L-R: Ice Cube, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren
Compton, California, U.S.
The original lineup consisted of DJ Yella, Arabian Prince, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E; Arabian Prince embarked on a solo career in 1988 and Ice Cube left in December 1989 over royalty disputes. Several members would later become platinum-selling solo artists in the 1990s. Their debut album Straight Outta Compton marked the beginning of the new gangsta rap era as the production and social commentary in their lyrics were revolutionary within the genre.
Late 1986: FormationEdit
The group was assembled by Compton-based Eazy-E, who co-founded Ruthless Records with Jerry Heller in late 1986. Initially, N.W.A consisted of Eazy-E and Dr. Dre, who in turn brought fellow-World Class Wreckin' Cru member DJ Yella into the group. Together with Arabian Prince, Ice Cube was added to the roster, after Dre had collaborated with him and his group C.I.A..
Ruthless released the single "Panic Zone" in 1987 with Macola Records, which was later included on the compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse. N.W.A was still in its developing stages, and is only credited on three of the eleven tracks: "Panic Zone", "8-Ball" and "Dopeman". The Eazy-E solo song "Boyz-n-the-Hood" was also included on the album. In 1987, MC Ren joined the group as its final member.
1988-1989: Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-ItEdit
N.W.A released their debut studio album, Straight Outta Compton, on 8 August 1988. With its famous opening salvo of three tracks, the group reflected the rising anger of the urban youth: "Straight Outta Compton" introduces the group, "Fuck tha Police" protests police brutality and racial profiling, and "Gangsta Gangsta" painted the worldview of inner-city youth. While the group was later credited with pioneering the burgeoning subgenre of gangsta rap, N.W.A referred to their music as "reality rap". Ice Cube, MC Ren and The D.O.C. wrote the lyrics for the group, while Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, as High Powered Productions, produced the songs.
The song "Fuck tha Police", which is perhaps their most notorious song, brought the group into conflict with various law enforcement agencies. Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless and its distributing 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." The letter is currently on display 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. Nonetheless, the letter only served to draw more publicity to the group.
Straight Outta Compton was also one of the first albums to adhere to the new Parental Advisory label scheme, then still in its early stages. However, the taboo nature of N.W.A's music was the most important factor of its mass appeal. Media coverage compensated for N.W.A's lack of radio airplay and their album eventually went double platinum.
One month after Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E's solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It, was released. The album was dominated by Eazy-E, with MC Ren being the only guest rapper, but the album was still a group effort. Production was handled by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, while the lyrics were largely written by MC Ren, with contributions from Ice Cube and The D.O.C. The album was another double platinum success for Ruthless, in addition to girl group J. J. Fad in 1988 and singer Michel'le in 1989. The D.O.C.'s debut album, No One Can Do It Better, was released in 1989. Produced entirely by Dr. Dre, it is notably free of gangsta rap content but includes the N.W.A posse cut "The Grand Finalé".
1989-1991: Departure of Ice Cube, 100 Miles and Runnin' and Niggaz4LifeEdit
Due to a financial conflict, Ice Cube left N.W.A in December 1989 over royalty disputes; having written almost half of the lyrics on Straight Outta Compton, he believed that he was not getting paid enough for his contributions. He temporarily relocated to New York to collaborate with Public Enemy's production squad The Bomb Squad and recorded the album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, released in 1990. The album avoids any mention of his departure from the group, but the title track of N.W.A's 1990 EP 100 Miles and Runnin' features an Ice Cube diss: "We started with five, but, yo, one couldn't take it / So now it's four 'cause 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 lookalike is released. "100 Miles and Runnin'" was Dr. Dre's final uptempo recording, as after this he focused on a midtempo, synthesizer-based sound which would become known as G-funk, starting with the song "Alwayz Into Somethin'" in 1991.
Also included on the 100 Miles and Runnin' EP is the song "Real Niggaz" (which was later added to their 1991 album Niggaz4life), a full-blown diss on Ice Cube where the remaining members accuse him of cowardice, and question his authenticity, longevity, and originality.
Ice Cube made his first responses to the attacks on his 1990 EP, Kill at Will. He ends the song "Jackin' for Beats" with the lines "And if I jack you and you keep comin' / I'll have you marks a 100 Miles and Running!'". At the end of the song "I Gotta Say What Up!!!", in what sounds to be an on-the-phone interview, Ice Cube is asked "Since you went solo, whatever happened to the rest of your crew?" and the phone is abruptly hung up on the interviewer. In September 1990, members of N.W.A affiliates Above the Law clashed with Ice Cube and his posse Da Lench Mob during the annual New Music Seminar conference, forcing the latter to flee the premises.
The group's second studio album, Niggaz4Life, was released in 1991 and re-established the group in the face of Ice Cube's continued solo success. The album is considered by many Dr. Dre's finest production work, and it 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. The interlude "Message to B.A." parodies the beginning of Cube's song "Turn Off the Radio" from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted: Ice Cube is 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.
Ice Cube made his first direct attacks on the group on his second studio album, Death Certificate, in 1992. He sampled and mocked the "Message to B.A." skit before embarking on a full-blown tirade, the infamous "No Vaseline". In a series of verses, Ice Cube verbally assaults the group and their Jewish manager, Jerry Heller. The song attracted controversy for its antisemitism based on the bashing of Heller's religion, marking the beginning of such accusations against Ice Cube during his affiliation with the Nation of Islam.
1991-1995: The end of N.W.AEdit
As head of production at the Ruthless label, Dre produced a large number of projects by labelmates, many of them high-selling. He eventually felt the pressures of having to produce so many artists and became frustrated with Ruthless. Artist and friend The D.O.C. went over the books with a lawyer and approached Young about forming a new label after discovering Heller's dishonesty. N.W.A. then officially disbanded in November 1991 and soon after, Dre and The D.O.C. formed Death Row Records with Suge Knight and Dick Griffey in January 1992. Allegedly using strong-arm tactics, Knight was able to seize the contracts from Ruthless for Dr. Dre, The D.O.C. and singer Michel'le, although Eazy-E still retained a portion of their publishing rights. MC Ren and DJ Yella stayed on the Ruthless label.
Dr. Dre began the Ruthless-Death Row beef with the song "Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" in 1992. It was released with an accompanying video that featured an Eazy-E lookalike named "Sleazy-E" who desperately ran around trying to get money. The insults continued on "Bitches Ain't Shit". the closing song on Dr. Dre's debut solo album, The Chronic.
Eazy-E responded on his 1993 EP It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa with the songs "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" and "It's On". Eazy-E accused Dr. Dre of being a homosexual, calling him a "she thang" and criticising Dre's new image by calling him and his protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg "studio gangstas". The music video for "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" showed a still photograph of Dr. Dre wearing make-up and a sequined jumpsuit. The photos were from when Dre was a member of the World Class Wreckin' Cru, when such fashion was common among West Coast electro hop artists, prior to N.W.A's popularisation of the gangsta image. Eazy-E continued to diss Dre and Death Row on most of his songs until his AIDS-related death on 26 March 1995. The rest of the group reconciled after his death.
- 1990: 100 Miles and Runnin'