July 26, 1994. His brother, Jesse "Tootie" Lars — who produced MC Ren's single, "Same Ol' Shit" — tells me Train saved the lives of several family members. "He went back in because he thought some of our family was still in there. He passed out in the living room, right in front of the TV, and they found him right there when they went back in," Lars says. "Train was a big man — over 6 feet, over 200 pounds — but he was a peaceful man, a spiritual man," [said Rebecca Morfin, the mother of his son Sean, at the time of his death]. "He was courageous, too. When the paramedics were putting him into the ambulance and we were all screaming that we loved him, he signaled to us that it was all right."
AKA: Darryll Johnson, K-Dee
Before the photo: Kid Disaster hooked up with N.W.A through Purple Ice, later known as Ice Cube, in high school. Disaster was a member of the group C.I.A. with Ice Cube and Sir Jinx .
In the photo: Kid Disaster is just another guy not drinking any of the booze. "It was funny because everybody brought 40s and no one really drunk 40s back then. We had to make it look like we drank some so we just opened them up and poured a little bit out," he tells me. "We were all virgins, man. We were all virgins that just happened to be in the music business and doing something. We were young, man, we were still in high school. We were just having fun, we never did think it was going to do what it did, and when it did it was like, 'wow.'"
After the photo: Disaster was featured in a verse on "Make It Ruff, Make It Smooth," off Cube's Lethal Injection album. He also worked for Cube's Street Knowledge Productions and released a solo album titled Ass, Gas or Cash (No One Rides for Free) in 1994. He became estranged from Cube in 1997 for reasons he doesn't know.
Now: K-Dee lives in L.A., and is in the trucking business. He's also still doing some radio work and performing live, including a recent concert with Michel'le, perhaps the ultimate hip-hop temptress, Dr. Dre's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son Marcel.
AKA: Candell Manson
Before the photo: If anyone caught a break because of his place on the Posse record cover, it's Candyman. A classmate of Ice Cube during his time at Washington Preparatory, he was unaffiliated with the group at the time. DJ Scratch and Sir Jinx report Candell Manson was splitting time between their couches when he caught a ride to the photo shoot, and somehow landed a prime spot in the front row.
In the photo: Candyman has said the cover represents the group at its realest, before the development of the styles commonly associated with gangsta rap. Arabian Prince disagrees. "Candyman got lucky," he says. "At the time, honestly, we used to actually get mad at Candyman because we'd be out on tour and we'd come back in town and sometimes he'd be representing N.W.A and we were like, 'Eh, eh, eh, you're not actually in the group. You're on the cover but ... "
After the photo: Candyman's story is possibly the ultimate irony of the N.W.A and the Posse cover. Three years after the photo was taken, around the time N.W.A was releasing its hard-hitting 100 Miles and Runnin' EP, Candyman had a Top 10 hit with "Knockin' Boots," a fun little bit of early-'90s pop-rap. "Knockin' Boots" — the second-biggest hit on the topic of boot-knockin' released in the early '90s — took his Ain't No Shame in My Game album into Billboard's Top 200. Candy toured with Tone Loc and Milli Vanilli but couldn't follow up on his success. His sophomore effort, Playtime Is Over, only had one charting single, the incredibly odd "Oneighundredskytalkpinelevenotwosevenine." Candyman was dropped from his major-label contract soon after his third album and decided to go gangsta. The cover of his fourth record, 1995's Phukk Watcha Goin' Thru, depicted the rapper posing in front of gold rims wearing a cabbie hat.
Now: Candyman lives in Vegas and books parties. Considering the heated public feuds that divided loyalties between the superstars on the Posse cover — Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E — it's surprising that Candyman is probably the least popular person in this photo, dissed by several others pictured when he was mentioned. "Candyman always kinda thought his shit didn't stink," says one of the other guys from the cover. "He's still that way."
AKA: Damon Trujillo, Culo Popper, Crazy D, Krazy Dee
Before the photo: Krazy D is from Huntington Park. He was a friend of Eric "Eazy-E" Wright. "I met Eazy the same day I met Dre [at Skateland in Compton, where Dre's old group the World Class performed]. Eazy and I became real good friends," Krazy D tells me. "Bottom line, I started selling dope. I was a rapper who became a dope dealer and he was a dope dealer who became a rapper, so we just kind of blended. Eazy and I were connected on the street, and it was pretty much that way even after I left the group." Krazy D calls himself an "original member" of N.W.A and has a writing credit on "Panic Zone," N.W.A's first single. He is also name-checked in "8 Ball": "Krazy D is down and in effect. We make hard-core jams, so fuck respect."
