N.W.A (short for "Niggaz Wit Attitudes") was a Compton, California-based hip hop group widely considered one of the seminal acts of gangsta rap, most directly through their first album, Straight Outta Compton, which instigated a shift within the genre towards the hardcore stylings of the subgenre, as the production and the social commentary in their lyrics were revolutionary at the time.
Active from 1986 to 1991, the group endured controversy due to the explicit, confrontational nature of their lyrics. They were subsequently banned from many mainstream U.S. radio stations, and even at times prevented from touring — yet the group still sold over 10 million units in the U.S. alone, mostly through word of mouth and underground magazines. Although largely unknown at the group's inception, members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren would all go on to become platinum-selling solo artists, and some of them household names within popular music.
The group began at the hands of member Eazy-E, who began Ruthless Records with Jerry Heller. Ruthless released N.W.A. and the Posse in 1987 with Macola Records. N.W.A. was still in its developing stages, and only credited on four of the eleven tracks, notably the uncharacteristic electro hop record "Panic Zone", "8Ball", and "Dopeman", which first brought together (on wax) Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. Also included was Eazy-E's solo record "Boyz-n-the Hood". In 1988, rapper MC Ren joined the group.
N.W.A released Straight Outta Compton in 1988. With its famous opening salvo of three songs, the group reflected the rising anger of the urban youth. "Straight Outta Compton" introduced the group; "Fuck tha Police" protested police brutality and racial profiling, and "Gangsta Gangsta" painted the worldview of the inner-city youth. While the group was later credited with pioneering gangsta rap, N.W.A. referred to their music as "reality rap".
The group's music was propelled by their distinct style. Ice Cube and MC Ren's lyrics, centered around the violence and anger of disenfranchised inner-city residents, were complemented by simple production based on heavy beats courtesy of Dr. Dre and scratched samples by co-producer DJ Yella.
"Fuck tha Police", perhaps the group's most notorious song, brought them into conflict with various law enforcement agencies. Under pressure from Focus on the Family, Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless and its parent company Priority Records advising the rappers that "advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action". This letter can still be seen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Policemen refused to provide security for the group's concerts, hurting their plans to tour.
Straight Outta Compton was also one of the first albums to be given the new Parental Advisory label, then in its early stages: the now-iconic label then only consisted of "WARNING: Moderate impact coarse language and/or themes". However, the taboo nature of N.W.A's music was the greatest part of its mass appeal. The media coverage compensated for N.W.A's virtual lack of airplay, and their album eventually went double platinum.
N.W.A's next release was some five months later, the EP 100 Miles and Runnin', but would not be equally diplomatic. Ice Cube left in late 1989 over royalty disputes; having written 45% of Straight Outta Compton himself, he felt he was not getting a fair share of the money and profits. He wasted little time putting together his solo debut, 1990's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, but avoided mentioning his former label mates. The song "100 Miles and Runnin'" is also notable for being Dr. Dre's final uptempo record, which had been a common feature of late-80s hip hop.
The group's second full-length release, 1991's Efil4zaggin ("Niggaz4Life" spelled backwards), re-established the group in the face of Ice Cube's continued solo success. The album is considered by many to be Dr. Dre's finest production work, and heralded the beginning of the "G-Funk era". It also showed a clear animosity towards their former member, and derogatory references to Ice Cube are found in several songs.
Niggaz4Life would be the group's final album. After Dr. Dre, The D.O.C. and Michel'le's departure from Ruthless for Death Row Records, in which Eazy-E was allegedly coerced into signing away their contracts (while however retaining a portion of their publishing rights), a bitter rivalry ensued. Dr. Dre began the exchange with Death Row's first release, 1992's "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')", and its accompanying video featured a character named Sleazy-E who ran around desperately trying to get money. The insults continued on The Chronic with "Bitches Ain't Shit". Eazy-E responded in 1993 with the EP It's On
Dr. Dre 187um Killa and the tracks "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" and "It's On". Eazy-E accused Dr. Dre of homosexual tendencies, calling him a "she thang", and the music video for "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" shows promo pictures of him wearing make-up and a sequined jumpsuit. The photos were from Dr. Dre's World Class Wreckin' Cru days, when such fashions were the style of West Coast Electro hop prior to N.W.A's popularizing of gangsta rap.
