Boyz N The Hood
In a Nutshell
It's not often that a gangsta rap song is kinda... cute. A common misconception is that while gangsta rap has a number of different sounds, it's always unrelentingly hardcore, with violent lyrics and a socio-political hook. Witnessing the ravages of gang violence, along with the urban invasion of crack cocaine, gangsta rap legend Eazy-E took a song that wasn't originally written for him and made the realities of the hood sound comical and even a bit light-hearted. While you might think of gangsta rap as the musical equivalent to the latest summer blockbuster shootout, "Boyz N The Hood" actually comes off as a complete farce—more like Scream
or another one of those genre spoof movies.
The song itself breezes over gang and domestic violence, makes a joke of drug and alcohol abuse, and justifies violence between street rivals and public officials.
Actually, it is. And if you've ever heard Eminem or Lil' Wayne being subversive and sarcastic, you'll immediately recognize that "Boyz N The Hood" helped to inaugurate the genre of hyper-violent and über-sexual rap that is simultaneously inappropriate and comical. This music makes parents cringe, but fans can't help turning up the volume.
Eazy-E and the rest of N.W.A. were true pioneers of West Coast gangsta rap; in the late 1980s, they were the only group to get a public rebuke from the FBI (that was after they released the song "F--- tha Police," which had a message that was about as subtle as a sledgehammer). Having nabbed the spotlight as rap's bad boys, N.W.A. (and Eazy in particular) began to produce songs that were more street fantasy than reality rap, becoming surprisingly playful with otherwise lurid subject matter.
"Boyz N The Hood" is a song that operates on two levels. On the first, it's Eazy's account of what the "boyz" do every day in their grim hood playground. But it's also a satire of just how far removed from reality that life can be: Eazy takes life in the hood to a level of ultraviolence and infuses it with a sharp sense of humor because, well, the real version is so much more grim.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Eazy-E (vocals), with samples from Whodini ("I'm a Ho"), Beastie Boys ("Hold It Now, Hit It"), Jean Knight ("Mr. Big Stuff"), Original Concept ("Pump That Bass" and "Knowledge Me"), LL Cool J ("El Shabazz"), and Eddie Murphy ("The Barbeque")
|Writer(s)||Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), and Dr. Dre (Andre Young)|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
"Boyz N The Hood" is a genre classic because of its production value, grittiness, and Eazy's presence and voice... but most of all because of the quirkiness that shines through its disturbing subject matter.
In this way, "Boyz N The Hood" is able to both disturb and amuse the listener. Finding humor in darkness is something common to Southern Gothic literature, such as "A Good Man is Hard to Find,"
by Flannery O'Connor or even To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee. In the case of O'Connor, her characters are typically amoral or pseudo-moralistic truth-seekers, but they generally attain enlightenment or resolution through an act of violence or perversion. With Lee, Mockingbird
focuses on the often-humorous events in the lives of two children, but sets their story against the dead-serious backdrop of an African-American man falsely accused of rape.
Maybe the humor in "Boyz N The Hood" has something to do with the keyboard melody that underscores Eazy's lyrics, which is simple and playful and not at all the kind of sound you'd probably expect to accompany an account of gangsta life. But even the most tragic stories sometimes need comic relief. Just look at Hamlet
: even while Shakespeare's slowly suffering son mourns his father, sees his mother marry his uncle, and loses his true love, he occasionally has to deal with that buffoon Polonius, who lightens the mood (well, until he dies, anyway).
On the Charts
"Boyz N The Hood" never made it onto the pop charts. Too risqué for late-1980s radio, the song became an underground hit and launched Eazy-E's career as a rapper (he previously dabbled in the gang and drug dealing industries). Originally released on N.W.A.'s debut album, N.W.A. and the Posse
, the song's "true" form is considered the remix version on Eazy's debut album Eazy-Duz-It,
though it was also later reworked in further remixes and musical tributes. Initially, Eazy had to be convinced by his friend, Dr. Dre, even to record the song, but once the demo wrapped, they knew they were on to something—they just didn't know that "Boyz N The Hood" would be one of the most influential rap songs of all time.