Through generations of Black creativity and musical expression there have been few that come close to the iconic Niggaz With Attitudes also known as N.W.A. Trailblazers in rap culture the renowned controversial group were among the earliest and most significant groups to popularize the gangsta rap subgenre, and are widely considered one of the most notable and influential rap groups in the history of rap music. The five icons stormed the world with their socio-political critiques conveyed through gangsta rap music. A legendary tune that carried on from 1986 to 1991, the famous rap group faced a lot of criticism for their explicit lyrics on the political system but they endured selling over 10 million albums in the United States alone. Now, every generation following will have the opportunity to hear the Black experience of racism and excessive police brutality in Compton, California. N.W.A is a trailblazing pioneer of gangster rap music and used it as a tool to express themselves and give voice to the masses.
Straight Outta Compton
In 1988, N.W.A struck the world with their gangsta rap double-platinum album Straight Outta Compton which offered the world an insider perspective of the violence and brutality of the urban community of South Central L.A. Before the fantastic five became N.W.A they were nothing but boys with dreams from Compton, California.
One of the groups lead performers O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson was born on June 15, 1969. Ice Cube was raised in a two-parent, middle-class home in South Central, and was more interested in music and books than in gangs when he met Andre “Dr. Dre” Young. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre shared a passion for rap music and started the group. After N.W.A’s first collection, Ice Cube took a year off to study drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology. When he returned in 1988, the group started work on Straight Outta Compton.
On February 18, 1965 the trailblazer of rap music Dr. Dre was born. After his parents split up, Dre lived with his mother, who remarried several times. They moved around frequently, and eventually landed in the Compton area. At Centennial High School, Dre showed a talent for drafting, his interests didn’t lie in schoolwork he needed to create music. After receiving a music mixer for Christmas in 1984 Dr. Dre turned his home into his studio. For hours on end, he would use his creative talent taking pieces of different songs and sounds to make his own sound. His hard work all paid off when he become the beat doctor, Dr. Dre. He used his talents in N.W.A and was the producer for the music.
DJ Yella. Antoine Carraby was born December 11, 1967 in Compton, California. He was a loyal friend to Eazy-E and later became a member of the notable N.W.A. Yella was a DJ, record producer and film director. He eventually became a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru with Dr. Dre. Next, there is Lorenzo Patterson. Lorenzo Patterson was born on June 14, 1969, Ren was recruited to join N.W.A in 1988 while still attending high school. Ren has eventually recorded his own solo albums and wrote songs. He was a strong presence in the group.
Finally, Rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright was born on September 7, 1963, in Compton, California. Eazy-E dropped out of high school, worked as a drug dealer, and
used his income to co-found a label named Ruthless Records, with future manager Jerry Heller. He then partnered with the young, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who began creating music for Ruthless Records. Wright joined with the two artist to record “Boyz-n-the-Hood” as a premiere group Niggaz With Attitude, also known as N.W.A. These young men all came together to change the history of rap music and succeeded. While their music featured a lot of controversial lyrics about women, crime, drugs and politics that did not stop the albums from selling and their message has been heard for generations. Initially started by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the song written by the two “Boysz-n-the-Hood” was supported by Eazy E’s Ruthless Records Eazy-E’s debut single and was the first song widely recognized by the group. From then on the young masterminds became unstoppable and their songs spread like wildfire throughout the United States, everyone wanted to hear what N.W.A had to say.
What Happen To the Boyz?
Prior to Ice Cube attending Phoenix Institute of Technology for a year N.W.A had already recorded their first collection of music before he took his hiatus. He then returned in 1988 to the group, now with MC Ren and DJ Yella as faithful members, and they finished Eazy E’s solo album and began working on Straight Outta Compton one of their largest grossing albums featuring songs like “Fuck Tha Police”,”Express Yourself” and “Straight Outta Compton”. Released in 1989, the album sold 750,000 copies prior to the group even going on tour. While the group was on the road to fame, the album developed a media storm over the controversial “Fuck Tha Police” which resulted in a warning letter form the FBI to the group’s distributor, Priority Records. Regardless “Fuck Tha Police” became an anthem played by minorities experiencing police brutality everywhere. Their disregard for authority and ability to relate to the masses is what made the group iconic.
Unfortunately, after a incredibly successful tour Ice Cube got into a financial dispute with N.W.A’s manager, Jerry Heller. Ice Cube claims to this day that Heller had cheated him out of royalties for the albums and tours. In 1990 Heller and Cube settled the dispute out of court, and Cube decided to leave the group and carried on to a successful solo career. Even with the loss of an original member N.W.A continued recording and selling records but lost publicity and eventually retired to the D-LIST being that they fell out of critical favor. Finally in June 1991, the group reclaimed fame and made history again when EFIL4ZAGGIN (“Niggaz 4 Life” backward) became number one two weeks after its release. This was a fantastic accomplishment being that the group received strong criticism from politicians and were banned from some retail chains and popular radio stations, so making it to number one with the system pushing strongly against them was an amazing accomplishment.