After Eazy-E's death from AIDS complications on March 26, 1995 (just over a month after being admitted to the hospital, and 10 days after publicly announcing his diagnosis), all bad blood between the group ceased. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube would later express their re-evaluated feelings to their old friend on 1999's "What's The Difference" and "Chin Check", 2000's "Hello", and 2006's "Growin' Up".
With the success of the biopic Notorious, New Line Cinema reps announced to Entertainment Weekly's "Hollywood Insider Blog" that N.W.A's story was in development to become a theatrical release. The film, titled after the group's first album and directed by F. Gary Gray, was released on August 14, 2015.
Perhaps due in part to the newfound hype surrounding the group, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, only the fifth hip-hop act to receive the honor (following Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 2007, RunD.M.C. in 2009, Beastie Boys in 2012, and Public Enemy in 2013). Rolling Stone ranked them 83rd on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
- N.W.A. and the Posse, released November 6, 1987
- Straight Outta Compton, released August 8, 1988
- 100 Miles and Runnin (EP), released August 14, 1990
- Niggaz4life, released May 28, 1991
N.W.A music videos
Yo, man, there's a lot of tropes out there:
- Angry Black Men: As if their name or near-No Indoor Voice-territory rapping didn't give it away.
- Anti-Police Song: "Fuck Tha Police" is an obvious example of the trope, being a Boastful Rap about a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the LAPD for its brutality and bigoted racism against African-Americans, putting the LAPD "on trial."
- Artistic License Law: In "Fuck Tha Police," a police officer retorts that the jury is lying about their verdict and demands justice, rather than claiming slander or libel.
- Bash Brothers: Eazy-E and MC Ren are "2 Hard Muthas".
- Battle Rapping: After Ice Cube split from the group, N.W.A. took aim at him with the title track of 100 Miles and Runnin', "Real Niggaz", and several other side comments and skits on Niggas4Life. This proved to be unwise, as Cube, widely considered the group's best writer, retaliated with "No Vaseline" and the slightly lesser-known "True to the Game", the former of which effectively destroyed N.W.A. for good by 1992.
- Bigot with a Badge: The group's seminal protest anthem "Fuck Tha Police", particularly Ice Cube's verse, criticizes the racial profiling and police brutality done by white cops to black people, while also pointing out that a black cop will act worse when partnered with a white one.
- And on the other hand, without a gun, they can't get none,
But don't let it be a black and a white one,
'Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top,
Black police showing out for the white cop!
- Boastful Rap: Sort of. They popularized all this.
- Bowdlerise: The group recorded a clean version of "Straight Outta Compton"Straight outta Compton!
It's the crazy brother called Ice Cube
From the stupid dope gang with the attitude!
- But Not Too Black: DJ Yella hence his Stage Name.
- Card-Carrying Villain: MC Ren often referred to himself as "the villain in black", and released a solo album with that as the title.
- Cluster F-Bomb: While no longer holding any records, it is amusing to note that "Fuck tha Police" is 12.1% profanity with a solid 42 seconds of the song being unplayable on the radio.
- Covers Always Lie: There are six guys on the cover of Straight Outta Compton. The extra man (between Cube and Yella) is Arabian Prince, a founding member of the group who left after the picture was shot but before the album was recorded.
- Darker and Edgier: Niggaz4life
- Dirty Cop: "Fuck Tha Police" has quite a few of these.
- The Diss Track: After Ice Cube left the group, the remaining members took shots at him:
- "100 Miles and Runnin'" has the lyric, "We started with five, but yo / One couldn't take itSo now it's four / Cuz the fifth couldn't make it". The video for the song depicted the remaining members of N.W.A together in a jail cell, while an Ice Cube look-alike is released.
