Next month, the much anticipated film “Straight Outta Compton” hits theaters around the world. The movie is based on one of rap music’s most notorious and influential musical groups ever, NWA.
NWA, which stands for Niggaz Wit Attitudes, meant a lot to people like me who grew up in the inner-city that the music was targeted for. Growing up poor, a person of color, in the shadows of a major city was a world that few knew about. And the few things that did come out were just the negative side of growing up in such a time and place.
Rarely did the world have a chance to see or hear what people like us went through. Bands like NWA changed that.
I remember having to sneak over to a friend’s house and listen to Eazy-E’s album, “Eazy-Duz-It”. We would have to listen to it low because we couldn’t let my friend’s mom hear the music since it was so foul and people under 18 were not allowed to buy that music.
Albums like that and NWA’s resonated with us. In a world of Bon Jovi and Def Leopard, we had our own musical representatives, be they NWA or Cypress Hill.
As the movie is getting ready to come out, I am nervous that the legacy of something so important be portrayed as correctly as possible. Even now, as the movie gets ready to come out, I find myself nervous. Not because of anything that the film is doing, but because of the reaction that it’s getting right now, which is, mostly positive.
You see, listening to NWA made you part of a small minority who embraced a world that was literally under attack from the government. In some places, such music was illegal and the cries to make the music criminal were loud. Now? Now everyone from all walks of life are excited to see the film, something I would have never thought would be possible when I was a child. The average white American is talking about how great the movie will be, meanwhile, 20 years ago, they would be the same people who would give you angry stares as you played it coming out of the trunk of your Monte Carlo.
Another thing that worries me is, the real story and legacy of NWA, namely, Eazy-E. Do not get it twisted, NWA was and always will be Eazy-E.
Since Eazy-E died of AIDS, the quintet has been cut down to four. Two have gone on to relative success while the other two have not. It seems that the movie is focusing on those that are more successful such as Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, whereas the other two, DJ Yella and MC Ren, are not getting the full stage time that they deserve. It is what it is, but what worries me the most is, will Eazy-E’s story be represented as well as it should be, or will it just be the Dr. Dre and Ice Cube movie with some Eazy sprinkled in here and there?
Here’s the NWA that I knew and that I remembered.
Their most well known song, “Boyz-N-Da-Hood” encapsulates NWA perfectly to a T. Written entirely by Ice Cube, the music — or beat — made by Dre, with the high pitched vocals of the group’s leader NWA Eazy-E performing the entire track. That song captures perfectly the way early NWA was oiled. Not to be forgotten, MC Ren provided some of the best lyrics ever and Yella helped with the production.
Eazy went from the reluctant rapper (he never rapped before until he was thrown into the studio for Boyz-N-Da-Hood) to a huge star with the biggest ego and the loudest mouth of the group.
NWA was a band, a group, made up with different members, but Eazy-E was a star, a straight up character that wanted fame and attention.
One of my more favorite songs was “We Want Eazy”. This song and video captures the sense of how much of a star Eazy came out to be. His was the only solo album upping his visibility. Eazy wasn’t a mere rapper, he was character bigger than life.
In the video, Eazy gets put in jail before a concert. He is upset because he is such a star and the world wants to see he perform. One of his cell mates, Ice Cube, helps him broadcast his performance from jail to his adoring fans.
The video then turns to the concert where the song is introduced by a dual vocal rap by Dre and Ren with Yella in the background, mixing it up. Later, Cube can be seen again, only this time at the concert as an adoring fan. The theme of Cube and everyone else playing second fiddle to Eazy was obvious.
As Eazy came on the screen, the crowd went wild. He was such a star that, even a video of him made the crowd go crazy. And then, in the climax, Eazy jumps threw the screen and onto the stage. He’s even dressed like Elvis from the hood.
I bring all this up because, I don’t want the world to forget how much NWA centered on Eazy. If everyone else were planets, he was the sun.
The next big thing to happen was when Ice Cube left the group.
As a child, I remember everyone saying bad things about Cube and laughing at the idea that he was going to come out with his own album. The word on the street was fast; Ice Cube was a traitor and wouldn’t amount to anything.
But then his album dropped.
It was better produced and the lyrics were insane. He touched on other inner-city issues that NWA hadn’t over some amazing beats.
NWA struck first at Cube. In the song “100 Miles and Runnin’” Dr. Dre said, “We started with five, but yo one couldn’t take it. So now it’s four ‘cause the fifth couldn’t make it. The numbers even, now I’m leavin’”.
Ice Cube’s diss to his former crew, NWA, was one of raps harshest disses, captured in the hit track “No Vaseline”.
Not to be out done, in “Alwayz Into Something” Dr. Dre can be heard saying to Ren, “Dre I was speakin’ to your bitch O’Shea,” a diss on Ice Cube’s real name.
After that, Dr. Dre would leave NWA as well and the spat between him and Eazy is well known.
Will the film stay true to all these things that happened? Yella was the only one of the crew to attend Eazy’s funeral, that’s how bad the animosity between the group had become towards the end.
Now, after a few decades have passed, the group is back together and has everyone’s blessing to make the film, even Eazy’s estate has agreed to it.
My only wish is that history isn’t rewritten and that the world doesn’t forget that the real man who changed music forever, Eazy-E, isn’t painted over.