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“Straight Outta Compton” and Slammin’ Rap with N.W.A.’s Eazy E
The bio-pic Straight Outta Compton is said to explore the explosive story of the relatively short-lived west coast gangsta rappers N.W.A., the self-professed “World’s Most Dangerous Group,” but we found a relatively non-dangerous interview from Volume 2 of a VHS video magazine called Slammin’ Rap (1990), where white girl rapper Tairrie B. quizzes N.W.A.’s Eazy-E about his love for hair metal rockers Guns ‘N’ Roses, the difference between N.W.A and 2 Live Crew and other curiosities.
At the time of this interview, Tairrie B. was signed to Eazy E’s label Ruthless Records (under a new imprint called Comptown Records), eventually releasing her first album, The Power Of A Woman, before Eazy E released her from her recording contract just a few weeks before his 1995 death; she then changed the direction of her musical output from rap to rock, forming Manhole (later Tura Satana), My Ruin and LVRS.
N.W.A — short for Niggaz Wit Attitude — were only together for just a few years, breaking up following 1991’s Niggaz4Life (which came out after Ice Cube had left the group after the release of their debut album, 1988’s Straight Outta Compton). Their personal history was tumultuous, and there was much in-fighting and even violence between the members themselves, particularly between their leader, Eazy-E, and their star producer, Dr. Dre, who fought so vehemently both in court and on record that representatives of their labels sometimes got into physical altercations.
It goes all the way back to at least 1987, practically from the beginning, when — after signing with Priority Records — N.W.A. were recording tracks for their second album (technically, their first album was N.W.A. and the Posse, compiled from various Dr. Dre-produced tracks, and released on Macola Records on November 6, 1987) at Audio Achievements, a studio in Torrance, California, and one day, taking a break from recording, they stepped outside and ended up getting brutally harassed by racist local cops who professed to hating them for simply looking like gangbangers. We can almost imagine the various members giving it right back to the cops, saying “Fuck Tha Police,” and then turning that vicious hate-filled rant into a monumental track where Cube declares “When I finish, it’s gonna be a bloodbath.”
The hatred wasn’t strictly reserved for the cops, either: on the follow-up album, N.W.A. continued glorifying black-on-black crime, not to mention hate-filled misogynistic rants about gang rape and beating women to death, tracks and skits titled “To Kill A Hooker,” “One Less Bitch,” “Findum Fuckum & Flee,” “She Swallowed It,” and “I’d Rather Fuck You.”
The local Los Angeles newspaper review of the Straight Outta Compton album by Dennis Hunt (L.A. Times, March 19, 1989) said the album “jammed reality down our throats,” pointing out that “underground rap — angry and full of the coarsest street language — is slithering into the mainstream, dragging the reality of the black ghetto with it.” Hunt went on to say that many would find “Fuck Tha Police” and “Gangsta Gansta” “downright shocking,” although he also said that much of the material on the album was also “funny, but unsettling — like Richard Pryor’s best and darkest humor about the black community.”
Sometimes the critics went out of their way to praise Dre’s skills as a producer, however. Another Times scribe, Jonathan Gold, who wrote a major early profile of N.W.A when he was at L.A. Weekly, tackled Dr. Dre’s multi-platinum album The Chronic in late ’92 while lashing against one-dimensional depictions of the producer as little more than a gangster. In a piece headlined “The Rap’s Flat, But Ya Can’t Beat the Beat,” he called Dre the “N.W.A apostate and architect of the Compton sound,” and dubbed him “an enigma: a creator of an entire school of rock ‘n’ roll whose criminal record is better known than his platinum records. Plenty of news-print has been devoted to his alleged thuggishness, relatively less to his artistry — which is on a par with Phil Spector’s or Brian Wilson’s.”
