AKA The Cantakerous Gentlemen of Color
The Lineup Card (1987-1991))
Eazy E (vocals)
Ice Cube (vocals) until 1990
Dr. Dre (vocals)
MC Ren (vocals) after 1988
Yella (vocals, turntables)
The D.O.C. (vocals)
The Arabian Prince (vocals)
Rap music's first supergroup of sorts, NWA was a high-rolling band of upstanding young black gentlemen in Jheri curls from suburban Los Angeles who singlehandedly popularized a new genre of hip hop called 'gangsta rap' and helped to create some of its first true classics, not to mention lodging an Uzi-sized wild hair up the Republican Right's collective ass in the process. Gangsta, in case you've been living in a bomb shelter or Berkeley, California for the last 15 years, is a highly popular form of rap music that gives an ultraviolent 'realistic' look at 'real life' on the 'streets' of the 'ghetto', essentially reducing to a highly stylized bit of ultraviolent fairy-tale spinning from a bunch of dudes more interested in recording albums, making easy bucks, hanging by the pool, and staying as far as fucking possible from the ghetto than actually selling crack and slappin' hoes. It was all wildly popular with the kids in the 90's, scoring hundreds of millions of albums sold and somehow making 'what's up?' the acceptable greeting for anyone currently under the age of 35. Though many folks miss it, there's more than a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink role playing going on with gangsta rap, and the number of these 'actors' who look good in rap videos far outnumbers those artists with any sort of first-hand knowledge of the streets they're rapping about. But since all these rappers need this mystique to sell to pussyass suburban white kids looking for a vicarious thrill (or a tool to puff up their flagging machismo), and therefore take all pains to seem like the baddest violent motherfuckers on the block instead of intellectual kids who like the groupie attention, the smoke and mirrors perpetuate generation after generation. I dunno, I guess I can't rightfully sit here and claim to know what the life of an inner-city minority is really like (though my time attempting to teach high school in one of the poorest areas of Dallas, Texas probably gives me a little more accurate a perspective than most lily-white commentators), but if people shot each other as much as they do in rap songs, you wouldn't be able to drive down MLK Avenue in any major city for all the waist-deep corpses lying around.
As a result of all this paranoid posturing, gangsta rap is rivaled only by hardcore punk for lockstep obedience to formula and fascistic rules of conduct. The lingo and cinematics of this genre are all stolen from Scarface, COPS, and John Singleton movies, the beats are recycled more times than the plot to 48 Hours, producers shamelessly copy each other's miniscule innovations until they quickly become tired cliches (e.g. Moog samples in the early 90's, tinkly pianos in the mid-90's, and jittery odd-time drum 'n' bass rhythms in the late 90's), and the subject matters are restricted to a short list of subjects ranging from boasting about your (money/power/hoes/car/rapping ability/'credibility'/great landscaping), to bashing your enemies (rival gangstas/rival rappers/cops/hoes/vaguely understood figures of oppression) or simply just venting your frustration at targets with all of the calculation of an epileptic antiaircraft gunner. Gangsta rap has been an artistic dead end, period, and the fact that it hasnt changed one goddamn bit in fifteen years bears this out as truth. Since NWA and the Geto Boys invented it back in the late 80's, gangsta rap has gone has been in a long, slow, and steady decline as its most popular purveyors have become less and less charismatic and their intelligence nosedives. From the likes of Ice Cube and Tupac Shukur to dunderheads like Fat Joe and Ja Rule is one helluva slide, and the most popular rappers nowadays (other than Jay-Z, pretty mediocre in the grand scheme of things, but still a shining light of creativity in comparison) don't even try to come across like gangstas anymore. Nelly? P Diddy? Ludacris? I bet these guys haven't even tasted an OE 800, much less busted a cap in a pig's ass. These Bad Boy, Crystal-sipping motherfuckers? Pussies, all o' em.
