"Rock & Roll is more about rebellion than guitars. N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton officially took that baton away from rock: It's the album that made hip-hop the new rock & roll" - Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, The Roots
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” It’s hard to quantify what those eleven words meant to rap music as the release of N.W.A’s seminal 1988 album Straight Outta Compton changed the script. Hip-Hop had been largely based on the East Coast with New York its unofficial headquarters. Suddenly, jazz related samples were replaced by Dr. Dre’s West Coast G-funk grooves, and lyrical content changed from social commentary, retellings of the sexual frustrations of teenage life and “flossing” to raising hell and the grim portrait of gangsta life.
By 1992, Straight Outta Compton had sold over three million copes and was certified double Platinum. A short list of its effect, not only on rap music but also on popular music in general, runs as follows (taken directly from Wikipedia);
- VH1 named Straight Outta Compton the 62nd greatest album of all time
- Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 144th of its list of of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
- First rap album to gain a five star rating from Rolling Stone
- TIME magazine ranked as one of the 100 greatest albums of all time
More notoriously, it was also one of the first albums to garner the ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker. Quite paradoxically it was this notoriety that would provide an integral part of its mass appeal as media coverage made up for the lack of airplay. Made up of DJ Yella on turntables and emcees Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren and Dr. Dre (who also handled production with Yella), N.W.A released two more albums after Straight Outta Compton (which was their second effort N.W.A and the Posse from a year earlier) both of which failed to recapture their commercial or critical success.
So – with all that in mind. I decided to question who was really the MVP for N.W.A. The criteria for my rankings are as follows;
Lyrical Ability: Seeing as there are no songs on Straight Outta Compton with all four (five if you include Yella who only raps one verse on ‘Something 2 Dance 2”) emcees rapping, the logical alternative was to compare tracks where there is only one emcee.
Contribution: Really what they bought to N.W.A. This included how many tracks they rapped on, whether they wrote their lyrics and how involved they were in production.
Post Script: Looks at their solo albums and other ventures
The four emcees were ranked 1-4 in each of these categories with 4 being awarded to whoever the first placed and 1 to the last placed.
DR. DRE – Express Yourself
Given the lyrical content of Straight Outta Compton something must be said that Dre doesn’t curse once on this track where Dre preaches about the use of rap as a means of self-expression. Issues of lyrical authenticity or “keepin’ it real” also feature.
What let’s Dre down is that it is well known that he doesn’t write his own lyrics (Ice Cube wrote this track)
2nd - but is let down by lack of authorship
ICE CUBE – I Aint Tha 1
Ice Cube’s mysogynistic view of female motivation on this track contains just that. He also makes it known that he is “only down for screwin’”. Lyrically, Cube comes off pretty weak on this track and it is unfortunate that my criterion for lyrical flow is based on the solo joints rather any of the other tracks. Cube also wrote this track.
4th – disappointing release for someone who deserved the chance to shine
EAZY-E – 8 Ball
8 Ball provides insight into a night with Eazy himself to almost Hunter Thompson proportion. Eazy gets drunk, shoots at someone, is abrasive to females, throws up a lot then ends up in a fight. It pretty much sounds my regular Saturday night (sans the shooting and fighting….but definitely including the messiness and epic girl fails). Eazy co-writes this with Cube
3rd – as much as I love gonzo journalism, E does himself no favours and is not poetic at all
MC REN – If It Aint Ruff
I think it goes to show the completely underrated lyrical strength of Ren that, not only does he get two solo joints, but he also writes them both. After much deliberation, I have decided to go with 'If It Aint Ruff' over 'Quiet on tha Set' just because 'Ruff' is by far my most favourite track on this album. MC Ren is a pure emcee. Flossing party rhymes with mucho bravado. There isn’t much to say about it really. In my view, the best emcee in N.W.A
Dre produced the whole album with DJ Yella. Something which would be almost incomparable as far as contribution goes. A relatively weak emcee, Dre raps on 6/13 tracks and wrote no lyrics.
2nd – purely on the basis of production
Cube’s main contribution to this album had to do with the writing, of which he did on 9/13 tracks which included not only all his own verses, but most of Eazy’s and Dre’s. This is massive when you look at in the context of the diversity of the flows of the members. He also raps on 6/13 tracks. Solid contributor who was, effectively, backbone of it all
Eazy’s role seems to have been to contribute the ‘shock factor’ to the group. His flow is high pitched and rhymes seem juvenile in comparison. E raps on 8/13 tracks and writes on 3/13.
4th – too little in every respect
Ren is to N.W.A what the Gza is to the Wu Tang Clan. He simply holds it down and represents in the purest sense. Raps on 7/13 and writes on 8/13
An unlucky 3rd
POST N.W.A WORK
After N.W.A Dre almost single handedly defined West Coast G Funk. He co-owned Death Row Records and founded as well as being the current CEO of Aftermath Records. In 1992 he released The Chronic, an album considered one of the most important and influential of the 1990s. The Chronic sold over eight million copies and went six times platinum as well as peaking at #3 on the charts and won a Grammy for the single ‘Let Me Ride’. Kanye West (who is a total douche but gets it right here) stated that “The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life”. And it is. He also discovered Snoop, signed Eminem, 50 cent and the Game. Dre shone after N.W.A
Cube has released numerous solo albums (his first four went platinum) and appeared in many Hollywood films. The funny thing is, that is entering Tim Allen/Bill Cosby territory with his acting whereas he was downright scary in N.W.A. As far as albums go, Lethal Injection seems to be the apex and every new album seems to be lacking something more each time. He should really apologize to the artistic community for his acting career with only Boyz N Tha Hood, Trespass, Higher Learning, Friday and Three Kings (5 films out of 28) being anything worthwhile. If he could apologize for the rest then it would be awesome.
2nd - Just plain outshone by Dre
Eazy’s solo work seems to be the same old. Juevenille songs. Founded Ruthless Records. Ummm….I don’t really know what else he offered. Ohhh…he discovered Bone-Thugs N Harmony. Got AIDS. Died. Like most artists who die before their time, their artistic influence seems to be remembered in gross values rather than real.
3rd – Only because MC Ren had such a disappointing solo career
Ren had the most potential as an emcee after N.W.A disbanded in 1991. Unfortunately, he dropped the ball. He guested heavily on Eazy Duz It and his first solo joint, Kizz My Black Azz was severely disappointing and sounded like it had been written by Eazy. This was difficult to watch as he was definitely my most favorite member of N.W.A.
4th – What could have been?
….and the results are
4th – Eazy E (5/12)
Lyrically, Eazy E congealed somewhere between 2 Live Crew and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Mild success with Ruthless Records and on solo joints.
3rd – MC Ren (7/12)
Best emcee on show that also wrote all his own stuff. Blighted by awful solo career.
2nd – Ice Cube (9/12)
Pretty much wrote Straight Outta Compton. Although prolific in writing, it must be said that his lyrics were all ‘not quite there’ as far as being top tier goes. Sustained success as a solo artist, a couple of great roles but prototypical rapper-trying-to-be-an actor as an actor.
1st – Dr. Dre (10/12)
As much as I would have like the best lyricist to be in this position, I can’t deny what Dre brought to the table. Changed the face of the game with slow, heavy, synthesizer-based beats.