The mean streets of Compton have claimed many, but 24-year-old, self-proclaimed gangsta rapper MC Eiht has taken the lurid, true-life tales of his hometown to the top of the charts. Along the way, he's managed to upset hip-hop moralist Dr. C. Deloris Tucker and psychic legionnaire Dionne Warwick with his work; Eiht's latest release, We Come Strapped (currently in its fourth week at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart), won't make them any happier. Eiht pulls no punches on the reality front, but far from telling purely shock-value stories, he projects the elements of drugs, guns and life into grim visions of reality. Eiht also made it to the big screen in last year's hit film Menace II Society, and stepped into the role of director on his video "All for the Money." Now, by way of a midnight phone call from the set of his latest video shoot, for "Niggaz Make the Hood Go Round," here's a little back and forth with one of the originators of West Coast rap:
New Times: The media label your music gangsta rap. What do you think about that title?
MC Eiht: That's what it is, some of it . . . some people are just studio gangstas, just trying to be gangstas in the studio cause they don't know how to really be a gangsta. I mean, these are gangstas on wax. Anybody can make a record and say, "Hey, you know, I killed 18 or 20 people," but it ain't really happening. I lived that life, and I'm glad that I'm in the life that I'm living now, you know, with the music business and all, because the streets right now are no joke.
New Times: Supposedly, gangsta rap affects youngsters today, growing up listening to lyrics about bitch slapping and booty calling. MC Eiht: Really, we're not talking about calling women bitches or anything like that. It's more or less like telling how it is to be a gangsta, you know? I'm telling how I'm a gangsta and telling how I live . . . me living in the streets of Compton, living in the streets of L.A. I just rap about what's real. Ninety-nine percent of my lyrics are real; they're realistic as far as what I've seen happen or what has happened to me.
New Times: How did you come up with the name MC Eiht?
MC Eiht: I used to carry a .38 all the time.
New Times: And you still carry a gun?
MC Eiht: I carry one now. You can't leave home without it in L.A. This is the killing field here. L.A. is no joke, and you get people who are jealous of you because of the fact of who you are or whatever. You roll through the wrong hood, you're looking to get Glocked. It's the same thing in New York. You can't walk through the street in a pair of brand-new Jordans in Harlem. It's not like walking in Beverly Hills.
New Times: How do you see East Coast versus West Coast rap? Is it competition or is it all just music?
MC Eiht: It's not really competition. It's like punk rock and heavy metal. I mean, it's two different extremes. West Coast is more fast and talking bout the street. East Coast is more like giving you Jazzy Jeff, like a plot rap. You know what I mean? They're rapping about a plot. It's all made-up things. The West Coast is really more serious, and rapping about what's happening on the streets.
New Times: What other types of music do you listen to outside of rap?
MC Eiht: Country and western . . . nah, I'm just kidding. I know you out in Arizona, that's why I said that. I think of my boy Chuck D's [from Public Enemy] "By the Time I Get to Arizona."
New Times: Who is your favorite female artist?
MC Eiht: I like Rage [the Lady of Rage], and then Da Brat is kickin' it, too.
New Times: Why aren't there more female rappers in the business?
MC Eiht: Cause the brothas ain't havin' it. You got your favorites--people that's buying records--they know what Salt-N-Pepa sound like. You have to come strong. Just like Da Brat came in Funkdafied, and Yo-Yo when she first broke loose. But if you don't come hard the first time, you'll never make it. It's harder for women. You know, just like back in the days, it was harder for a woman to be a police officer or a firefighter. It's just hard to get in the business being a woman, unless she just seriously has some connections. Any woman Dre puts out is gonna hit the charts, because she's on Death Row [the label]. The label sometimes makes the difference.
New Times: What would you tell somebody who's trying to break into the hip-hop industry right now?
MC Eiht: Whew! Right now, the advice I would give them is to really try to do as much as they can on their own. Because right now, there's just so many people that's out there in the business and they want to either steal your music or your ideas. Because, see, a lot of people are running out of ideas . . . it's like clothes that go out of style. And like the gangsta rap that's goin' on right now, no one likes the title, but if you really look at it, that's what's selling. If you look at Da Brat, Warren G and then myself, you got three top gangsta rappers that are on the top R&B chart.
New Times: Do you freestyle, or is it a dying skill? What are your views on rappers who refuse to freestyle?
MC Eiht: I freestyle. That's how you really determine if a rapper really has skills--if they can freestyle off the top of their head. Freestyling to me is just rapping about anything in the room right off the top of your head.
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New Times: Which cities do you feel more comfortable performing in, like you could just pick up the mike and start flowing?
MC Eiht: I like New York, L.A., Houston, Oakland. I love the Bay Area.
New Times: What are you driving right now?
MC Eiht: A 64. For all y'all that don't know what a 64 is, let me educate you. The make is a Chevrolet Impala, the year is 1964. The popular ride is a lowrider convertible. Hydros or hydraulics are a necessity, and give it that gangsta lean.
New Times: Do you feel that you get the shaft from the record companies? Do they end up giving you expensive cars instead of paying you?
MC Eiht: I experienced that when I first started out. Now I've got respect within the industry and so forth. I mean, I'm set now. I don't feel like I'm getting shafted right now, because I know the business now. I've been in the business long enough to know, but any newcomers, they're the ones who would have to worry about getting the shaft. Cause they'll get blackballed and back-stabbed.