I know, I know, this wasn't the rapper from Compton, California that you were hoping to read about this week. You should probably keep reading this post anyway, though.
Although the late Eric "Eazy-E" Wright gets credit for many things in our chosen genre, he almost never is recognized for actually rapping. Note that I didn't say "writing"; Eazy famously didn't pen his own lyrics, usually depending on either his old N.W.A. bandmates or his weed carriers to help him in that department. But he was pretty good at reciting said rhymes, elevating them from mere words on a page by way of his high-pitched, energetic, semi-insane voice. The man didn't have a successful solo career post-N.W.A. just because he was a part of N.W.A., after all: if that was all it took, then MC Ren and DJ Yella would have multi-platinum albums hanging from their own walls.
Several months after the release of his EP It's On (
Prior to checking himself into the hospital, Eazy-E had been recording songs for what was supposed to be his second full-length solo album, which he wanted to title Str8 Off Tha Streetz Of Muthaphukkin Compton. It was originally intended to be a double-disc set, as Eric had more than sixty tracks to choose from, but he passed away before he could assemble and distribute it. Labelmate and former N.W.A. coworker DJ Yella took it upon himself to extend Eazy's legacy by finishing the project, chopping it down to a single disc (so as to not dilute the man's message) and releasing it ten months after his death to critical acclaim and platinum sales, the latter of which always tends to happen with a posthumous release thanks to the curiosity factor alone. Also, the cover artwork featured the goofily brilliant marketing move of masking the curse word in the title by way of a lottery scratch-off deal, forcing you to actually do all the work if you want to be exposed to a tiny but of misspelled profanity. That, or you could just look at the picture above, I guess.
Str8 Off Tha Streetz Of Muthaphukkin Compton would have marked a bit of a departure for Eazy-E; although he remained firmly rooted in California, he seemed to be actively updating his brand for the next age of hip hop, and it's possible that he could have remained relevant in our chosen genre for at least five additional years. Unfortunately, thanks to his passing, his shadow will remain looming over not just gangsta rap, but all hip hop, indefinitely.
May he rest in peace.
1. FIRST POWER
Sure, this rap album intro seems creepier in retrospect, as it features Eric talking about reincarnation, but in reality, it's just a creative ploy asking for the listener to take him and his work more seriously (although some of the dialogue here is a bit goofy, admittedly). There's no need to listen to it even the one time: just skip ahead to the main event, folks.
2. OLE SCHOOL SHIT (FEAT. B.G. KNOCC OUT, GANGSTA DRESTA, & SYLK-E. FYNE)
The fact that Dr. Dre reportedly ended his feud with Eazy-E while the latter was on his deathbed is immaterial to Yella: Eric Wright recorded “Ole School Shit”, which plays as a sequel to the classic “Real Muthaphukkin' G's” (from the awkwardly-titled EP It's On (
Dr. Dre) 187um Killa), and damn it, it's going to be
heard. Fellow Death Row Records-baiting weed carriers B.G. Knocc Out
and Gangsta Dresta return to verbally assault their enemies, but with
far less venom than they once had (Knocc Out even flubs his verse,
leaving dead air in his contribution: it's strange that Yella would
keep such an obvious mistake intact), while the other featured guest,
Sylk-E. Fyne Of “Romeo and Juliet” fame, sounds out of place, as
she has nothing to do with the beef (although she was still signed to
Ruthless Records, as a part of a female group, at the time, so...).
Eazy himself ends the track with a brief attack, which, overall,
wasn't as blunt as its predecessor, but still manages to bang, thanks
to Yella's instrumental, which, by the way, hardly sounds old-school.
3. SORRY LOUIE
An unnerving sound bite (taken from a made-for-TV flick called Apology) opens the track and informs the hook and general theme, one where Eazy-E is essentially out on a rampage with his trusted baseball bat in his hand. “Sorry Louie” is ignorant, misogynistic, and relentlessly violent: in short, it's the epitome of gangsta rap, except with a bat taking the place of a gun. It's also actually good, as Eric's line delivery has improved significantly since his previous EP, and the production impressively advances our host's sound to the present day (or 1995, anyway), thereby proving that Eric may have possibly remained viable in our chosen genre had he not passed. A shame. This track grabbed my attention back in 1995, and I'm happy to report that it still worked for me today. Eric's creepy Heath Ledger-as-Joker laughing at the end made me uncomfortable, too, so kudos.