Sadly, by early 1992 N.W.A was over and its members had scattered to solo careers. Dr. Dre left the group and Ruthless Records to co-found Death Row Record with Marion “Suge” Knight, known for his gang affiliation and brutality. That is why it was no surprise when Eazy-E later claimed in a lawsuit that Suge Knight had negotiated Dr. Dre’s departure with intimidating baseball bats and pipes. Even MC Ren decided to pursue a solo career in which he released Kizz My Black Azz an EP that went platinum and was number 12 in 1992. Ice Cube had by far the most successful solo career that began with the release of multiple albums such as AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate and many more. He then later pursued a career in film in which he starred in a multitude of films such as the Fridays series, Boyz In the Hood, Higher Learning, and more. Much like his music Career he always made sure to be apart of films that accurately portrayed the voice or life of African Americans. Nonetheless, his career in music and film was very successful. Aside from Ice Cube, Dr. Dre had the most chart success. In 1993 Dre released his triple platinum album The Chronic, which appeared on many top hits list in 1993.
A clear sign of bad blood between the now solo artist was when Dr. Dre used his solo album and the corresponding videos to ridicule Eazy-E. To no surprise gangsta rapper Eazy-E repsonded with 187um Killa which became number five on the pop top hits and number one for R&B. The rivalry between the main three artist had become apparent, however two years later when Eazy-E split from the longtime mischievous manager Jerry Heller communication between the members improved rapidly. Soon Dr. Dre, Eazy, Cube and more discussed an N.W.A reunion project that excited the masses. Unfortunately in 1995 Eazy-E died from complications with AIDS. Prior to his passing the members of N.W.A all paid a visit to the passing gangsta and each said their goodbyes to their lifetime friend.
Impact of Expression
“Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella caused a seismic shift in hip-hop when they formed N.W.A in 1986. With its hard-core image, bombastic sound and lyrics that were equal parts poetic, lascivious, conscious and downright in-your-face, N.W.A spoke the truth about life on the streets of Compton, then a hotbed of poverty, drugs, gangs and unemployment.”
Gerrick D. Kennedy, Times.
While they may have began as young men from Compton, California each artist transformed into Niggaz With Attitude. Their social and political explicit lyrics was understood by all and it fueled the transformation of the music industry and of life in the hood. Their music influences and relates so much to our lives today. The emergence of the Worlds Most Dangerous Group revolutionized the rap industry. They presented themselves as public enemies but were far from an enemy to African Americans. They helped redefine the genre through aggressive pro-Black music that was intellectual, politically charged and socially involved. Their angry approach is what made their music so passionate and appealing to the population.
Where many would see terror and underdevelopment, the group celebrated the hedonism and violence of gangs and drugs that created war zones in neighborhoods and captured it all through explicit lyricism and pride in their ability to evolve in the face of adversity. No matter how unappealing the stories may have been in the eyes of the law or the population the group spoke of everything and held back nothing for no one, true street reporters. These young men were unapologetic, the streets personified. Not phased by respectability politics the group allowed their frustrations about growing up young and Black on the streets of South Central to become their overarching message to the masses. Gangs, violence, poverty, and the devastating crack epidemic swept through Black neighborhoods. People were angry and restless and it was clear that the communities were on the brink of a socio-political explosion. With much criticism N.W.A still managed to document the dark and grim realities of Black neighborhoods like urban newsmen.
The album “Straight Outta Compton” was revered for giving voice to a disenfranchised community and disrupted the system of politicians who ignored the community yet were given the responsibility to advocate for them. Black adolescents and young adults who lived the harsh reality of the street life were looking for an anchor, something to hold on to through this era of confusion and crime, and this album was that anchor. The albums depictions of urban nightmares and realities were a detrimental response to the growing subjugation from the Reagan era of politics that negatively transformed the nation and was economic devastation for metropolitan Los Angeles. N.W.A introduced the population to the true enemy of the time.
Finally, Eazy-E founding Rutheless Records paved a way for many Black musicians who later began their own record label. Eazy started his record label as an escape from his dope dealing days on the streets and it became the number one independent label in the industry during the time and the largest black-owned individual start ups since Berry Gordy’s legendary Motown Records empire. Without Eazy beginning his own label from money he earned on the streets, record labels like Death Row, Bad Boy, Cash Money and many more may not have been able to do the same. Eazy layed the foundation for gangsters to transform into record executives. Would we even have Roc-A-Fella Records, began by the crack selling turned record executive Jay Z had Eazy not done it less than a decade prior? These men, all legendary in their own rights are trail blazzers in the industry and deserve to be celebrate for their political and social engagement.
1987: N.W.A and The Posse
1988: Straight Outta Compton
1990: 100 Miles and Runnin EP
1996: N.W.A Greatest Hits
1998: Straight Outta Compton: N.W.A 10th Anniversary Tribute
1999: The N.W.A Legacy Vol. 1: 1988-1998
2002: The N.W.A Legacy, Vol. 2
2006: The Best of N.W.A: The Strength of Street Knowledge
2008: Family Tree