On this day, thirteen years ago, one of the first and most influential kingpins in Hip-Hop history tragically died of AIDS.
The man who teamed up Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and gave the world Straight Outta Compton and irreversibly changed the way the American Gangster looked like, seldom gets the amount of props the big deaths of Hip-Hop receive.
This one is to set the record straight. In order to celebrate the larger-than-life impact Eric Eazy-E Wright had, and still has on our lives, let’s rewind.
During the mid 80s in South-Central Los Angeles, the crack-cocaine-epidemic was out of control. At the same time, Hip-Hop also began to infect the LA streets. Around this time, an aspiring Compton resident in his early twenties was thinking of legitimate ways to invest his obtained starting capital. The music business seemed like a feasible option and Eric Wright started recruiting peers for his own rap group.
He came up with two ambitious members of a local disco group (World Class Wreckin Cru members Andre Dr. Dre Young and Antoine DJ Yella Carraby) on the beats, childhood friend Lorenzo MC Ren Patterson, and writer extraordinaire OShea Ice Cube Jackson. With two future juggernauts of the industry on board and its name being short for N***** With Attitude, N.W.A changed the music industry and Hip-Hop forever.
In 1988, N.W.A’s debut album Straight Outta Compton was released on Wrights own independent label Ruthless Records. The record became a landmark in music history. More curiously, it changed the face of the American gangster from Tommy gun toting suited mafia members to AK-47 packing Jheri curl and loc shades-wearing gangstas.
Eazy was the one responsible for the idea and implementation of the overall concept of the worlds most dangerous group. Wright took care of everything but the music. The image, visual aesthetics, and communication with the press were all deliberate. Instances like the infamous YO!-MTV-Raps interview with Eazy wearing a Hockey mask were instrumental in creating that aura and was groundbreaking in Hip-Hop in terms of truly taking advantage of the video medium.
Eazy-E managed to combine the media-darling, yet vicious Al Capone with angry LA adolescence, urban angst, and the gang aesthetic. The Trilby morphed to the baseball hat and the Cadillac V16 became the ’64 Impala. The gangster was relocated from the mansion to the swap meet and from the silver screen to stereo. This transformation gave the world an all new media icon: Gangster became Gangsta.
N.W.A began to fall apart relatively soon after Straight Outta Compton was released, but the gangsta aesthetic, and by association Eazy Es leagacy, continued to affect and change the world, dictating a substantial part of music, film, television, clothing and society for years to come. It has remained with us ever since.
In 2008, the N.W.A concept of street mentality mixed with exclusive lifestyle is more than anything represented in modern day urban music and its videos. It was Eazys concept that made Hip-Hop consumable on a mass scale; the rise of Americas nightmare and guilty pleasure: the American Gangsta.
For better or worse, this lifestyle and its projection enabled Hip-Hop to rise in both notoriety and sales. Hip-Hop in 2008 is one of the biggest selling genres and most popular among the global youth movements. A large part of that would not have been possible without the vision of Eazy-E, who to this day is still the only rapper to have dinner with the President. Respect is due.
Eric Eazy-E Wright