It's hard to narrow down Eazy's calling card to just one thing. As the founder of Ruthless Records, he was a former street hustler turned record executive. As a music artist, he was less a rapper than a stand-up comedian and provocateur. The end of his career saw the consequences of Eazy's success: Dre and Ice Cube, the two musical anchors Eazy brought into N.W.A., were enjoying wildly successful careers, but their relationship with Eazy was one of animosity. Eazy proved he still had it as a talent scout, having discovered the supersonic speed rappers BoneThugs N Harmony while on a trip to Cleveland. And while it seemed like Eazy was on the verge of bringing Ruthless Records back to its former glory, that chance abruptly ended when Eazy died of AIDS in 1995.
Jerry Heller, Eazy's Ruthless co-founder, is the only person who has openly talked about Eric Wright, the real man behind Eazy-E. According to Heller, Eazy was a visionary who wanted to capture the gangsta life on record as a way to make it out of the hood. For a while, that vision was achieved, along with an environment that allowed black artists to make some groundbreaking music, but it collapsed with Ice Cube's departure from N.W.A. According to Heller and former N.W.A. member D.J. Yella, the cause was simple: too much success and money, too fast. Between the break-up of N.W.A. in 1991 and Eazy's AIDS diagnosis in 1995, Eazy, Dre, and Ice Cube were at each other's throats on their respective albums. The rivalry between Eazy and Dre would later become incredibly heated, as Eazy released an EP dedicated entirely to dissing Dre, Snoop Dogg, and all of Death Row Records. The artists on Death Row continually responded to Eazy and other Ruthless artists on Dre and Snoop's solo albums, soundtracks, and any opportunity in the press. In many ways, this feud was a precursor to the later West Coast/East Coast rap rivalry that would end with the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.
At the time of his death, Eazy was CEO of the largest independent black-owned record label in the U.S., which was valued at $20 million, paving the way for media mogul rappers like Master P, P Diddy, and Jay-Z.
Eazy's calling card is inseparably fused to N.W.A's legacy of bringing urban realities to a mainstream audience through pure, raw storytelling and a wry sense of humor. What "Boyz N The Hood" represents is the ability to communicate the realities of the hood—and to have absolute control over the presentation to the audience. In Eazy's case, his most memorable performances involve making light of disturbing subjects, something which is common to a number of different genres. In comedy, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy demystified and made light of the "N" word as a way to address societal and institutional racism. Literary greats like e.e. cummings and Vladimir Nabokov were such masters of language that their poems and novels often violate traditional grammar rules and are effective through their playfulness. Regardless of the medium, if you are a master, you can break the rules.
As a solo artist, Eazy's voice was always noted by critics and fans as to be "high and whiny." His rhyme delivery never strayed from the traditional couplet form, and his topics never strayed far from drinking, dealing, killing, and sex. Really, he talked a lot about sex. There are a few stand out rap classics such as "Boyz N The Hood," "Eazy Duz It," and "8 Ball," but there are other, hypersexual songs that span Eazy's whole career. It was largely Eazy's songs that brought the accusations against N.W.A. for being misogynistic—and not without good reason, because although Eazy's more sexual songs incorporate his humor, that sentiment is largely lost in his incredibly graphic descriptions.
Just as his former drug and gang exploits led to the founding of Ruthless Records, reality and art continued to blur, especially with regard to sex. In his lifetime, Eazy fathered seven children from six different women, and rapped and fantasized about scores of other sex partners on record. And just as Eazy was a gangsta rap pioneer, he also tragically became the first gangsta rapper to share his AIDS diagnosis in March 1995, just days before he died.
Eazy's death was sudden and unexpected for his fans. Never regaining the same visibility he had in his N.W.A. days and greatly overshadowed by the success of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, Eazy was out of the public eye and was never the subject of speculation on his health, as Queen front man Freddie Mercury had experienced.
On March 16, 1995, ten days before he died, Eazy issued a statement saying: "I may not seem like a guy you'd pick to preach a sermon, but now I feel it's time to 'testify' because I do have folks that care about me hearing all kinds of stories about what's up …. Maybe success was too good to me. I've got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn what's real when it comes to AIDS. Like the others before me, I would like to turn my problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin, because I want to save their asses before it's too late."
In the year before his death, it seemed that Eazy was beginning to patch things up with Dre and Cube, and there were even rumors of a reunion. It never happened, but many considered Eazy's statement at the end of his life to be a courageous one, demonstrating that the destructive power of AIDS can affect anyone.
As a rap provocateur, entrepreneur, talent scout, and brief AIDS advocate, Eazy played a number of cards that brought rap music into the mainstream and continues to influence and shape the gangsta genre today. In fact, one can see either the influence or trace the genealogy of today's biggest rap acts back to the members or N.W.A.—with Eazy as the mastermind, he more than earned his nickname as the "godfather of gangsta rap." Go ahead, Google it.