4. JUST TAH LET U KNOW
The first single from the project brings the energy level down quite a bit, as Stone's instrumental isn't quite as bombastic or genre-defying as he had probably hoped. However, it does keep up with the concept of updating Eric Wright's sound for a younger audience: this only shares DNA with N.W.A. or his early solo work because he happens to appear on it. Eazy's boasts are delivered in a calculated manner, which is far removed from the live wire-slash-wild card that he portrayed earlier in his career, and he at least pulls that off successfully. Overall, though, this song was about as dull as I had remembered.
5. SIPPIN' ON A 40 (FEAT. B.G. KNOCC OUT & GANGSTA DRESTA)
After a brief interlude (that served as the outro to the previous track) encouraging listeners to do whatever it is that you wish to do with your life (an oddly optimistic viewpoint on a gangsta rap album), Str8 Off Tha Streetz Of Muthaphukkin Compton segues into its second single, the War “Slipping Into Darkness”-aping ode to drinking and procuring product to do said drinking with. The track meanders in the way that most parties tend to, with the narrative voice shifting every few bars, the subject matter constantly changing, and the singular focus of getting fucked up trumping nearly every other impulse. The song is catchy as hell, and Eazy's contributions are fucking hilarious, especially his first two bars aimed at a female acquaintance: “Thinkin' you be drinkin' out my bottle, bitch that's bullshit / Still got semen on your lips from the homey's dick”. So wrong, but still funny. Knocc Out and Dresta also prove that they are, in fact, capable of writing rhymes that have nothing to do with how much they would love to throw Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg down a flight of stairs.
6. NUTZ ON YA CHIN
Admit it: you were a little thrown when you saw Eazy-E pop up (rather lethargically, I might add) in the video for Naughty By Nature's “Hip Hop Hooray”. Well, that pairing finally pays off on this project, as Kay-Gee and Treach, apparently, lend Eric some banging beats for two of the most arrogant, misogynistic, ignorant, and entertaining tracks in the man's back catalog, with “Nutz On Ya Chin” being the first. Eazy-E rides the East Coast beat like a pro, expanding his sound (and, by extension, his overall reach) while doing what he does best: talk shit to women while still somehow convincing them to sleep with him (or at least blow him, as the title would suggest, unless he really has no clue as to how sex works). Still catchy to this day, too.
7. THA MUTHAPHUCKKIN' REAL (FEAT. MC REN)
A brief interlude at the end of the previous track features Eric discussing his N.W.A. past, so it makes sense that the very next track (which is this one, stupid) would feature a reunion of sorts, as Eazy's labelmate and former coworker MC Ren makes an appearance. Over a Yella beat that moves so slowly that it almost seems to be crawling backwards through time and space (not a compliment), Lorenzo and Eric each spit one-and-a-half verses without having missed a step, although Ren is utilizing what I remember his late-period flow to sound like (I really need to get back to the dude's discography), which is alright, bit in 1995 I was hoping for something more high-energy. Eazy goes with the flow and ends up sounding okay, even if his bars are made up of random boasts that aren't truly connected. Wish the song held up, though.
8. LICKIN', SUCKIN', & FUCKIN'
An interlude featuring simulated sex, because this is a gangsta rap album, after all. The underlying music was pretty good, though.
9. HIT THE HOOKER
Because of the sound of crackling vinyl at the very beginning (no doubt brought about by the previous interlude), “Hit The Hooker” immediately comes across as a “lost” track found in Eric's vaults, which gives it an added dose of fake nostalgia that heads such as myself eat up as a part of a complete breakfast. Naughty By Nature's beat works even better than the one on “Nutz On Ya Chin” did, and Eazy's flow takes a few more chances, making “Hit The Hooker” the very best track on Str8 Off Tha Streetz OfMuthaphukkin Compton, even though its filthy as hell and will probably turn some of the two readers off. The beat is so goddamn catchy that you'll halfway hope that a hidden Treach verse will pop up and extend the track's run time, even though that's never happened before and it would be impossible for it to suddenly do so now. But still.
10. MY BABY'Z MAMA
This overall-enjoyable excursion finds Eric actually sticking to a theme, this one being that he hates his baby's mother because of all the obstacles she throws in his way while he at least attempts to try to be a good parent, all while she never truly takes care of the child in question. It's an interesting viewpoint, one that's been seen many times in our chosen genre, but rarely in such an aggressive manner (the hook consists solely of the line, “Fuck my baby'z mama!”. Bobcat's beat boasts a familiar J.B.'s sample best known for its use on Public Enemy's “Rebel Without A Pause”, which was a mistake, as your mind will immediately try to connect the two tracks when there just isn't any kind of comparison to be made, but the song still works as a whole even today.
