411 Music Hall Of Fame Class of 2010: N.W.A.
N.W.A.’S MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Former drug dealer Eazy-E began Ruthless Records with Jerry Heller on March 3, 1987 and gave a platform for what would soon be one of the most influential and controversial groups of all time.
I doubt anybody could have imagined the levels of success that N.W.A would see if their debut album was any guideline. N.W.A. And The Posse looks very much like an album rushed together and features more artists than one would reasonably believe classified as a ‘posse’ of rappers. No, it is their second album, Straight Outta Compton which really began the N.W.A takeover of the airwaves and ears of the youth in America.
The lineup at that time was Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella, names that may be renowned now, but at the time were relative unknowns.
Straight Outta Compton was released in August of 1988 and is often considered to be THE album that ushered in the gangsta rap sub-genre in hip-hop. It also came at a time when the East Coast was dominating and helped bring the West Coast back into the forefront of the hip-hop scene.
Predominantly written by Ice Cube, the lyrics on Straight Outta Compton took on a highly political and social-commentary stance. Some critics felt that the lyrics were glorifying gang violence however, more would point out that the group was not embellishing or dramatizing their words but calling it as they saw it. In reality, the rappers themselves didn’t call their music ‘gangsta rap’ but instead, ‘reality rap’ as it was simply dealing with events that took place in their everyday lives.
Of course, you can’t mention Straight Outta Compton and not mention “Fuck Tha Police”. Not only is this song one of the most widely recognizable hip-hop songs of all time, it is a song that took the group from being a local racket of noise to what was ultimately viewed by the FBI as a potential threat to the safety of the Nation’s law enforcement agencies. Very rarely are hip-hop artists contacted by government officials, with most being content to leave the artists and their genre alone. Such was the nature of “Fuck Tha Police” though that the FBI stepped in and wrote a letter to Ruthless Records expressing displeasure over the songs content and subsequently caused many security teams at venues N.W.A was meant to perform in to pull out, thus leaving the group without any protection. Currently this letter can be viewed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Come 1990 though and the group began showing signs of a breakup. Ice Cube left in early 1990 over royalty disputes. Although Cube refrained from mentioning his N.W.A brethren in his album, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, his ex-group members weren’t so considerate and as a result, a full-blown feud between N.W.A and Ice Cube began.
The resulting N.W.A album was 100 Miles And Runnin’ which saw the group throw jabs at Ice Cube numerous times throughout the record. Since Ice Cube had written the majority of the lyrics on Straight Outta Compton, the album and subsequent works were different. The lyrics weren’t as politically charged and didn’t feature as much social commentary as they had previously but instead became more focused on the gangsta rap lifestyle. Dr. Dre even took up a new style of rapping to help fill the gap left by Ice Cube.
The feud between Ice Cube and N.W.A is notable for producing one of most heralded and viscous diss tracks of all time with Cube unleashing “No Vaseline” upon the group. It’s significant as N.W.A didn’t manage to record a response to this track; the previously outspoken and aggressive group had been silenced.
It’s also worth mentioning that N.W.A certainly weren’t pretending when it came to acts of violence or living the gangsta rap life that is so often emulated, but never replicated in today’s hip-hop scene. In fact, on January 27 in 1991, Dr. Dre assaulted the host of Pump It Up Dee Barnes in response to an interview she had conducted with Ice Cube previously where the group felt they were portrayed in a negative light.
N.W.A’s downward spiral continued with their album in 1991, Niggaz4Life being the group’s last. It did see the beginnings of Dr. Dre’s G-Funk style and is often considered to feature some of Dre’s most impressive work. The album is also referred to as Efil4Zaggin due to various outlets refusing to stock the album and heavy censoring necessary to remove the word ‘nigga’ from the title. Interestingly, the album debuted on the Billboard Charts at #2, but then moved to #1 the following week, a distinction held also by only Michael Jackson.
After Dr. Dre’s less than cordial departure from Ruthless Records, both he and Eazy-E attacked each other on their subsequent albums until Eazy-E passed away due to AIDS in 1995. At this point, all bad blood between the remaining former members of the group stopped. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have often expressed feelings of regret and apology for their friend in their songs and the members will occasionally reunite on one of their albums. Currently, there are talks of the N.W.A story being turned into a biopic for release sometime this year.
Why N.W.A. Was Selected:
N.W.A belong in our Hall Of Fame for a number of reasons, but the main one is that they ushered in a whole new sub-genre of hip-hop. No that’s not really accurate wording, I think a better way to describe it would be that N.W.A helped pioneer a new sub-genre of hip-hop by kicking in the door to the house of hip-hop and holding the inhabitants at gunpoint. For that achievement alone, they belong here but the controversy and infamy they developed during their Straight Outta Compton days has gone down in the history books of music and also America for their iconic track, “Fuck Tha Police” and the response of the FBI to the situation.
What makes their achievements even more impressive is the realization that they essentially did this with just one album, and to a lesser extent, one song, as their later works are sadly marred by the fact that the group was falling apart.
N.W.A didn’t just talk about life as it was on the streets of Compton, the message they were trying to portray in their Straight Outta Compton album was one of free speech and rebelliousness against the corrupt nature of the Government and law enforcement agencies.
Such was the message of anti-censorship that when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation banned “Fuck Tha Police” from the airwaves, one radio station protested by playing “Express Yourself” continuously for 24 hours, approximately 360 times in total. I doubt there exists another group in the world that could inspire such a protest, nor will there ever be again.