No matter how hypocritical it may seem, today's rappers still covet 'street cred' over just about anything else and many still pay lip service to gangsta topics, but let's face it - the truth is it's the songs the bitches can wiggle their thongs to that pay the bills nowadays. Hearing something as fearlessly uncut as NWA's Straight Outta Compton today just shows up how compromised rap music has become by its lust for chart successes. This album is a complete rush of punk-like aggression and pure energy from a band that, if not filled 100% with real-life street thugs with bloody hands and prison records, then kids who at least knew their Glocks from their GATs. Back in 1989, there was no expectation that something like Compton would be anything but a hardcore underground LA favorite - the mainstream press had no interest in reviewing it for its artistic merits (only hypocritically decrying its profanity and violence), radio airplay was as likely as Snoop Dogg being appointed Drug Czar, and MTV might as well have been transmitting from Pluto. Still, somehow it happened...the combined effect of the shockingly perfect roundhouse attack of these beats and these rhymes, the magnetism of the stars Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre, the hardest motherfucking lyrics ever on a rap album, and the final key - a threatening letter to Priority Record from the FBI complaining about the lyrics of 'Fuck Tha Police' that got nationwide press coverage. There's no beating a good tabloid expose of 'shocking' music lyrics to sell a shitload of CD's to white kids, and Compton became nothing less than a sensation. NWA had done it. This was a band that, for all intents and purposes, changed the next decade of black music singlehandedly, much more so in fact than the more highly regarded (and creatively superior) Public Enemy. NWA had integrated their influences well enough (the hard beats of Run DMC, the song-stories of Slick Rick, the huge rock-band sound and atmospherics of Public Enemy) that they actually sounded multi-faceted, but no one had ever sounded this angry before. Yeah, if you've got even the smallest shred of knowledge about rap music in the last decade or so, listen to this album today and I bet you'll be shocked as to how little has really changed. Everyone is still doing it the NWA way.
Of course, fame's a motherfucker, and NWA broke up faster than a crack rock at Gibby Haynes' house. Not that the band was necessarily built to last - their first release, 1989's NWA and the Posse, was recorded by a collection of Compton-area rappers (only half of the songs are credited to NWA) that seemed to have looser membership rules than the peep show downtown. One of the first stars of this collective was Eazy-E, who'd recorded his first solo album the year before and had a memorable solo single off Posse with 'Boyz N The Hood'. Ominously, when Compton hit in 1989, the recognized star of the band wasn't Eazy, but rather Ice Cube, and the resulting friction finally burst into one of the biggest feuds in rap history as first Ice, then (after 1991's Niggaz4life) Dr. Dre left the band. NWA had busted in less than two years, though the ensuing massive solo successes of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre ensured the group's sounds would continue to be heard throughout the Nineties.
NWA is made up of, essentially, three stars (Cube, Dre, and Eazy), their forgettable DJ (Yella) and three even more forgettable also-ran MC's (MC Ren, The Arabian Prince, and the D.O.C.). Cube is by far the best rapper in the group, a sort of Chuck D gone over the edge, political and intelligent, but not above frequent vicious attack-dog tactics. Dre, who was almost Eno-like in his puppetmaster role as producer, beat-writer and part-time DJ, was more base and down-to-earth as an MC, but his (somewhat limited) skills as a rapper weren't featured until his solo career hit big. The diminutive Eazy-E is a take-it-or-leave-it acquired taste, with this pitchy voice sounding like a dog's chew toy possessed by a demon from hell. He's easily the most over-the-edge and shrill lyrically, but can lay a zinger as well as Cube himself. The other four? Well, it's damned hard for me to vouch for Yella's DJing skills compared with more prominently featured spinners like Jam Master Jay or Terminator X, but I think it's safe to say that those two Technics Titans have nothing to fear from Yella's uninspired scritch-scritch scritching. Ren gets a few notable solo spots and good licks on Compton, but I have no fucking idea who the Arabian Prince is, and the DOC is better heard on solo albums. Whatever. In this group, those three are nothing but sidemen for sure.
Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: N.W.A. was a great rap group. "Straight Outta Compton" is one of the best, most legitimately angry, and raging albums ever made. More socially conscious than a thousand standard-issue hardcore bands.
I would say you didn't give Jay-Z a fair shake, but the guy's got so much money that it doesn't matter what we say about him. If you want to listen to some good hip-hop, try out Tricky - he's British and the music on his first four albums is truly psychedelic. Awesome stuff.
NWA and the Posse
Extremely old-school, two-decks-and-a-TR-808 party rap album that sounds about three years late for a 1987 release, considering the huge gains in production and sampling made by Erik B and Rakim and Run DMC in the preceding few years. In fact, if we're talkin' comparisons, this album's pretty lame when put next to just about any of the other 'big' rap albums of the time - it's straight up amateur hour shit compared with Eric B and Rakim's lyrically drum-tight Paid In Full, the production isn't in the same league with Public Enemy's booming debut, and Run DMC's Raising Hell just flat out whomps all of these records. What is new, newer than new, is the unapologetically naaaasty hardcore lyrics, all OE 800's, slappin hoes, and 'funny' sketch raps about girls with bad breath and huge asses. Slick Rick would take a similarly raunchy track with Adventures of in 1988, but where he was essentially forming cautionary tales and goofy stories sent up for humor more than shock value, NWA revels in how antisocial and violent they are. Eazy's opening 'Boyz N The Hood' sounds pretty stupid nowadays (and it didn't help that some white nobody alterna-rockers covered it in a hilariously deadpan version a few years back), but it's more than just the usual nice car/big rocks boast track. Eazy actually boasts about his aimless lifestyle, drunk and smelly, wandering from violent episode to violent episode like Bobby Knight at a Luby's Cafeteria. It goes nowhere, and let's admit right now that Eazy's tweaky voice is pretty hard to take seriously. The following '8 Ball' is worse, essentially the same song without that 'boyz n the hood are always hard, start some shit and we'll pull your card' hook (it even samples 'Boyz'). But don't but this one just to satisfy your curiosity about these two tracks - 'Boyz' is on Eazy's Eazy Duz It 1988 solo album, and '8-Ball' is rehashed on Compton, which you need anyway.
The main problem with this album is that it's not strictly an NWA record, but, as the title itself lets on, contains several cuts from 'the posse'. Eazy E gets his idiotic classic 'Boyz N The Hood' solo track, plus the silly 'Fat Girl' and the imminently forgettable 'L.A. Is The Place'. The Fila Fresh Crew (probably the first ever rap group named after a faggy European tennis shoe company) with member DOC gets four tracks, all completely stupid and even more incompetent than NWA's tracks. 'Dunk The Funk' is so poorly coordinated they often train-wreck their unison sections outright, and not a single one of their soloists (including DOC) is worth a fuck. The malt liquor anthem 'Drink It Up' is pretty funny, but pardon the fuck out of me if I'd rather go to an Eddie Murphy album than the Fila Fresh Crew for my laughs. Same goes for Eazy's 'Fat Girls'.
The four pure NWA tracks are much better, and Ice Cube's smooth, low delivery is more welcome than a call girl on death row when he finally gets to flow on 'Bitch Iz a Bitch', and his mighty verses on 'Dope Man' are easily the best moments on the entire album.
'Dope Man' itself is a major highlight, the one song that could easily fit on Compton without much rearrangement (and lo and behold! It was recycled for that album), marking the first appearance of Dre's cliched Moog synth line and probably the first rap song that mentions the word 'crack', but I could be wrong on that. While the spoken word sections of 'Bitch' are pretty stupid, here they're convincing and dark, setting a creepy mood along with the industrial samples and foreboding drum loops. NWA isn't really perfected yet, and the technoid nightmare 'Panic Zone' sounds more like that Kraftwerk album I reviewed yesterday than anything approaching hip hop. I guess it was included as Dre and Yella's 'experimental' track (as if 'Dope Man' didn't feature their work well enough). Weak, weak, weak....'Something 2 Dance 2' on Compton isn't any great shakes, but as dance tracks go, at least it isn't embarrassing like this Germanic pussy music. Rap music by definition avoids pretension, but this misguided attempt at combining dark, altered hardcore rap and doinky synthpop was a pretty pretentious move nonetheless.
