The cover of N.W.A. and the Posse, does not look like something released by the most important rap group of all time.
Actually, just looking at the photo, who would believe that some of the guys in this alleyway would change the course of popular music forever less than a year after the flashbulb popped? Who would guess these men were capable of creating their own genre of music, putting their fingerprints on nearly every hip-hop song written in the past 20 years? Who would imagine that four guys in this picture would go on to record, produce, or market records that have sold hundreds of millions of copies?
Does anyone even know who the hell all these guys are?
Not only does the cover of N.W.A's first album not look anything like the standard image of "The World's Most Dangerous Group," it's such an odd mix of styles it's hard to believe the guys posing together are any sort of group at all. Truly, the cover of N.W.A. and the Posse is a puzzle.
This picture is also, however, a perfect snapshot of one of the most important scenes in the history of popular music. Stare for a moment and you can see a myth about to be born. That myth, Gangsta Rap, enabled four guys in this picture — Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy E — to titillate and terrify America as Compton-based rap group Niggaz With Attitude.
The mythical power of N.W.A certainly doesn't come from the clock necklaces, the running pants or the Jehri curls. Look to the left, at the bottles of malt liquor, the plain jeans, and the black ballcaps. Those props (and that's the right word, as we'll see later) hint at what's going on here, which is the gestation of gangsta rap. It's a genre that went on to become the most important, influential, and successful innovation in urban music in at least a quarter century.
This photo is a mid-Genesis snapshot.
From a music critic's perspective, N.W.A. and the Posse is nothing special. Certainly not compared to Straight Outta Compton, the culture-changing epic released less than a year later. In fact, Compton has proved so important that it has since supplanted Posse as the group's "first record" in most histories of the group. That's not an altogether-unfair version of things.
Actually, N.W.A. and the Posse, which came out in 1987 and featured songs by N.W.A. and some other groups Dr. Dre did production work for, is just what the name suggests: N.W.A. with a gang of friends and associates destined for bit parts in a grander drama.
As Jerry Heller, the band's famously demonized manager, says in his memoir, it was "the product of a loose amalgamation of DJs, musicians, and MCs."
"N.W.A. and the Posse is unquestionably raw production, not quite ready for prime time," he wrote. "It has elements of greatness, rap songs that later became monsters: 'Boyz-N-the-Hood,' 'Dopeman,' '8 Ball.' Listen to the version of 'Boyz' on the Posse album and then compare it with Dre's remix a year later that appears on Eazy-Duz-It, Eric's first solo album. The difference is clear. Posse was a trial run, a rehearsal."
So, if this is a rehearsal, who are all those extras?
Anyone who knows anything about rap can pick out at least two guys in this photo: Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. If you're into the old school, you can probably identify four of the dozen, adding MC Ren and Eazy-E. A true N.W.A. fan could pick out Arabian Prince, who is standing next to Cube.
Pretty much no one not in the photo — not even the most hardcore hip-hop heads — can ID the rest of the posse pictured, other than maybe giving a 20-year-old street name. Until now, that is.
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It took a lot of work, but we've tracked down all 12 guys from the Posse record cover. Over the next 12 days we'll be introducing you to all of them, one at a time.
Some of these guys are on Hollywood's A-list, others drive trucks, but they were all once part of the same posse. Each and every one of them played a small but significant role in the history of hip-hop, as you'll see over the next 12 days.
Check out the other installments in the Posse Project Here: