Niggaz With Attitude(AKA N.W.A) was a hip hop group that was formed in Compton, California in 1986. Over the course of the five years the group was together, they continually redefined the face of West Coast hip hop in both lyrical and instrumental ways. N.W.A was one of the first gangsta rap groups to achieve widespread commercial success. |
Their second album, Straight Outta Compton, marked the beginning of the new gangsta rap era as the production and lyrics were revolutionary with respect to the previous early '80s releases of the genre. Many of the band members have gone on to lead successful solo careers.
Widely understood to be a drug-dealer,  Eazy-E began Ruthless Records. Ice Cube had already written a song for him, "Boyz-N-Tha-Hood", and when one of the bands on his label rejected it, Eazy-E decided to rap it himself. He formed the "Niggaz With Attitude" (N.W.A.) with Ice Cube as an MC and former World Class Wreckin' Cru members Dr. Dre and DJ Yella as producers as well as rappers Arabian Prince and The D.O.C.. Eazy-E released the party album N.W.A. and the Posse on his Ruthless Records label. Half of the songs were from N.W.A. After this, for unknown reasons Arabian Prince and The D.O.C. were no longer in N.W.A., but both continued to ghostwrite for the group. MC Ren was later added to N.W.A.
N.W.A first released the groundbreaking Straight Outta Compton (Original Release Date: 1988). Many consider it a wake-up call to the problems that were going on in the West, particularly in South Central Los Angeles. The only member who could possibly be considered an actual gangster in the group was Eazy-E, purported due to a drug-dealing past and criminal record; the group has acknowledged that the situations portrayed in the album are entirely fictional, and say they were not meant as any kind of metabiographical or political statement. Most of the songs on Straight Outta Compton were about life in the ghetto. The opening three songs seemed to express the feeling of the people in Compton. "Straight Outta Compton" reflected a rising anger in the city, "Fuck tha Police" talked of police violence, and "Gangsta Gangsta" spoke of gang life. While there were 13 tracks on the original album in total, it has become best known for these opening three.
Each member of N.W.A. made significant contributions to the album; both Ice Cube and to a lesser extent MC Ren contributed lyrics, with Eazy-E providing comical relief within his rhymes. Producers Dr. Dre and Yella composed beats for each song, and Dre occasionally rapped on the album as well.
Some of the lyrics were considered highly dangerous, especially those of "Fuck tha Police," their most notorious song. It resulted in Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sending a letter to Ruthless Records and its parent company Priority, advising the rappers that the law enforcement took "exception to such action (fucking the police)." The FBI's letter only served to draw more publicity to the group.
This was one of the albums which prompted the parental advisory label scheme. Yet, reflecting the change of attitudes with time, the parental advisory label today on a newly purchased copy of the album displays merely "WARNING MODERATE impact coarse language and/or themes".
Fans of all kind and critics alike consider Straight Outta Compton to be one of the greatest albums ever in gangsta rap, opening the door for more acts to come. Straight Outta Compton eventually went double-platinum and Rolling Stone magazine recently placed it 144th on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.
Contracts, money and especially the way of directing the group's productions and conceptions were often a source of disputes.
Ice Cube left the group in late 1989 when he discovered that Eazy and his manager, Jerry Heller, were making more money than the rest of the crew. He wasted little time in putting together his debut solo album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, which included "A Message to the Oreo Cookie", an interlude in which vehement insults are addressed to an unnamed individual - perhaps the increasingly gentrified Eazy-E, as the track concludes with a sneering "think about it - fuckin' sell-out."
N.W.A. responded slowly: in their next release, some five months later, they merely alluded neutrally to Ice Cube's departure, rapping in the title track of their EP 100 Miles and Runnin' that the group "started with five but one couldn't take it / So now it's four, 'cause the fifth couldn't make it".
However, the following year, the band's next full-length release, Efil4zaggin (aka Niggaz4Life) showed a clear animosity towards their former member. Insulting references to Ice Cube are found in several songs, and in the middle of the album the track "A Message to B.A." echoes his "Message to the Oreo Cookie". In this interlude, Ice Cube is first addressed by the name "Benedict Arnold", after the notorious traitor of the American Revolutionary War, but then named outright in a montage of abuse. "When we see yo' ass, we gon' cut yo' hair off an' fuck you with a broomstick," promises DJ Yella. The track ends with the voice of Dr. Dre echoing Ice Cube's original message: "Think about it - punk motherfucker."
The insults escalated: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted had avoided direct attacks on N.W.A., but on Ice Cube's second album, Death Certificate, Ice Cube fired back. He sampled and mocked the "Message to B.A." before embarking on a full-length rap, "No Vaseline", accusing N.W.A. and their associates of a variety of failings, including being phonies, fools and homosexuals. Some considered his call for the murder of Eazy-E excessive, and his references to Jerry Heller's religion prompted accusations of anti-Semitism ("you let a Jew break up my crew", he complains), which may have prompted the track's omission from the UK release of the album.
After Eazy-E's death and the break-up of N.W.A., tensions eased: Ice Cube teamed up with Dr. Dre to record a track for Snoop Dogg's short film and musical project Murder was the Case, and both Dr. Dre and MC Ren guested on the track "Hello" on Cube's 2000 album ‘‘War & Peace Vol. 2: The Peace Disc.''