11. CREEP 'N' CRAWL
Hearing a Snoop Dogg vocal sample on an Eazy-E album seems counterintuitive, but it sort-of makes sense financially: the sound bite was lifted from his cameo on Dr. Dre's “Deep Cover”, which was recorded and released at a time when Eric made money off of everything Andre touched as a penalty for him breaking his Ruthless Records contract early, so even if he paid to use the sample, some of that money went right back into his own goddamn pocket. Genius move, I say. So it's too bad that story is far more interesting than this gangsta retread ever was. Eric's murder spree is handled in the same manner as Eric's dictation of a letter to his administrative assistant, so there's little for the audience to grab onto on here. Groan.
12. WUT WOULD YOU DO (FEAT. DIRTY RED)
I love a good dis song as much as the next hip hop fanatic, but including two on this project is excessive and problematic, especially since it isn't as though Dr. Dre and the rest of the Death Row roster (of that day, anyway) will ever respond to a dead guy. Eric sidelines his usual weed carriers and allows some dude named Dirty Red a chance to shine while aiming venomous bars at Dre, Snoop, and Suge Knight, while, curiously, letting Daz and Kurupt off easy (during his outro, he even encourages Daz to “be a leader, not a follower”, and tells Kurupt to watch the company he keeps, thereby proving my theory, one I never thought about until just now, that Eazy-E probably had no actual beef with Tha Dogg Pound: that was purely a Knocc Out and Dresta construct (see: their dis track “D.P.G./K”). Also, this song shares a name with a Dogg Pound track from the Murder Was The Case soundtrack, released one year prior, so there's that). The Tony G. beat was weak, but Eric, if not his invited guest, sounded convincing enough. Still, with no possibility of a response, it sounds a bit hollow. The skit tacked on at the very end also seemed forced.
13. GANGSTA BEAT 4 THA STREET (FEAT. B.G. KNOCC OUT, DRESTA, & MENAJAHTWA)
Over a simple Yella concoction, Eazy-E and his protegees deliver a posse cut that isn't a highlight of the genre or anything, but is still okay enough to blast through your car speakers. Knocc Out, Dresta, and female duo Menajahtwa (who are forced to occupy space on a single verse, possibly because gangsta rap is a sexist sub-genre of hip hop but probably because they both sound exactly the fucking same) all share screen time with our host, who seems to be relishing his authoritative position as the leader of this rag-tag crew of misfits whose respective rap careers all essentially ended when he passed away. Okay, that's perhaps a far too depressing way to describe unfortunate circumstances. Let's just say that this song was just fine, alright?
14. ETERNAL E (FEAT. ROGER TROUTMAN & DJ YELLA)
Yella introduces this final track on Str8 Off Tha Streetz Of Muthaphukkin Compton, which isn't a song so much as it is an aural eulogy. The music underneath it all is funky, almost inappropriately so, and the late Roger Troutman's talkbox vocals don't help matters that much. But Yella had the foresight to include some sound bites from an Eazy-E interview where he justifies N.W.A.'s “Fuck Tha Police” and his former crew's violent song content, doing so with both clarity and conciseness. Still, this is just a rap album outro, so it isn't required listening, but it may provide you with the closure you so desperately desire.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Str8 Off Tha Streetz Of Muthaphukkin Compton may have been compiled without Eazy-E's input, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's actually the man's best work. It combines his earlier homicidal tendencies with current (for 1995) musical backing, and the two ideas clash beautifully. There are several tracks on here that rank among the best the man ever recorded, and we have DJ Yella to thank for having the foresight to include them; I imagine Eazy may have possibly left the Naughty By Nature-produced songs off of the project had he been alive to master it himself, only because of the whole East Coast/West Coast beef that was brewing around the same time, but death overrides all ridiculous arguments, I suppose. The multiple guest appearances do grow tiresome at times, mainly because the readers who are familiar with Eazy's early work with Dre, Cube, and Ren would expect him to rhyme alongside a higher caliber of artist: roll your eyes at me all you want, but you motherfuckers know that Gangsta Dresta and B.G. Knocc Out aren't ever going to hit that mark. But so many of the tracks on here are enjoyable that it just won't matter that they appear; you'll only be looking out for our host, and you'll be wishing that some of those unreleased tracks would somehow hit the Interweb.
BUY OR BURN? This one deserves a purchase. Not just because of the curiosity factor, but because many of the tracks on here are actually entertaining as shit.
BEST TRACKS: “Hit The Hooker”; “Sippin' On A 40”; “Nutz On Ya Chin”; “Ole School Shit”; “Sorry Louie”