While Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella all lived to produce and promote a $29 million movie about their little rap group, N.W.A, we lost that group's founding strongman, Eazy-E, in March 1996 due to complications from AIDS. Eazy-E, born Eric Wright, is survived by his wife, Tomika Woods-Wright, who supervised the production of Compton.
The release of Compton has inspired many critics to wrangle retrospectively with N.W.A's political mission. It was a half-assed mission, mind you. Ice Cube was the lone superego of N.W.A, and after Cube's departure from the group late in 1989 to pursue a solo career, N.W.A became a hateful madhouse. In 1990, Dr. Dre assaulted hip-hop journalist Dee Barnes. In 1991, the fantastical misogyny of N.W.A's second, post-Cube album now overshadows the fact that Niggaz4Life is, arguably, the very best production of Dr. Dre's career.
As musical antagonists of the L.A.P.D. and, eventually, the F.B.I, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren were formidable vessels of rage and protest. They were not politicians, however, nor were they civil rights champions of the East Coast's Boogie Down/Public Enemy axis. Eazy-E was no Chuck D.
Indeed, Eazy conceded as much in a 1990 interview with SPIN magazine editor Frank Owen, to whom Eazy outlined the core values and concerns of N.W.A. Excerpted below:
SPIN: Let's talk about 'Fuck tha Police'. Did you follow what was going on in Boston in January, where Chuck Stuart apparently murdered his wife and blamed it on a black mugger and everyone believed him? Is that what you meant on 'Fuck tha Police'?
EAZY-E: No, I don't know nothing about that. We were just talking about what happens to us in Compton.
But racism isn't something that just happens in Compton.
The black police in Compton are worse than the white police. Chuck D gets involved in all that black stuff, we don't. Fuck that black power shit; we don't give a fuck. Free South Africa; we don't give a fuck. I bet there ain't anybody in South Africa wearing a button saying 'Free Compton' or 'California'. They don't give a damn about us, so why should we give a damn about them? We're not into politics at all. We're just saying what other people are afraid to say.
Read the rest of SPIN's interviews with Eazy, Cube, and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller for that story, if only for the love of context. At one point, the writer describes Ice Cube's departure from N.W.A as a plummeting of the group's IQ—never mind that MC Ren was a great songwriter, or that Dr. Dre was a genius producer and future billionaire. And never mind that Eazy-E, mostly via his music but also in this very interview, was full of such casual, precise insights into cartoon masculinity and male rage, e.g., another bit of this interview where, in distinguishing between "women" and "bitches," Eazy explains, "A bitch is someone who fucks everybody except me."
In his interview with SPIN, Eazy's avowed political apathy is surprising even while totally consistent with his persona. Here's the most provocative musician of his day admitting that he barely reads the news and doesn't care about politics. Even the famous anecdote about Eazy-E's having attended a White House dinner in support of Republican president George Bush, Sr., reflects this apathy; the invitation was a fluke, and Eazy's attendance was, essentially, a prank. Eazy-E was hip-hop's original troll.
Throughout the past couple weeks, I'd been keeping up with the public posts that Dee Barnes has shared on her Facebook page. There Barnes has interspersed criticism of Dr. Dre and Compton director F. Gary Gray with surprisingly fond salutes to the memory of Eazy-E, the most avowedly misogynistic (if not physically violent) rapper of his generation. Eazy was a loathsome voice whose de facto political cause, upon closer inspection, is only compelling in contrast with, say, Donald Trump. He was also charming and brilliant, a dreadfully hilarious lothario who made a lot of people laugh. Even people who cringe when recalling "Automobile."
In general, when confronting the subtly toxic personal politics of our favorite entertainers, leaders, or whomever, the new critical wisdom is that we should eagerly "kill our idols." In Eazy's case, "idol" is overselling him a bit, and, in any case, the bloodshed is bittersweet.