Soon after, Dr. Dre found that Cube's words were true: Eazy and Heller were in fact getting more money, so Dre left the crew behind as well. This, more than anything else, meant the end of N.W.A. Dre then began his solo career, forming the legendary Death Row Records with former bodyguard Suge Knight. His first album was The Chronic. On the single "Fuck Wit Dre Day", Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg (now known as Snoop Dogg) poke fun at Eazy-E and on the video for "Dre Day" Eazy was a character named Sleazy-E which was running around desperately trying to get money.
Eazy-E responded by releasing the EP It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa. On the songs "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" (or "Real Compton City G's") and "Its On", Eazy-E makes fun of Dr. Dre by calling him a "she thang" and on the music video showing pictures of Dr. Dre wearing cosmetics and flashy clothes. Suge Knight also dissed Eazy-E AFTER his death, where he is talking about that you can get shot by AIDS and then saying: Like a Eazy E thang you know?. This was after Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg had left Death Row Records.
Though N.W.A. released only a compilation, two full albums, and an EP, its impact has been enormous, with its legacy enduring in the solo careers of the members. After the groundbreaking efforts of N.W.A., all of the members pursued different occupations.
Dr. Dre had a successful solo career as a rapper and producer. After N.W.A., he introduced the world to a new type of West Coast hip hop known as G-funk, which consists of P-Funk-influenced beats and samples and "gangsta" subject matter. The style grew to be very popular, as his debut album The Chronic went quadruple-platinum and launched the career of Snoop Dogg, who featured prominently on the album and went on to release his Dre-produced debut Doggystyle, which went 5x platinum. Such enormous success overcame New York's dominance on the hip hop scene, making West Coast rap a serious competitor.
Eazy-E remained the head of Ruthless Records and was the executive producer of some of the most acclaimed acts in the scene of gangsta rap, including Above the Law, his N.W.A. fellow MC Ren, and the mainstream success Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. His street credibility was damaged in Compton due to public political associations with the Republican Party, specifically President George H.W. Bush. Regardless, he continued to be, perhaps, the most influential and most representative image of the hardcore gangsta rap in hip hop circles.
Ice Cube also became a highly successful rapper. As of 2006, he has released six solo albums. Whereas N.W.A. rapped about gang life on the street, Ice Cube continued to include social commentary on his records on subjects such as gun control in the ghetto and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Like Dr. Dre, he has gained a lot of influence over other rappers such as Eminem and The Game. His political albums are most remembered for referring to America as AmeriKKKa, as well as addressing hypocrisy and issues such as ganglife and racism. All of his solo albums, except his first, debuted in the top 5 and were critically acclaimed. His first three albums were big hits, went multi-platinum and were geeted with rave reviews by critics.
Like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, MC Ren had differences of opinions with Eazy-E but not as deep as the other members. He began a solo career under Eazy-E's Ruthless Records label and after the death of his friend and producer, DJ Train, he departed from Eazy-E's side. Being a DJ, there was not much of a solo career for Yella to pursue, thus he was the lone member to remain loyal to Eazy-E after the breakup. He continued producing Eazy-E's records.
In 1989, The D.O.C. released his Dr. Dre-produced debut album, No One Can Do It Better. Dre's production was similar to his production work for N.W.A. at the time, but he also included one rap/rock song and a reggae-influenced track. At a time when virtually every well known California rapper was releasing gangsta rap albums, The D.O.C. released an LP with lyrics that more closely resembled the styling of East Coast lyricists.
The Arabian Prince found the going tough when he departed the group for a solo career in 1988. His debut Brother Arab on Orpheus barely scraped the bottom of the R&B and pop charts in 1989.
Compilations and collaborations
In 1994 Ice Cube reteamed with Dr. Dre for the song "Natural Born Killaz" for the soundtrack to the short film Murder Was the Case. The reunion was a hit, as it helped propel the album to #1. 1998 saw the beginning of a slight N.W.A. reunion when Cube and Dre were soon rejoined by MC Ren to record some new songs. They first recorded "Hello" for Ice Cube's sixth solo album War & Peace - Volume 2 (The Peace Disc), featuring the line "I started this gangsta shit / And this is the mutherfuckin' thanks I get?" Later, the three recorded "Chin Check"" for Ice Cube's movie Next Friday with Snoop Dogg in place of deceased Eazy-E. Yella was not included on either reunion tracks but was supposed to get involved later as he wasn't on the road with the Up in Smoke Tour along with the others, who were recording the tracks in a mobile studio. These tracks were planned to be a part of a conceptual comeback album of N.W.A. called Not These Niggaz Again, that was to be produced by Dre on the part of the beats and Ice Cube on the part of the lyrics. But due to the artists' fully booked schedules and some label problems, the new album never materialized. The main obstacles were coordinating three different record labels (Priority, No Limit, Interscope), foreclosing the copyright of the use of the name N.W.A., and endorsing the whole project to gain exclusive rights. Supposedly they did not succeed in realizing these goals, so those two songs were added to N.W.A.'s Greatest Hits album when it was remastered. There is another reunion on The D.O.C.'s album Deuce: "The Shit", on which The D.O.C., MC Ren, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Six-Two spit their verses. Dr. Dre and DJ Yella have nothing to do with the song. There is also a remix of the song called "Tha Shit" featuring Eazy E's son Lil' Eazy.
To cover the immense influence the members of N.W.A. accomplished as a unit and on their own, Capitol and Ruthless Records released The N.W.A Legacy, Vol. 1: 1988-1998 in 1998, an album that only contained three songs from the actual band, but contained many solo tracks from the five members. The success of the album caused the labels to release a second volume, The N.W.A Legacy, Vol. 2, two years later. It followed the same format of the first album, containing only three tracks from the actual band and many songs from them as solo artists.