Woke up quick at about noon
Just thought that I had to be in Compton soon
Perhaps only Brooklyn can rival Compton for the illustrious title of "Places Most Often Name-Checked in Rap Lyrics."
Compton, a predominantly African-American working-class community on the south side of greater Los Angeles, became Ground Zero in the crack cocaine-fueled gang wars of the 1980s.
It also produced many of the rappers who would define the sound of West Coast rap: Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Quik, Kurupt, and many more.
Compton's nearly ubiquitous presence in hip-hop culture has largely obscured recent demographic changes that have significantly reshaped the community. Nowadays, Compton's largest ethnic population is Latino, not Black.
I ran in the house and grabbed my clip
With the Mac-10 on the side of my hip
Bailed outside and pointed my weapon
Just as I thought, the fools kept steppin'
Eazy demonstrates the "speak softly and carry a big stick" philosophy.
Theodore Roosevelt used the phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick" in 1901, shortly before he became president.
Originally an African proverb, the phrase has been used in American politics to describe a diplomatic strategy that relies on a strong military backing. The idea behind the quote, however, has become a popular comedy trope, and these lines are a perfect example of the humorous side of a dangerous encounter.
Eazy is confronted by a group of gang members set trippin', a.k.a. showing their gang signs and trying to provoke a fight. He darts inside the house and returns with a Mac-10, a machine gun first introduced to U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. The Mac-10 fires its rounds at a rate of 600 bullets per minute, so it's not hard to see why Eazy's rivals choose to move on.
Then I let the Alpine play
Bumpin' new s*** from N.W.A.
It was 'Gangsta Gangsta' at the top of the list
Then I played my own s***, it went something like this
Yep, Eazy just rapped about Eazy listening to Eazy rapping about Eazy. It may be the world's first recursive gangster rap.
Name-checking is nothing new in hip-hop, but Eazy-E may have paved new ground by name-checking himself—name-checking this song, really—in this song.
"Gangsta Gangsta" was a hit single from N.W.A.'s groundbreaking 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton. Nothing particularly noteworthy about Eazy mentioning that track in this one.
More interesting, though, is how Eazy introduces the soon-to-be iconic chorus of "Boyz-n-the-Hood" by describing himself listening to it in his car. So meta.
He said my man J.B. is on freebase
The boy J.B. was a friend of mine
'Til I caught him in my car tryin' to steal the Alpine
Chase him up the street to call a truce
The silly cluck head pulls out a deuce-deuce
Little did he know I had a loaded 12 gauge
One sucker dead, L.A. Times front page
Here, Eazy details the downfall of a friend who became addicted to crack cocaine.
The mid-1980s are generally known as a period of a crack "epidemic," as many inner-city neighborhoods were flooded with cheap cocaine in "rock" form that was imported primarily from countries in Central and South America.
The effects of crack in Los Angeles had touched the lives of Eazy and all the members of N.W.A. In 1985, the DEA estimated that 5.8 million Americans were addicted to crack. Because the drug was so cheap to invest in and produce, the street price became cheaper over time, allowing its introduction to new and younger users, which prompted violence among drug dealers looking to protect their turf and maintain their customer bases.
The level of addiction and desperation the drug created in users resulted in violent robberies and murders, and crack-addicted newborns.
It's never been officially confirmed, but it's rumored that Ruthless Records was founded with money that Eazy made selling crack. On Straight Outta Compton, the song "Dopeman" details the motivations and mindset of the neighborhood crack dealer, but ends with more criticism than glorification.
In "Boyz-n-the-Hood," however, the lyrics are a bit more cruel, as Eazy jokes here about someone caught in the cycle of addiction, and stresses the difference in power by contrasting the size of their guns: JB has a .22 caliber hand gun, while Eazy has a much more powerful 12 gauge rifle.
The fellas out there, makin' that dollar
I pulled up in my 6-4 Impala
They greet me with a 40 and I start drinkin'
And from the 8 ball my breath start stinkin'
Rappers gravitate toward numbers: 6-4 (Chevy Impala), 187 (murder), 5-O (the police), and here, an 8 ball (either a 40-ounce bottle of beer or 1/8 of an ounce of cocaine).
Building on references to other songs, this section of "Boyz-n-the-Hood" connects to an earlier N.W.A. song, "8 Ball," also rapped by Eazy.
"8 Ball" is another day-in-the-life journey following Eazy as he drinks a 40-ounce Olde English beer and gets into drunken highjinks. However, Eazy doesn't hesitate to show himself in a self-deprecating and negative view:
Olde English 800 cause that's my brand
Take it in a bottle, 40, quart, or can
Drink it like a madman, yes I do
F*** the police and a 5-O, too
Stepped in the park, I was drunk as hell
Three b****es already said, "Eric, your breath smells!"
40 ounce in hand, that's what I got
"Yo man, you see Eazy hurlin' in the parking lot?"
Stepped on your foot, cold dissed your hoe
Asked her to dance and she said, "Hell no!"
Called her a b**** 'cause that's the rule
Boyz 'n the hood trying to keep me cool
The section of "Boyz-n-the-Hood" in which these lyrics appear may also contain the essence of the song.
It's implied that "the fellas out there, makin' that dollar" are dealing drugs. Eazy pulls up in his customized car, financed through the spoils of hood activities. He's greeted by his group of friends, just as you would be with your own clique. Nothing is questioned or given a second look. Eazy just pops the cap off his beer and joins in on the fun.
What appears in "8 Ball" as a funny and tense situation—balancing the ideas of the grotesque—has become normalized in "Boyz-n-the-Hood."
And that's the significance of the song. It's not "Boys in the Hood." It's "Boyz-n-the-Hood." Everything, even the title of the song, is askew, distorted into a unique reality that can only be understood and appreciated by its native inhabitants.