Niggaz Wit Attitudes

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NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) was an American hip hop group from Compton, California. It was one of the earliest and most significant popularizers of the gangsta rap and West Coast hip hop subgenres. Active from 1986 to 1991, the rap group endured controversy owing to their music’s explicit lyrics that many viewed as being disrespectful of women, as well as its glorification of drugs and crime.

The group was subsequently banned from many mainstream American radio stations. In spite of this, the group has sold over 10 million units in the US alone. The group was also known for their deep hatred of the police system, which sparked much controversy over the years. Their debut album ‘Straight Outta Compton’ marked the beginning of the new gangsta rap era as the production and social commentary in their lyrics were revolutionary within the genre.

The original lineup consisted of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. DJ Yella and MC Ren joined later, with Arabian Prince eventually leaving shortly before the official release of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ over royalty disputes, with Ice Cube following suit in December 1989 . Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren would later become platinum-selling solo artists in the 1990s.

The group was assembled by Compton-based Eazy-E, who co-founded Ruthless Records with music manager Jerry Heller. Eazy-E sought an introduction to Dr. Dre from Steve Yano, a Los Angeles entrepreneur who sold rap albums out of the Roadium Swap Meet in Gardena and served as a clearinghouse for new music of that generation. Although initially rebuffed, Yano was impressed by Eazy-E’s persistence and eventually agreed. Initially, NWA consisted of Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. Together with fellow producer Arabian Prince, Ice Cube was added to the roster after he had started out as a rapper for the group ‘C.I.A.’ Dre would later bring DJ Yella on board as well. Dre and Yella were both formerly DJs and producers in the World Class Wreckin’ Cru.

Ruthless released the single ‘Panic Zone’ in 1987 with Macola Records, which was later included on the compilation album NWA and the Posse. The groups was still in its developing stages, and is only credited on three of the eleven tracks, notably the uncharacteristic record ‘Panic Zone,”8-Ball,’ ‘Dopeman,’ which marked the first collaboration of Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. Mexican rapper Krazy-Dee co-wrote ‘Panic Zone,’ which was originally called ‘Hispanic Zone,’ but the title was later changed when Dr. Dre advised Krazy-Dee that the word would hinder sales. Also included was Eazy-E’s solo track ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood.’ In 1988, rapper MC Ren joined the group.

NWA released their debut studio album, ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ in 1988. With its famous opening salvo of three tracks, the group reflected the rising anger of the urban youth. The opening song ‘Straight Outta Compton’ introduced the group, ‘Fuck tha Police’ protested police brutality and racial profiling, and ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ painted the worldview of the inner-city youth. While the group was later credited with pioneering the burgeoning subgenre of gangsta rap, NWA referred to their music as ‘reality rap,’ Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, as HighPowered Productions, composed the beats for each song, with Dre making occasional rapping appearances.

The D.O.C., Ice Cube, and MC Ren wrote most of the group’s lyrics, including ‘Fuck tha Police,’ perhaps the group’s most notorious song, which brought them into conflict with various law enforcement agencies. Under pressure from Christian conservative group Focus on the Family, Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless and its distributing company Priority Records, advising the rappers that ‘advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action.’ This letter can still be seen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Policemen refused to provide security for the group’s concerts, hurting their plans to tour. Nonetheless, the FBI’s letter only served to draw more publicity to the group.

‘Straight Outta Compton’ was also one of the first albums to adhere to the new Parental Advisory label scheme, then still in its early stages: the label at the time consisted of ‘WARNING: Moderate impact coarse language and/or themes’ only. However, the taboo nature of NWA’s music was the most important factor of its mass appeal. Media coverage compensated for their lack of airplay and their album eventually went double platinum. One month after ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ Eazy-E’s solo debut ‘Eazy-Duz-It’ was released. The album was dominated by Eazy’s persona—MC Ren was the only guest rapper—but behind the scenes it was a group effort. Music was handled by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella; the lyrics were largely written by MC Ren, with contributions from Ice Cube and The D.O.C. The album was another double platinum success for Ruthless (in addition to girl group J.J. Fad in 1988 and singer Michel’le in 1989). 1989 saw the re-issue of ‘NWA and the Posse’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton’ on CD, and the release of The D.O.C.’s ‘No One Can Do It Better.’ His album was essentially a collaboration with Dr. Dre and notably free of ‘gangsta rap’ content. It would become another #1 album for the record label.