Okay, so Posse can be summed up as a B-level NWA EP fleshed out with a DOC EP you don't want and some Eazy singles you're probably better off getting from a compilation, and while you have to give these kids credit for trying, they're just not yet ready to headline the Pawn Shop, if you know what I mean. While they make Eazy and Fila Fresh sound terrible, NWA's too thin and too high-pitched heree, the beats aren't up to the best standards, and their lyrics often fail to be anything but sensationalist cartoons when Cube isn't in charge.
Capn's Final Word: Too little actual NWA, who come up a bit short on their four cuts anyway. Too amateurish to really be taken seriously.
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Straight Outta Compton- Priority 1989
One motherfucker of a big first side matched with a rather uninteresting second. This is really the only NWA album people need to own, the only one featuring Ice Cube's massive talent and unscalable attitude, politically charged and murderous simultaneously, capable of communicating crystal clear ideas with all the entertainment value of an action flick. His bandmates, especially MC Ren, make respectable attempts to keep up, but Cube takes lead on the best tracks, 'Straight Outta Compton', 'Fuck Tha Police', 'Gangsta Gangsta', all of which line the first side. The level of violence on this record was notable back in 1989 - no one had ever threatened to shoot cops quite like Cube did on 'Fuck Tha Police', but nowadays the most striking thing is how muscular this album sounds. All of the dinky beats of Posse are gone and forgotten, and in its place Yella and Dre formulate a James Brown-samplin', hard thumpin' alternative, heavily influenced by Public Enemy's Bomb Squad (but sparer, more repetitive, and less psychedelic) that's reliable and often energizing as the raps themselves. Again, lyrically this album was without equal at the time for uncompromised vitriol and instigation, but it's much easier to accept the band's assertion that all they were doing was expressing the desperation of the inner-city when you hear Cube plugging racist cops or decrying the horrors of crack addiction than all that bullshit about chugging cheap liquor and slugging bitches upside the weave that Eazy is always whining about. It's similarly hard to tell what Ren or Dre stand for, other than rockin' that beat and enjoying the benefits of being hardcore motherfucking assholes, but sometimes pure hedonistic nihilism is all right with me. Plus, goddamn it, even 15 years after its release, there still just aren't that many rap albums that give a 6-zillion volt rush the way the first part of Compton can do. It's probably the Never Mind the Bollocks of the rap world rather than the London Calling, but I still dig it like Igor the bug-eyed sidekick.
Cube is the unquestioned star throughout, making 'Compton' and the infamous 'Fuck Tha Police' his own, politically astute, red-eye angry, and fast. These songs push the tempos but never descend into clickety-clackity trickery like rappers like to pull nowadays. The title track packs the punch of Cassius Clay raging through the streets with a nose full of PCP and a race riot in his brainstem, The sparring is some of the best work this group ever put together, with Ice pulling off a flawless intro verse ('crazy mother fucker named Ice Cube') which is like a textbook to Ren and Eazy to follow on the rest of the track. Ren isn't as articulate as Cube, but he's nearly as confident, and the performance is so uniformly strong that Eazy's vocal contrast with Cube and Ren is interesting, rather than unintentionally funny as it was on the debut album. It's perfect as an introduction to the album, to the group, and to gangsta as a whole. 'Fuck Tha Police' and 'Gangsta Gangsta' are nearly as good as raps, and there's few experiences as satisfying as blasting the living fuck out of 'Police' while driving along mid-afternoon city streets.
