It's not often that a gangster rap song is kind of...cute.
A common misconception is that while gangster rap has a number of different sounds, it's always unrelentingly hardcore, with violent lyrics and a sociopolitical hook. Witnessing the ravages of gang violence, along with the urban invasion of crack cocaine, gangster 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 gangster rap as the musical equivalent to the latest summer blockbuster shootout, "Boyz-n-the-Hood" actually comes off as a complete farce. More like the Scary Movie franchise, genre spoof movies that parody real scary 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.
Sounds uh, hilarious.
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 gangster 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--k 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-E 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 much more grim.
|Writer(s)||Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), and Dr. Dre (Andre Young)|
|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")|
|Learn to play||Chords|
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Naughty By Nature
Jerry Heller, Ruthless: A Memoir (2007)
Ruthless is a fascinating look at the founding of Ruthless Records and the relationship between music exec Jerry Heller and Eazy-E. After N.W.A. disbanded, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre went out of their way to blame Heller for the breakup, citing unfair contract deals.Heller, who is Jewish, was the target of some very nasty attacks, especially from Ice Cube, who was later accused of being anti-Semitic based on some of his comments. Ruthless sets out to tell the other side of the story, but it's really more of a tribute to Eazy-E and his role as the godfather of gangster rap. Heller provides an insider's view on the challenges and controversies he and Eazy faced from their first meeting in 1987 to Eazy's death from AIDS in 1995.
Str8 Off Tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin' Compton (1995)
Streetz was released several months after Eazy's death from AIDS. Intended as a double album, Streetz was half-finished at the time of his death. The music is sprawling and has typical gangster beats, but Eazy returns to topics that aren't about Dre, which is refreshing."The Muthaphukkin' Real," featuring MC Ren, who remained neutral in all the group feuding, is an excellent, laid-back track that waxes nostalgic about hardcore hip-hop, and "Jus Tah Let U Know" is a catchy, radio-ready track that hints that Eazy was capable of standing on his own as a recording artist.
It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa (1993)
It's On is something of a return to form for Eazy, if only because his sense of humor returns in full force. The problem is that he focuses it solely on taking down Dr. Dre. When Dr. Dre wanted to leave Ruthless Records, he couldn't make a clean departure because he had signed an exclusive performing and producing contract with Eazy.Unable to leave, Dre allowed Suge Knight, the founder of Death Row Records to negotiate his departure, which involved giving Eazy a percentage of all of Dre's future earnings for six years. In that time, Dre released The Chronic, which sold over 8 million copies and has been ranked as one of the greatest rap albums of all time. Eazy saw a pretty chunk of change from that release, of which he took great pains to remind everyone. This EP does have its moments, particularly with "Real Muthaphukkin' Gs" and "Any Last Werdz."
5150: Home 4 Tha Sick (1992)
In 1992, N.W.A. was a distant memory and Eazy was dividing his time between being a solo artist and running Ruthless Records. 5150 is really more of an expanded single than an album. Rather than the comical, superhero gangster Eazy had previously portrayed, the EP opens with a dark and brooding Eazy, his nasal whine replaced by a deep, guttural, and almost Satanic voice declaring: "I'm baaaaaacck!"The whine returned when Eazy delivered his rhymes, but the music was such a stark departure from his previous efforts that the songs never made much of an impact. 5150 was supposed to precede the release of an album called Temporary Insanity, but it was never released.
Rap fans had already been introduced to Eazy as a member of N.W.A., but Eazy-Duz-It is his crowning achievement as a solo artist. Owing much to the production of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube's writing skills, Eazy's high-nasal delivery with all its quirkiness is the real star of the show.The language and content is hyperviolent and over-the-top, which was ironic given his frequent reference to his short stature (Eazy was 5'5"). Some notable songs are "Still Talkin'," "Eazy-Duz-It," and "No More Questions," which was later spoofed on Saturday Night Live in 2006, with actress Natalie Portman mimicking the interview format of the song.
The cover to Eazy's debut album, with all N.W.A. members backing him up.
Sit back, relax, and listen.
Dateline NBC Interview with Eazy-E
An early 1990s interview with Eazy and other rap moguls exploring the topic of gangster rap just as it was hitting a mainstream high. Eazy's segment addresses the reality thread you can find in "Boyz-n-the-Hood."