Ice Cube left the group in December 1989 over royalty disputes; having written almost half of the lyrics on ‘Straight Outta Compton’ himself, he felt he was not getting a fair share of the profits. A lawsuit brought by Ice Cube against band manager Jerry Heller was settled out of court. He wasted little time putting together his solo debut, 1990’s ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,’ but he avoided mentioning his former label mates. NWA’s title track from their 1990 EP ‘100 Miles and Runnin”, however, included a diss of Ice Cube: ‘We started with five, but yo / One couldn’t take it—So now it’s four / Cuz the fifth couldn’t make it.’ The video for the song depicted the remaining members together in a jail cell, while an Ice Cube look-alike is released. Also heard on the EP was ‘Real Niggaz,’ a full-blown diss on Ice Cube where the remaining members accuse him of cowardice, and question his authenticity, longevity and originality: ‘How the fuck you think a rapper lasts / With your ass sayin’ shit that was said in the past / Yo, be original, your shit is sloppy / Get off the dick, you motherfuckin’ carbon-copy,’ and ‘We started out with too much cargo / So I’m glad we got rid of Benedict Arnold, yo.’

The song was Dr. Dre’s final uptempo recording, which had been a common feature of late 1980s hip hop. After this, he focused on a midtempo, synthesizer based sound which would become known as ‘G-funk,’ starting with ‘Alwayz Into Somethin” from ‘Efil4zaggin’ in 1991. The G-funk style dominated both the West and East Coast hip hop music scene for several years to come. NWA is referenced on Ice Cube’s 1990 EP, ‘Kill at Will,’ where he name-checks his former group (likely in a mocking manner) on the song ‘Jackin’ For Beats.’ On ‘I Gotta Say What Up!!!’, Ice Cube gives shout-outs to his rap peers at the time, among them Public Enemy, Geto Boys, and Sir Jinx. At the end of the track, in what appears to be an on-the-phone interview, Ice Cube is asked, ‘Since you went solo, whatever happened to the rest of your crew?’ and the phone is abruptly hung up on the interviewer.

The group’s second full-length release, 1991’s ‘Efil4zaggin’ (‘Niggaz4Life’ spelled backwards), re-established the band in the face of Ice Cube’s continued solo success. The album is considered by many Dr. Dre’s finest production work, and it heralded the beginning of the G-Funk era. It also showed a clear animosity towards their former member, and derogatory references to Ice Cube are found in several songs. The feud eventually escalated, both on record and in real life. ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ had avoided direct attacks, but on ‘Death Certificate,’ Ice Cube’s second full-length release, he retaliated. He sampled and mocked the ‘Message to B.A.’ skit before embarking on a full-blown tirade, the infamous ‘No Vaseline.’  In a series of verses, Ice Cube verbally assaulted the group: ‘You lookin’ like straight bozos / I saw it comin’ that’s why I went solo / Kept on stompin’ / When y’all Muthafuckas moved Straight outta Compton / You got jealous when I got my own company / But I’m a man, and ain’t nobody humpin’ me.’

He also responded to members MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E individually to ‘100 Miles and Runnin”, claiming ‘I started off with too much cargo, dropped four niggaz / And now I’m makin’ all the dough,’ using homophobic metaphors to describe their unequal business relationship with Jerry Heller, who became the target of harsh insults: ‘Get rid of that devil real simple / Put a bullet to his temple / Cuz you can’t be the ‘Niggaz 4 Life’ crew / With a white Jew tellin’ you what to do.’ The song attracted controversy for its antisemitism (the beginning of such accusations against Ice Cube during his affiliation with the Nation of Islam), based on the bashing of Heller’s religion. The track was omitted from the UK release, and later pressings included a censored version of the song. In September 1990, members of hip hop act ‘Above the Law’ clashed with Ice Cube and his posse Da Lench Mob during the annual New Music Seminar conference, forcing the latter to flee the premises of Times Square’s Marriott Marquis, the venue of the event.

On January 27, 1991, Dr. Dre assaulted Dee Barnes, host of the hip hop show ‘Pump It Up,’ after its coverage of the NWA/ Ice Cube beef. According to ‘Rolling Stone’ reporter Alan Light: ‘He picked her up and ‘began slamming her face and the right side of her body repeatedly against a wall near the stairway’ as his bodyguard held off the crowd. After Dre tried to throw her down the stairs and failed, he began kicking her in the ribs and hands. She escaped and ran into the women’s rest room. Dre followed her and ‘grabbed her from behind by the hair and proceeded to punch her in the back of the head.’ In response, Dre commented: ‘People talk all this shit, but you know, if somebody fucks with me, I’m gonna fuck with them. I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing—I just threw her through a door.’