Eazy doesn't come across quite as indestructible. His first solo performance is a rerecording of the blockheaded 'Boyz' rewrite '8-Ball' (from Posse) cluttered up with a bunch of stupid samples from other rap songs and some completely unnecessary background chanting by NWA. Ren's biggest moment is on 'If It Ain't Ruff', one of the most immediately funky songs on here, though his failure to project his voice limits its effect, and 'Something Like This', which duets with Dre, is the first truly weak track on here, the first time NWA sounds like just another rap group rather than men on the razor's edge. The easy roll sure sounds G-funky, though, and it's easy to see how Dre would improve and perfect this sound into his smash first solo album. Unfortunately this songs sets the tone for the second half of the record a darned average bunch of lighter material compared with the hammering opening sequence. Yella and Cube's 'Express Yourself' ain't bad, but the rhymes start to run around in circles on the old-school 'Compton's N Da House', 'Quiet On the Set' slides by without a hook, and 'Dopeman' here sounds like just another refugee from Posse, and it's a testament to the power of the better tracks here that Posse's best track becomes little more than second-side filler on Compton. 'Something 2 Dance 2' is a near-joke, Dre continuing his Teach Yourself Rap Arrangement In 10 Days course by abusing an 808 and a sampler while his pals chat over the top of it. The banter is pretty funny, though, as it's pretty damned clear by his lazy, halfhearted mumbling what Eazy really thinks of Dre's lame try at recording the next 'Rockit'. Of course, considering that Dre would go on to multi-bazillion dollar status as a top-flight music producer and solo artist, and Eazy would peak in 1988, maybe he would've been wise to have hidden his disdain a bit more, but that's the way the midget badass crumbles.
Capn's Final Word: Compton slams so hard at the opening that when they return to more normal, still-great levels on the second half, it feels like a comedown.
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Niggaz4life - Priority 1991
Losing starting quarterback Ice Cube over money conflicts just can't be covered up by the first real tastes of subterranean West Coast Dre Funk, and Niggaz4life (or, as it's sometimes better known, the somewhat perplexing Sunday-morning cartoon homage Elfs 4 Ziggy) suffers lyrically just as it bursts wide open musically. Dre's production style, psychedelic, laid back, and not afraid of such archaic sounds as Moog synth, chimes, and heavy metal guitar buzz, is by far the most compelling thing about this disc, and it's pretty often that I find myself sucked into nodding along to the trancey beats instead of focusing on the lyrics, which fizzle into a quivering pile of 'niggas' and more uses of the word 'fuck' than in the director's cut of The Big Lebowski. The reason for that is, obviously, Cube. Ice Cube liked his bitches and money as much as the next chum, but he also thought a bit more deeply about injustice and breaking out of the ghetto cycle than his buddies. Eazy and Dre? We'll they proclaim with pride they'll be 'niggas for life' (the title of one of the few raps here that even comes close to Cube's perceptive commentary), reveling in the chaos and depravity around them, and much of this record crosses from dangerously accurate descriptions of senseless violence to senseless descriptions of dangerous violence, bringing it into the land of the Looney Tune where every rival gets shot, every ho raped (then shot), and innocent bystanders are treated as a pretty great way of scoring some free target practice. Dre seems a little smarter than this, as he would later show on his Chronic album, but this is about as strenuous as Eazy's thought process gets, and the pair of them never clicks as a convincing Dastardly Duo, their proclamation of unity on 'Alwayz Into Somethin' aside.The hardest thing to get your head around on this record is the fact that a lot of the most extreme sections are done as pathetic attempts at humor. It's simple, they're voyeurs who get off on violence and cruelty, like the fat, smelly kid who wets his pants with laughter after sticking a bottle rocket up a streetcat's asshole or whacks off after setting a nest of baby birds on fire. For example, the interlude 'Protest' is a distasteful attack (literally) on the band's detractor's, about as funny as the gunshot samples are convincing, which means not fucking at all. When they get serious they get boring...'Appetite For Destruction' may steal its title from Guns 'n' Roses, but shouldn't have stopped there. Hell, steal a riff, some lyrics, the rhythm section...just motherfucking re-release bootleg copies of the actual Appetite album with the letters N.W.A. scrawled over the cover picture with masking tape, for all I care, just give us better raps than the sleep-inducing rehashes here. The same goes for the Funkadelic rip on 'I'd Rather Fuck You', for which I'm sure genius crackhead George Clinton will soon get a nice, fat royalty check if justice is good and recent court decisions aren't overturned.
