N.W.A – Rap Group (1987-95)
The N.W.A rap group was at first criticized as a misogynistic hip hop crew that glorified drugs and crime. But the Compton-based rap group bought the political and social issues of California’s Black youth to the mainstream and coined the term “ gangsta rap.”
Their explicit lyrics were occasionally offensive, but their music spot-lighted California’s gang crisis, illegal drug trade and police abuses from a street perspective.
The group spawned hip hop icons, such as Easy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Mc Ren and many others. In 1988, the group released Straight Outta Compton with the highly controversial song F@#k tha Police, which brought attention to police brutality and racial profiling.
The song sparked howls of protest from law enforcement agencies. Some police agencies refused to provide security for the group’s concerts. Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless Records, the company co- founded by Easy-E through Priority Records, warning the rappers that “advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action.”
However, the FBI’s letter only helped draw more publicity to the group. The letter has a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, according to Wikipedia.
Straight Outta Compton became one of the first albums to have the Parental Advisory label that read, “WARNING: Moderate impact coarse language and/or themes.”
The group was banned from many mainstream radio stations. In spite of that, the al- bum went double platinum and the group has sold more than 10 million units in the United States alone.
The songs Express Yourself and Gangsta Gangsta were also big hits, portraying the anger and worldview of the innercity youth.
But it was the group’s first songs, Boyz-n-the-Hood and 8 Ball, that explained to the world how the Black and Brown communities had to navigate California’s 1980s gang culture. The song Dope- man captured the inner city drug epidemic and war on drugs, with lyrics like “You sold crack to my sister and now she sick.”
Those songs were released in 1987 on N.W.A and the Posse—the group’s first compilation album. The album reached number 39 on Billboard Magazine’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Eazy-E is credited for assembling N.W.A and co-found- ed Ruthless Records, with Jerry Heller. N.W.A originally consisted of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and producer Arabian Prince. Ice Cube came later from the rap group C.I.A. and DJ Yella joined as well. Yella and Dre were both former members of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, a working group of DJs and producers. The two provided the high production values for Ruthless Records.
In 1991, the group’s final studio album together, Efil4zaggin (Niggaz4Life spelled back- wards), made its debut at number one on the Billboard 200 sales charts, becoming the first hardcore rap album to do so.
Soon afterward the group disbanded, due to financial disputes. Ice Cube filed a lawsuit against band manager Jerry Heller to gain a larger share of the profits for Straight Outta Compton, arguing that he (Ice Cube) had written most of the lyrics for the project. The case was settled out of court.
Ice Cube went solo and dropped AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) and Death Certificate (1991), which featured the scathing diss record No Vaseline, a response to N.W.A’s 100 Miles and Runnin, a diss record towards Ice Cube. Both of Ice Cube’s albums went certified platinum. His lyrics highlighted harsh socio-political commentary and storytelling and he was accused of being anti-White and anti-Semitic. It featured songs like Black Korea and My Skin Is My Sin.
Ice Cube transitioned into acting and business ventures. He starred in Boyz n the Hood (1991), and he wrote and starred in the Friday film series. Also, he was featured in Barbershop. He founded Lynch Mob Records and was part of the rap group Westside Connection. Currently, he has founded Big3, a three-on-three basketball league featuring re- tired NBA players.
Ice Cube’s contributions pushed the boundaries of lyrical content for mainstream music and film. He still is listed among the best rappers of all time.
Dr. Dre also become a platinum-selling solo artist in his own right, releasing The Chronic (1992) album under Death Row Records and Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath and 2001 in 1999 under his own record label. He is credited for popularizing the West Coast G-funk music era. (Michael Harris, co-founder of Death Row Records, is a former editor in chief of San Quentin News.)
Dr. Dre left Death Row Records and founded After-math Entertainment and Beats Electronics. He has produced albums for and overseen the careers of many rappers such as 2Pac, Eminem, The D.O.C., Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, The Game, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak.
He is regarded as one of the top music producers. He has won six Grammy awards, including Producer of the Year, non-classical. He is ranked number 56 on the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list by Rolling Stone. In 2018, he was ranked the third richest figure in hip hop, with a net worth of $820 million.
Dr.Dre has also appeared in the films Set It Off, The Wash and Training Day.
Eazy-E was known as the “Godfather of Gangsta Rap.” In 1995, he died from AIDS. However, he helped set the stage for rappers owning their own record labels. He built Ruthless Records, with acts such as N.W.A, Bone Thugs in Harmony, J.J. Fad and singer Michel’le.
MC Ren released several gold and platinum-selling al- bums,includingKizzMyBlack Azz and Shock of the Hour. Ren and Eazy-E resolved their estrangement shortly before Eazy-E’s death in 1995 after two years of not talking to each other.
The other group members finally reconciled to do more music together in the later years.
In 2015, the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton was released by Universal. The film grossed more than $200 mil- lion worldwide and received positive reviews.
N.W.A ranks number 83 on the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list by Rolling Stone. In 2016, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for some kids out of Compton and South Central Los Angeles.