Reviews like these, of course, positive or negative, it didn’t matter a wit to young American rap fans, who loved N.W.A., and Straight Outta Compton — released on August 9, 1988 — sold nearly 500,000 copies in just six weeks despite relatively no radio airplay, making it one of the top-selling albums in the country for several weeks in a row. It was certified double platinum status with three million in sales on March 27, 1992, becoming the first album to reach platinum status with no airplay support and without any major tours.
And now we have a bio-pic, which depicts the full rise and fall of the “world’s most dangerous group,” which Dr. Dre was said to be ambivalent about participating until Ice Cube took control by recruiting Friday director F. Gary Gray to direct.
Straight Outta Compton actually began as a project that evolved out of a documentary Welcome To Death Row, by white filmmaker S. Leigh Savidge, who began writing the first rough drafts for a N.W.A. bio-pic after first interviewing people associated with the group while making the documentary for the Hawthorne-based Xenon Pictures. He couldn’t shake their story out of his system, and began collaborating with researcher Alan Wenkus, and the pieces started to come together when N.W.A’s white Jewish manager, Jerry Heller, began to fill them in on the details.
They wrote some 20 drafts of the script, which New Line Pictures bought, but the film company insisted that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube become involved, which they did (eventually Universal took over the project.)
Cube, Dre and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright produced Straight Outta Compton, which features Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube: Corey Hawkins plays Dre; Jason Mitchell plays Eazy-E; Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella; and Aldis Hodge plays MC Ren. The movie is said to now lionize Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and the late Eazy-E while vilifying its antagonists: manager Jerry Heller, Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and LAPD cops.
Heller, incidentally, was not asked to participate in the film, and wasn’t even consulted even though he acted as Eazy E’s right-hand man throughout much of his career, with Heller and Eazy E forming Ruthless Records and Heller landing N.W.A. a deal with Priority Records after a show in a roller rink. Heller and Eazy E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, fought in court for years, with Heller claiming unpaid management fees and Woods-Wright accusing him of fraud and misuse of Ruthless Records’ funds. In the end they settled and signed mutual non-disparagement agreements.
He’s concerned now that he may be portrayed (by Paul Giamatti) like a monster in the movie, and already knows that Ice Cube’s track, “No Vaseline,” in which Cube calls the other N.W.A. members “Uncle Toms” and features the lyrics about him – “Get rid of that devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple/’Cause you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew/With a white Jew telling you what to do” — is featured on the film’s soundtrack.
The main setting for the film — uh, Compton, a suburb in South Central Los Angeles, it’s right there in the title, yo — is not a place you can recreate on a soundstage, so the producers had to scout locations in the actual city, which remains a tense locale due to rival gangs of Crips and Bloods battling it out on the streets for territory.
Dre, Eazy-E and MC Ren had grown up in the southeastern part of Compton, which is Crips territory, and they would often practice in the garage behind Eazy’s mother’s house on South Muriel Avenue. In fact, Eazy’s son Lil Eazy hoped the Straight Outta Compton filmmakers would shoot these scenes in the actual house, which is still owned by Eazy’s mother, but they declined and, in fact, mostly avoided locations on the east side of Compton.
Even though N.W.A. collectively were never actually members of one specific gang — although Cube refers to them as a “gang” on their single “Straight Outta Compton” — there were some difficulties early on in their history as Eazy-E and MC Ren were both affilated with the Crips, often called the Piru Street Crips, after Piru Street in Compton. Instead, N.W.A. decided they would avoid wearing red, Crips colors, and stick to wearing black and silver (which were the L.A. Raiders football team colors).
So, when it came time to recreate shooting locations (yeah, right … shooting with a camera is what we meant), they were faced with a dilemma of having to negotiate with real Crips, but the filmmakers hired an actor, Cle “Bone” Sloane, who had worked on the movie Training Day, only he happened to be affiliated with the rival Bloods gang, not the Crips.
It was Sloane’s job to make sure the film remained authentic, and to keep local gangstas from killing anyone involved with the film while they were shooting in east Compton. Bone’s specific duties included recruiting “known gang members to serve as cast members and extras for the filming, as well as to provide security for on-location shooting in gang-controlled neighborhoods.”