The 'concept' here is split between racial violence on the first half and sexual violence on the second. Make no mistake, this is not some social commentary call-to action about the prison of the inner city, corrupt racist cops, or the self-repression of black-on-black violence. The only violence on Niggaz4life is coming straight from NWA themselves. They murder competitors (including their wife and kid), cops, whores, ex-girlfriends, members of the media, and pretty much anyone who passes by. I hear Ren accidentally shot The Arabian Prince as he was out checking the mail, and Yella emptied a clip into his Technics decks after he thought they called him a bitch (which I guess explains why the DJ work on this album roundly sucks). When they're not killing, they're raping and humiliating women indiscriminately, and the endless second side (the 'Ladies Drink Free' one, I guess), is little more than a self satisfying porn fantasy during which tiny HIV virus-teeming Eazy E fucks every woman in the Western Hemisphere, slaps half of them, and then starts over again. On 'Automobile', Eazy gives it a little bit more silly humor than elsewhere in the form of a weird sort of Randy Newman piano ballad, making me think that it could just all be a big elaborate joke, but the disturbingly unfunny nature of the rest of the side makes me think that the only calculation was to maximize sales to 13 year old white boys with a 6-times-daily masturbation habit who pop boners every time someone says 'licky my nuts'...there's simply no other reason for all this pussy-mongering, especially when you consider that NWA probably was scoring Guinness Book levels of groupie pussy at the time, unless they were A) really not getting it or B) just want the little twerps to buy their comic book album. I dunno, I think it's tiring, and this from a guy who likes a good pussy joke as much as the next moron. Except I said joke, and jokes are supposed to be funny...saying 'she swallowed it' like it's something notable is about as funny as inviting your Jewish landlord over to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday with you.
The entertainment value of this record is completely dependent on enjoying Dre's backgrounds, which I admit I do (and which is why this album still scores in the B-range). or finding their whack-ass lyrics either titillating, funny, or cathartic. Or, I suppose you can take the 'detached critic' view and admire them for their unabashed rebellion, which is akin to someone applauding Stalin because he got all those railroad lines built so fast. To me, lyrically it just sucks. There's little wit, no humor, no real threat...just a bunch of idiotic blathering. It's a shame Dre had to waste his big artistic production breakthrough with these guys as his sidemen.
Capn's Final Word: If they'd instilled a few more tastes of the 'Automobile' humor, I'd probably respond positively even if the nastiness was still in full effect, but lyrically this stuff is akin to a cracked-ass voiced twelve year old screaming 'fuck!' 'pussy!' 'bitch!' 'dick!' in your ear for 70 minutes and calling it witty. Fucking leave this shit in Eazy's mind where it belongs.
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firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: What's up? Cool site! This CD sold well back in '91, but NWA by then had lost credibility w/ most intelligent fans, regardless of race. Most of their fans by that point were, indeed, thrill-seeking lilywhites who liked Rap not for the lyrical or musical value, but to be "cool." Cube's absence hurts severely--they missed him regardless of what they might have said on "Message To B.A." and "Real Niggaz." Dre's production is classic, but I feel the same way as you do about the second side, which is just TOO sick and depraved to be "funny", the way Eazy thought it was. Stick w/ STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and Ice Cube's first several solo CDs.
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