In the photo: As the only Latino ever photographed on a Niggaz With Attitude record, Krazy D stands out. Unlike MC Ren, Krazy D says he was actually a member of the group when the photo was taken. "The crazy part about that photo is that everybody that was there was there because they just kinda showed up, whether it was just giving someone a ride or whatever. I know MC Chip, him and Train had took Ren up there to be in the photo shoot. And Ren wasn't even in the group at the time of the photo shoot. There's this big whole thing about original members, with Ren and Yella, they came way after."
After the photo: Krazy D is probably best known for his very memorable singing part in "Dopeman," where he plays the part of an overdosed junkie's angry brother, threatening Eazy-E: "Yo, Mr. Dopeman, you think you're slick." Unlike Arabian Prince, Krazy D never sued to collect royalties. "I wrote half of 'Eazy-Duz-It,' I wrote my little thing on 'Dopeman,' I never got credit for it ... I read little things on the Internet, people trying to say that was Eazy trying to sound like a Mexican. No, that was me," he says.
Now: Krazy D lives in Las Vegas and does real estate appraisals for a living. He's been working on a wide variety of new music but hasn't released anything lately. He also says he's working on a documentary about his time in N.W.A called Ghetto Godz.
AKA: O'Shea Jackson, Purple Ice
Before the photo: The product of a middle-class nuclear family, Ice Cube started rapping in high school and formed a group called C.I.A. (Cru' In Action!) with Sir Jinx and Kid Disaster. He was tapped by Eric "Eazy-E" Wright to write rhymes for Ruthless Records' acts and wrote classics like "Boyz-n-the-Hood" before leaving Los Angeles to attend technical school in Phoenix for a year. Cube earned a degree in architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology, which closed in 1993. "The rap game wasn't looking too solid at that time, so I decided to go ahead and go to school," he once said.
In the photo: Details about Cube's early career are hard enough to come by without adding on the extra challenge of sorting out the minutia involved in an old record cover. Even Joel McIver, author of Ice Cube's book-length biography, has many details about the photo wrong. That's less a reflection of McIver's work, which is very good, than of the difficulty of tracking these guys down, and of the myths developed around N.W.A in the following years. No one has more to gain from those myths than Ice Cube, who is probably N.W.A's most image-conscious member.
After the photo: After returning from school, Cube stuck with N.W.A through Straight Outta Compton before leaving over a financial dispute with the group's manager, Jerry Heller, and with Eazy-E. Cube of course quickly established himself as a huge solo star. His first four solo records became classics, as he dropped tracks like the intensely controversial "Cave Bitch," the famous N.W.A diss track "No Vaseline" and "It Was a Good Day," arguably the greatest rap song ever recorded.
Now: Ice Cube's career could be a series in itself. Though his music career has fallen off over the years, he wrote the classic Friday films and has starred in flicks like Higher Learning, Three Kings and Barbershop. Cube recently announced he'll be releasing a new album, I Am the West, in July. Interestingly, he's said to be using beats from fellow Posse photo veteran Sir Jinx for the first time in nearly 20 years.
AKA: Granville Moton, Chip Dirty, Da Konvicted Felon
Before the photo: Chip was one of MC Ren's best friends and also hung out with Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, who grew up around the corner from him.
In the photo: Along with Ren, Chip actually looks like he's part of N.W.A as the group later looked — Kings hat, white T-shirt, jeans, black sneakers. Within a few months Chip and Ren's style became the group's style. "Early, early West Coast hip-hop, before it became gangsta, we were looking for an identity," Chip tells me. "That was just how we, Ren and I, dressed. We were from the C.P.T. so that's how we dressed — T-shirt, khakis — we dressed like the G's. That's how the G's did it, so that's how we did it."
After the photo: Chip went on to record a couple verses for Ren's solo records, including a spot on "One False Move" from Ren's 1993 debut, Shock of the Hour. He's also appeared on "In Da Ghetto" and "Bang Wit Me." He was name-checked in the first verse of Ren's "Olden Times," which is probably the best solo track Ren has released recently.
Now: Chip isn't doing anything with music and keeps a low profile online. His only Web presence is a BlackPlanet account. He lives in L.A. and works in transportation for an aerospace company. "I still write a little bit, but I'm just working, man, just basically taking care of wifey. I can still do it, I'm still sick with it, but the reality of life, it didn't crack the way it was supposed to crack."
AKA: Andre Romelle Young, Dr. J
Before the photo: Dr. Dre was already a notable musician, at least in Los Angeles. As "Dr. J," the house DJ at Eve's After Dark (Compton's answer to the Cavern Club) and a member of World Class Wreckin' Cru, Dre had already established himself, landing a regular radio gig and selling an estimated 50,000 copies of the Cru's records through unofficial channels.
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.
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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."