- "Real Niggaz", a full-blown diss where the remaining members accuse him of cowardice, and question his authenticity, longevity and originality: "How the fuck you think a rapper lasts / With your ass sayin' shit that was said in the past / Yo, be original, your shit is sloppy / Get off the dick, you motherfuckin' carbon-copy", and "We started out with too much cargo / So I'm glad we got rid of Benedict Arnold, yo."
- In the interlude "A Message to B.A." on Niggaz4Life, he's first addressed by the name Benedict Arnold (after the infamous traitor of the American Revolution) but then named outright in a torrent of abuse from both the group and its fans: "When we see yo' ass, we gon' cut yo' hair off and fuck you with a broomstick" spoken by MC Ren.
- Eventually, Ice Cube had enough, and released "No Vaseline" in response; pointing out that he was the group's principal writer, and accused Jerry Heller and Eazy of ripping off the group. "No Vaseline" by itself killed what was left of NWA, as Dre soon left to form Death Row Records, and Ren would eventually have his own falling out with Eazy.
- Drugs Are Bad:
- On "Dopeman," Ice Cube has some harsh words for cocaine users.If you smoke 'caine, you're a stupid motherfucker!
- This gem from Dre in "Express Yourself", due to Dre's solo album The Chronic being a full celebration of marijuana use:I still express, yo I don't smoke weed or sess, 'cause it's known to give a brother brain damage
And brain damage on the mic don't manage nothing but making a sucker and you equal
- On "Dopeman," Ice Cube has some harsh words for cocaine users.
- Early Installment Weirdness: N.W.A. and the Posse is a compilation album of a few previously released songs, the original version of "Dopeman", and several tracks from people with a tenuous connection to the N.W.A.. The cover is also quite bizarre, featuring interesting sights such as Ice Cube wearing a Flavor Flav style clock, Dr. Dre wearing a leather jacket long before it became his Iconic Outfit, and lots of random friends who were willing to pose for a photo.
- Eazy-E Is About to Shoot You: The famous cover image◊ for Straight Outta Compton, which also qualifies as a Trunk Shot. The Niggaz4Life cover◊ was similar, in that it showed Eazy-E's ghost about to grab you.
- Five-Man Band:
- Five Temperament Ensemble:
- Sanguine: DJ Yella
- Choleric: Ice Cube
- Melancholic: Dr. Dre
- Phlegmatic: MC Ren
- Eclectic: Eazy-E
- Gangsta Rap: The Trope Codifiers if not the Trope Makers.
- Getting High on Their Own Supply: "Dopeman" quoted the trope-naming line from Scarface (1983) as the golden rule to selling crack, seen in the page quote above.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: "I Ain't Tha 1" is close to entirely devoid of profanity, yet it does contain sexually explicit themes. Consequently, this trope was in play in some of the lyrics. Similarly, "Express Yourself" is also devoid of profanity (aside from the phrase "Hell no!"), despite its lyrics pondering on free expression and how some rappers are pandering to censorship to make their songs radio-friendly.
- Gun Porn:
- The music videos for "Alwayz into Somethin" and "Appetite for Destruction" from Niggaz4Life are quite subdued examples of this, as well as their some of their publicity photos.
- Eazy-E's "Neighborhod Sniper" video (post-NWA).
- Intentionally Awkward Title:
- Niggaz4life - the album title appears in mirrored writing on the cover, so it's also sometimes referred to as Efil4zaggin.
- "Fuck Tha Police".
- Hell, the group's name in general.
- Intercourse with You: Niggaz4Life is full of this! Also, "Just Don't Bite It", which revolves around receiving fellatio.
- Joker Jury: "Fuck Tha Police" has a cop being tried by MC Ren, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E and eventually convicted for being "a redneck, whitebread, chicken-shit motherfucker".
- Misogyny Song: At least 70% of Niggaz4Life. Straight Outta Compton also has its moments.
