Eazy-E one of Gangsta Rap’s pioneers, showed others a way to turn a street hustle into a business
Excessive force by law enforcement is nothing new to African Americans. Although the previous statement is unfortunate, it holds evident truth. The presence of law enforcement was strong during the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s. While protests were taking place, police were certainly not peaceful, even if protesters were. They would often use tear gas on large crowds of people. High-pressure water hoses were used on protesters in addition to them being beaten, chased, and bit by dogs.
There were also incidents of Black people being killed by police during this era. All of this was before the Rodney King tape, and before social media’s broadcasting of police brutality in the 21st century. Needless to say, there has always been a severe disconnect and distrust between African Americans and the police. With racial tension being prevalent in the black community, law enforcement established a reputation for fueling the fire rather than extinguishing it.
In recent years, urban neighborhoods have gone from being under protected to over-policed. This ambiance is what set the tone for a song like N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police”. That attitude was a direct effect stemming from a history of documented causes.
One of the people who brought you the frustrations of “Fuck tha Police” was Eazy-E. Eric Lynn Wright was born in September of 1964 in Compton, California. Even though his parents worked decent jobs they still lived in an area with heavy crime and gang activity. Easily susceptible to his environment, he dropped out of school in the 10th grade and sold drugs. He was effective in his endeavors and was able to save the cash he profited for investment purposes.
Put the money where your mouth is
In his early 20’s Eazy got together with his friend Jerry Heller and discussed starting a business. They both decided to start Ruthless Records in 1986. Each of them invested money into the label and Eazy set out to find and sign talent. They agreed that Wright would own the company and Heller would work for him and manage.
Eazy-E teamed up with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube who began writing for the newly formed label. After failing to execute the goal of getting talent to record he became the talent for his own label. Their collaboration brought us the classic “Boyz-n-the-Hood” which became a successful single.
The trio went on to form N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) making successful and controversial music. They also added others to the group in the process. Eazy was now a successful rapper who also owned a successful label. Songs like “Straight Outta Compton” broke barriers without the advantage of radio play. It eventually became certified Triple Platinum by the RIAA.
Rebel with a ruthless cause
The compilation album “N.W.A. and the Posse” was released in late 1987 and became certified Gold in the United States. The infamous “Fuck Tha Police” record led to conflict with the F.B.I. and this brought heat to Ruthless Records. Federal authorities contacted the label’s distribution company in an attempt to mute the song. Local police authorities tried to ban the group from performing the song in certain cities while touring.
In September of the following year, Eazy-E released his debut album, Eazy-Duz-It. It went on to sell over 2.5 million copies in the United States and charted on the Billboard 200. He continued to record with N.W.A. but internal disagreements led the group disbanding around 1991. Personal conflicts among members ultimately spilled into their music further tarnishing the relationship.
The success of Ruthless Records and N.W.A. was short-lived, but no less monumental. Aside from performing well in record sales, they made history in helping pioneer a genre of Gangsta Rap. Even though other forms of Hip Hop were being created on the west coast, the culture was still mostly associated with east coast territory. Eazy was able to assist in bringing the spotlight to his turf and add another facet to the culture.
Eazy-E was unfortunately diagnosed with AIDS in 1995. After going into a Los Angeles treatment center in February for a severe cough, it was determined that he was living with the disease. He made a public announcement informing everyone of his illness a few weeks later. A month after being diagnosed, he passed away from complications associated with the illness. His second and final album was released later that year titled “Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton”. It was a successful release and went on to become certified Platinum.
There is a lot to take from Eazy-E’s legacy. It took vision, focus, and dedication to leave behind a lifestyle that often leads to jail or death. He left that lifestyle behind to create a business empire, and he did so by remaining true to himself. Starting a record label also helped others within his community. Although the explicit lyrical content seems to promote sex and violence, there is always a separation between life and art. Whether art imitates life or vice versa, we all need to be mindful of the choices we make. After all, the choice we make today won’t only affect our personal future. Our choices could very well affect our surroundings in addition to those who come after us.
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