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As the story goes, Eazy E became a rapper by accident. In 1987, the man then known as Eric Wright hired his future N.W.A bandmate Ice Cube to write a song called "Boyz-n-the-Hood" for another group signed to his upstart label, Ruthless Records. One of the guys in the other group balked at rapping the lurid lyrics, so Eazy, who'd been listening to a demo version of the song for days on end, stepped into the booth and laid it down himself.
As a rapper, that was probably Eazy's peak. Those verses weren't only the first he put on wax, they were probably the best. Despite everything the former Compton crack dealer brought to hip-hop, he was never much of an MC. He couldn't write rhymes and he couldn't spit the lines out much faster than the average person could speak them. Still, somehow, it worked. Maybe Eazy's amateurish delivery added the needed air of authenticity to the streetwise stories, or maybe Cube's vivid imagery of life in urban Los Angeles couldn't be blunted by any delivery, no matter how high-pitched or slow. Whatever the reason, those lyrics seemed to spill out of Eazy almost preternaturally.
Woke up quick at about noon,
Just thought that I had to be in Compton soon.
I gotta get drunk before the day begins,
Before my mother starts bitchin' about my friends.
That song launched Eazy's group, his label, his coast, and an entire genre. It also set him up to become The Greatest Gangsta. Not as a rapper, but as the man who oversaw the evolution of a worldview that dominates hip-hop to the present day. You can hear the ideas conveyed in Eazy's nasal rhymes echoing through to the greatest rap songs of the past decade — just watch the video for what's possibly the best rap song of the past decade, T.I.'s "What You Know." The cars are fancier and the girls are hotter, but the connection is clear.
Tupac Shakur's "Thug Life" philosophy was arguably the ultimate extension of gangstadom, but Pac was just a Digital Underground dancer/roadie when Eazy changed the course of popular music forever.
People forget how revolutionary it was at the time, says Granville "MC Chip" Moton, a bit-part player in the grand drama of gangsta rap who, like N.W.A's MC Ren, grew up around the corner from Eric and is pictured on the cover of N.W.A's first record.
"It's a trip. I still remember when Eric let me hear 'Boyz-n-the-Hood' for the first time," he says. "That was some crazy shit, man, because you're sitting there listening to it and you're like, 'Man, he's cussing on this rap!' You're thinking, like, 'Damn, how's he gonna get radio play?' But one thing you knew about it was, that shit was tight. There wasn't nobody else on that level doing that type of thing."
The stories that Eric (talking to people who knew Eric, as I've done over the past three weeks, you realize that the people who knew him best can't call him anything but "Eric") delivered so naturally are de rigueur now. For better or worse, if you ain't rappin' about street life — money, cars, casual sex, and violence — you ain't rappin'.
Eazy may not have written "Boyz-n-the-Hood," but he more or less lived it, says Arabian Prince, an original member of N.W.A, who left just before the group finished its second album, the breakthrough Straight Outta Compton. Gangsta rap has always been built around image, with fabled incidents like 50 Cent's nine shots playing almost as much a role in his career as the unassailably brilliant beat under "In Da Club." Eazy had the image, Prince says, and, like all the greats who followed, there was some truth to it — though not as much as people believe.
"Eazy was the only one in the hood who was really a real gangsta, doing the drug thing, doing everything else," he says. "All the rest of us were just DJs. We were producers. We had done a lot of records, and that's how the whole thing came together. Cube wasn't actually doing anything. He was in school [in Phoenix] until we brought him back. Ren was just Eazy's boy. He lived down the street from him. And, I mean, Ren wasn't really banging, but he was probably the next closest thing to Eric."
That doesn't mean Eric was a straight-up gang-banger, says Ren. On the contrary, he was a laid-back guy, a practical joker who enjoyed money much more than violence and didn't mind being incendiary in song to get a little cash. People who've internalized the murals of Eazy holding two glocks don't understand who he really was, Ren says.
"A lot of people have other thoughts about him — how they think he was from the records and all that shit. A lot of people think he would just straight-up shoot somebody. You know, trippin' mean, gangstered-out and all that shit. But, you know, he was the total opposite. He was just like one of the coolest motherfuckers you'd want to meet. Just cool," says Ren. "He always had the tightest car, expensive clothes, you know. He was making his money. He wasn't out there trying to thug out on fools. He was about paper. Straight paper."
r.i.p eric eazye wright west coast o.g founder of n.w.a eazy duz it classic rap album of all time stll talkin shit luv it eazy e is miss n the rap game rap music is boring now