- N-Word Privileges: Really?
- They actually explain these privileges in their song "Niggaz 4 Life"
- Older Than They Look: Eazy-E was smaller than the rest of the group and was often seen wearing the same size jacket as them even though it was really big on him. Would you believe that he was the oldest returning member of the group? By a lot?
- Protest Song: "Fuck Tha Police" is about racial profiling and Police Brutality. While technically never out of the public perception, it has received a strong revival in recent years beginning with the Occupy movement and to the Black Lives Matter protests. At the 2015 BET Experience, a new music video premiered, highlighting recent victims of police violence.
- Rated M for Manly
- Really Gets Around: Most of the members expect Ice Cube was very promiscuous. However Dr.Dre, Eazy-E, and DJ Yella fit this to a T. Eazy and Dre had multiple kids by the time their album Straight Outta Compton came out. DJ Yella after NWA broke-up went on to do pornography.
- Red Shirt: The dude who speaks at the beginning of "Gangsta Gangsta".
- Refuge in Audacity
- Sampling: "Straight Outta Compton" was one of the first popular tracks to use the Amen Break.
- Sdrawkcab Name: The title of Niggaz4life is mirrored on the cover, in a way some people call the album Efil4zaggin.
- Sixth Ranger: Probably MC Ren, on account of being the last to join.
- Solo Side Project: Zig-zagged. Eazy technically subverts it, as he released several solo singles prior to the group officially forming, and recorded solo his album simultaneously alongside Straight Outta Compton. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Ren, and DJ Yella avert the trope, as the former two broke away before releasing solo material, while Ren and Yella didn't release their solo albums until after the group split for good.
- Song Parody:
- "I'd Rather Fuck You", of "I'd Rather Be With You" by Bootsy Collins.
- "Automobile" of "My Automobile" by Parliament.
- "My Adidas" becomes "My Penis"
- NWA themselves were parodied by Dave Brockie in his band's song "The Salaminizer", which rewrites the lyrics to "Gangsta Gangsta" and uses them as the verses for a thrash-metal song.
- Spiritual Successor: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
- The Stoic: MC Ren.
- The Stoner: Dr. Dre, starting around 1991-ish.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: In a way of speaking... "Express Yourself" is one of the few NWA tracks to almost completely lack profanity. It was made because they needed something that radio stations could play.
- Trunk Shot: Straight Outta Compton's cover.
- We Used to Be Friends: Hoo boy...
- Ice Cube left the group due to royalty issues and a distrust of their manager, Jerry Heller. His first solo album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted sold well, though he avoided mentioning his former bandmates. The remaining members, jealous of his solo success, dissed him on 100 Miles and Runnin' and Niggaz 4 Life. Cube responded with the brutal "No Vaseline".
- Dr. Dre left the group for pretty much the same reason and joined Death Row Records. When Eazy-E wouldn't release Dre from Ruthless Records, Suge Knight threatened him with violence. Dre would later diss Eazy on "Fuck With Dre Day", with the video featuring a character named "Sleazy-E" who ran around desperately trying to get money. E responded with "Real Muthaphuckkin' G's" and "It's On", the former of which had a music video featuring pictures of Dr. Dre dressed in sequins and facial makeup from his days in the rap group World Class Wrecking Crew; prompting Eazy to make several homophobic remarks about Dre, and exposing that his claims he was a street gangster were entirely false.
- Dre himself had also threw some subliminal barbs at Ice Cube on The Chronic in retaliation for "No Vaseline", but by the time "Let Me Ride" was released as a single, they had mended their friendship, and even started working together.
- By 1994, even MC Ren got fed up with Eazy-E, calling him a "big-head" and "wannabe mega-star", and even suggesting that N.W.A should reunite without him. He later said that the only relationship he had with Eazy-E was through Ruthless Records.
- All bad blood within the group ceased following Eazy-E's diagnosis with AIDS. Shortly before his death, he managed to patch up his relationships with his former crew.