The problem is, Sloane had a more than ten-year history of issues with the legendary Suge Knight, owner of Death Row Records, who figures into the story, and it was listed among his job duties that he was to keep Knight away from the set, to offset any problems. In January this year, after the filming of a Straight Outta Compton promotional spot at Compton barbershop Holiday Styles, the crew broke for lunch and headed to their trailers on North Bullis Road, in a Crips-controlled area, but then Knight showed up in his red Ford F-150 Raptor, which made Dre’s people nervous, because they though he might be upset about not being involved with the film project. He was, apparently more than slightly upset that he had not yet been compensated for his willingness to allow an actor to portray him in the film.
Knight apparently told Ice Cube’s security staff leader, known as Kebo, “I come in peace. I didn’t come down here to start no problems, that’s why I came by myself, “ but he wanted to meet with Cube, and by all accounts he was calm and not hostile, and said the meeting didn’t even have to take place that particular day. Sloane, however, tasked with keeping Knight at bay, apparently got in the big man’s face and they had an angry exchange before L.A. sheriffs intervened, and Knight left the scene.
It was that same day, apparently, when Knight was headed back home when he heard from Terry Carter, who had formed a record label called Heavyweight with Ice Cube. Carter offered to help resolve Knight’s issues with the filmmakers, and they agreed to meet to discuss at Tam’s Burgers on West Rosecrans Avenue, and did, speaking through their car windows in the parking lot, but Sloane, who had apparently trailed Knight, arrived at Tam’s as well, hopping a fence and according to an eyewitness, he then began to punch Knight through his truck’s window. Knight drove off rapidly, in the process running over Sloane’s ankles — and killing his friend Carter, who’d gotten in the way, by running over him with his SUV.
If you follow the news, you know that Knight is currently facing murder charges for what happened that day, and claims he wasn’t attempting to run anyone over, certainly not his friend Carter, although there are additional legal troubles: Straight Outta Compton‘s filmmakers currently face a wrongful-death suit filed by Carter’s widow, Lillian Carter, who is seeking unspecified damages against Universal Studios, Dre, Cube, Tam’s Burgers and others. The suit alleges that the defendants knew, or should have known, that Knight and Bone were likely to engage in “violent confrontation” if they encountered one another, and that their dispute could lead to collateral damage.
Meanwhile, the imminent release of Straight Outta Compton (Universal/Legendary Pictures; 147 minutes, rated R) is upon us now, and according to surviving N.W.A member MC Ren, who claims to be a fan of the film, it is “80 percent” accurate.
Straight Outta Compton, which cost around $28-29 million to make, could bring in as much as $33 to $43 million at the box office, based on projections, but Universal has a more modest forecast in the mid-to-high $20-million range. Theaters chains showing the film, by the way, have stepped up security so hopefully there’ll be no more deaths — including dead hookers and rival Crips and Bloods gang members — associated with the film on its vital opening weekend.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dre is trying to focus on the positive and will be releasing his first album in sixteen years when the Dre-produced Straight Outta Compton soundtrack is released, and he claims that he’s donating his artist royalties from the album to fund an arts center in Compton.
Eazy E (real name: Eric Lynn Wright) married Tomica Woods-Wright just weeks before he died of complications from AIDS in 1995, age 31, and Straight Outta Compton goes out of its way to note that Eazy E likely contracted the disease while having unprotected heterosexual sex (he fathered seven children with six different women).
Woods-Wright was left in charge of his entire Ruthless Records empire, which had released platinum albums from artists including Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, The D.O.C. and Eazy himself. Most critically, she inherited the rights to N.W.A’s music, which were needed in order to draw a major studio’s interest in the film.
DJ Yella, who along with MC Ren was a consultant on the film, was the only member of N.W.A. to attend Eazy’s funeral.