1991’s ‘Niggaz4Life’ would be the group’s final album. After Dr. Dre, The D.O.C., and Michel’le departed from Ruthless to join Death Row Records and allegations over Eazy-E being coerced into signing away their contracts (while however retaining a portion of their publishing rights), a bitter rivalry ensued. Dr. Dre began the exchange with Death Row’s first release, 1992’s ‘Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’),’ and its accompanying video featured a character named ‘Sleazy-E’ who ran around desperately trying to get money. The insults continued on ‘The Chronic’ with ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit.’ Eazy-E responded in 1993 with the EP ‘It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa’ on the tracks ‘Real Muthaphuckkin G’s’ and ‘It’s On.’ Eazy-E accused Dr. Dre of being a homosexual, calling him a ‘she thang,’ and criticizing Dre’s new image by calling him and Snoop ‘studio gangsters.’ The music video for ‘Real Muthaphuckkin G’s’ showed a still of Dre wearing makeup and a sequined jumpsuit. The photos dated back to Dr. Dre’s ‘World Class Wreckin’ Cru’ days, when such fashion was common among West Coast electro hop artists, prior to NWA’s popularization of gangsta rap. Eazy-E kept dissing Dre and Death Row on most of his songs until his AIDS-related death on March 26, 1995. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube would later express their re-evaluated feelings to their old friend on 1999’s ‘What’s The Difference’ and ‘Chin Check,’ 2000’s ‘Hello,’ 2006’s ‘Growin’ Up,’ and in the 2011 music video ‘I Need a Doctor.’

Having both parted with Ruthless Records on bad terms, tensions between Ice Cube and Dr. Dre eventually eased on their own. Ice Cube made a cameo appearance in Dr. Dre’s ‘Let Me Ride’ video in 1993. The two recorded the hit song ‘Natural Born Killaz’ for Snoop Doggy Dogg’s 1994 short film and soundtrack ‘Murder Was the Case’ and they also planned an album which was to be titled ‘Heltah Skeltah.’ Later Ice Cube appeared on MC Ren’s album ‘Ruthless for Life’ on the track ‘Comin’ After You.’ MC Ren appeared on Dre’s 1999 album ‘2001,’ and the three remaining NWA emcees would reunite for ‘Hello’ on Ice Cube’s 2000 album ‘War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc).’ The West Coast and ‘gangsta’ music scene had however fallen out of the spotlight since the death of Tupac Shakur in 1996, and it was only after Dr. Dre’s successful patronage of Eminem and Dre’s ensuing comeback album ‘2001’ that the genre and its artists would regain the national spotlight. 2000’s all-star ‘Up In Smoke Tour’ would reunite much of the NWA and Death Row families, and during time spent on the road, Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, guest star Snoop Dogg, and Eminem began recording in a mobile studio. A comeback album entitled ‘Not These Niggaz Again’ was planned (and would include DJ Yella, who had not been present on the tour).

However, due to busy and conflicting schedules as well as the obstacles of coordinating three different record labels (Priority, No Limit, and Interscope), obtaining the rights to the name NWA and endorsing the whole project to gain exclusive rights, the album never materialized.

Although the group disbanded in 1991, they left a lasting legacy on hip hop music in the following decades. Their influence (from their funky, bass-driven beats to their exaggerated lyrics) was evident throughout the 1990s and even into the present, and is often credited as bridging the White/Black American musical lines with their massive appeal to White America in the late 1980s. In Dr. Dre’s 1999 single ‘Forgot About Dre’ the line ‘Who you think brought you the O.G.s, Eazy-Es, Ice Cube, and The D.O.C.s, the Snoop D O double G’s, and the group that said ‘Motherfuck the police’?’ outlines N.W.A’s importance in hip hop. In the same song, one of Eminem’s verses that says ‘So what do you say to somebody you hate or anyone tryna bring trouble your way, Wanna resolve things in a bloodier way, Then just study a tape of NWA’ refers to the negative reception of the group by the mainstream radio, considering their songs to be violent.

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