N.W.A. Biography

The initials stand for Niggers With Attitude, which was the perfect embodiment of this Los Angeles crew’s outlook. They comprised Dr. Dre (André Romell Young, 18 February 1965, South Central, Los Angeles, California, USA), DJ Yella (b. Antoine Carraby, Compton, Los Angeles, California, USA), MC Ren (b. Lorenzo Patterson, Compton, Los Angeles, California, USA) and Eazy-E (b. Eric Wright, 7 September 1963, Compton, California, USA, d. 26 March 1995, Los Angeles, California, USA). Founder member Ice Cube (b. O’Shea Jackson, 15 June 1969, Crenshaw, South Central Los Angeles, California, USA), arguably the most inspiring of the rapping crew, departed for a solo career after financial differences with the band’s manager (which would later be recorded in a highly provocative song that attacked him for, amongst other things, being Jewish). However, all the band’s members had long CVs: Dr. Dre had DJed for World Class Wreckin’ Crew, and had produced Ice Cube’s first band, CIA. Both Eazy-E and DJ Yella had recorded and produced several rap discs under their own names, the former funding his Ruthless Records label, allegedly, through illegal activities. Other early members of the posse included Arabian Prince and D.O.C. .

N.W.A.’s first single was ‘Boyz ’N The Hood’, marking out their lyrical territory as guns, violence and ‘bitches’. Though N.W.A. And The Posse was their debut album, they only performed four of the raps on it, and to all intents and purposes, Straight Outta Compton counts as their first major release. For those attracted to the gangsta rappers first time round, this was more of the same, only sharper and more succinct. A landmark release, in its aftermath rap became polarized into two distinct factions; traditional liberal (reflecting the ideas of Martin Luther King) and a black militancy redolent of Malcolm X, albeit much less focused and reasoned. In 1989, the FBI investigated Straight Outta Compton’s infamous ‘Fuck Tha Police’, after which Ice Cube left the group. It set a precedent for numerous actions against N.W.A., including the first time anyone in the music industry had received a threatening letter from the FBI. Efil4zaggin (Niggaz4life spelt backwards), which made US number 1, also surpassed the outrage factor of its predecessor by addressing gang rape and paedophilia, in addition to the established agenda of oral sex, cop killing and prostitution. Musically, it contained furious blasts of raggamuffin and 70s funk, but that was somehow secondary. It did reveal some humour in the band, i.e., on ‘Don’t Drink That Wine’ (which jokingly encourages drug abuse instead), or lines like, ‘Why do I call meself a nigger, you ask me? Because my mouth is so muthafuckin’ nasty, Bitch this bitch that nigger this nigger that, In the meanwhile my pockets are getting fat.’ However, such wit was stretched paper-thin over a clutch of expletives and obscenities. The UK government used the Obscene Publications Act to seize copies but were forced to return them following legal action. Ultimately the BPI withdrew their support from Island Marketing’s successful action. Counsel for the defence was Geoffrey Robertson QC, who had played a similar role in the infamous Oz trial of 1971. Expert testimony from Wendy K of Talkin’ Loud Records, rap author David Toop and psychologist Guy Cumberbatch of Aston University swung the case. This prompted a variety of statements from British MPs outlining their intention to toughen up the law. However, even the anti-censorship lobby had to concede that N.W.A.’s by turns ludicrous (‘Find ’Em Fuck ’Em And Flee’) and dangerous (‘To Kill A Hooker’) songs blurred the generally positive influence of the rap movement.

As the decade progressed it became obvious that the remaining members of N.W.A. were spending more time on their solo projects, Dr. Dre, in particular, going on to enjoy huge success both as an influential artist and producer with Death Row Records, the phenomenally successful label he co-founded with Marion ‘Suge’ Knight. His acrimonious parting from Eazy-E over monies owed through Ruthless Records was celebrated in records by both artists. The latter succumbed to AIDS and died in 1995 through complications following a collapsed lung after having been hospitalized for some time. Yella has been quiet, co-production credits on Ruthless and promoting his pornographic website aside, while Ren has released a number of disappointing solo albums.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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