Straight Outta Compton

By Todd A. Smith

            If you were a hip-hop head in the late 1980s, chances are you grew up listening to the music of pioneering “gangsta” rap group N.W.A. as well as their solo efforts.  From the group’s controversial song “F-The Police,” to the G-funk sound of Dr. Dre’s pivotal album, The Chronic, the members of this Compton, Calif.-based group are still influencing the rap-game over 20 years later.

            However, it was the late Eric “Eazy-E” Wright who laid the foundation for the group and its label, Ruthless Records, and created the sound of hard core West Coast hip-hop that is beginning to see resurgence on the charts with the popularity of artists like The Game and Guerilla Black.

            Wright grew up on the impoverished streets of Compton, Calif. and like many of his peers, turned to drug dealing as a means of survival.  However, he turned those profits into a legitimate business by founding Ruthless Records in the 1980s.

            While having a successful solo career that was aided by the Ice Cube-penned hit, “Boys N’ The Hood,” Wright would later form the super group N.W.A. in 1986.  The group released its first LP, N.W.A. and The Posse in 1987 to little fanfare, but struck platinum with their 1988 follow-up Straight Outta Compton.

            Internal tension over finances led to Ice Cube’s departure in 1989 with Dr. Dre following Ice Cube’s lead by leaving the group in 1992, essentially marking the end of the group’s successful run.

            However, Wright’s battle with AIDS, which would eventually take his life in 1995, led to reconciliation between Wright and his former band mates, and members Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and M.C. Ren occasionally record and perform together to this day.

            Now, Wright’s son, Lil Eazy-E, is following in his famous father’s footsteps by releasing his debut album Prince of Compton, which is scheduled to drop on September 16, 2008.  The first single off the LP will be “What We’re Claimin.”

            Lil Eazy’s music has been described as a hard-core depiction of the mean streets of Compton, Calif. and the struggles his family endured as a result of his father’s untimely death of AIDS.  Nevertheless, many in the hip-hop game have questioned his street credibility because of the success of his famous father.

            “A lot of people probably think I grew up in the suburbs of southern California, living a privileged life.  What they don’t know is I was born and raised in the same house as my father, the oldest of nine kids.  We were a big family that all grew-up together.  I lived the same life as my father, and I’m giving you that life on The Prince of Compton,” says Lil Eazy-E.

            Lil-Eazy-E also works with former Ruthless Records artists, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Ice Cube, who owe much of their early success to his late father, on the new album.

            “Ice Cube was a huge influence on my record,” says Lil Eazy-E.  “Knowing him as a kid and then working with him as a man was a great learning experience.”

            And over 20 years later, the lessons taught by Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, M.C. Ren, Ice Cube and D.J. Yella are still resonating throughout hip-hop, as many young artists continue to emulate their sound and learn from their success.

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