Obituary: Eazy-E

Eric Wright (Eazy-E), musician: born 7 September 1963; died Los Angeles 26 March 1995.

When Eazy-E's group Niggaz With Attitude - inevitably abbreviated to its initial letters NWA - first emerged in early 1989, they seemed like a breath of fresh air; indeed, the five-piece rap group's name seemed a positive irony, one that seemed to speak of defiant underdogs rising and claiming, with a certain sense of humour, their rightful position in society.

From the ghetto of Compton (their first big-selling album was called Straight Outta Compton, 1989) in south central Los Angeles, NWA took off from the springboard of success provided by such local but safer acts as Tone Loc, virtually creating gangsta rap, and overturning New York's domination of hiphop. With tunes like "Fuck Tha Police" they made previously militant rap heroes like Public Enemy seem mere camp pussycats. No wonder their second album, entitled Efil4Zaggin (Niggaz For Life spelt backwards), went straight to No 1 in the American charts in 1991, selling over 6 million copies - mainly to middle-class white teenagers in the US Midwest - of its vicarious rebellion. By the end of 1989 Eazy-E had enjoyed his own million-selling album, Eazy-Duz-It.

Those turned on by NWA's radical chic soon found, however, that their "Attitude" was not entirely the kind that comes of an art-school pose. As spoofed in the rap film Niggaz with Hats (1994), NWA were not quite as "Street" as they pretended: Ice Cube, who wrote many of the lyrics, had a degree, and Dr Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella were almost as middle-class as Miles Davis. Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, meanwhile, was the son of a successful musician, Charles Wright, who with his 103rd Street Rhythm Band had a big hit in the early 1970s with "Express Yourself", covered and released as a single by NWA. Eazy-E, however, was The Real Thing. After a highly successful first job as a teenage cocaine and crack dealer, he turned the profits of his undoubted business acumen to the music business, establishing his own label, Ruthless Records. The rest is a sort of history.

Although the huge-selling Efil4Zaggin had similar compulsively addictive rhythms to Straight Outta Compton, its lyrics, especially in their attitude towards women, were egregiously reprehensible. With the women in their songs characterised as "bitches" or "hos" (whores), NWA brought to public knowledge the troubling misogyny of some male American ghetto youth; one might feel that with song titles like "To Kill A Hooker", "One Less Bitch", and "She Swallowed It", it was NWA themselves who were manifesting such thinking. It would perhaps have been surprising had not members of the group almost daily seemed to be charged with assaults on women.

If Eazy-E had consciously decided to court controversy for his group he certainly succeeded. The sentiments expressed in "Fuck Tha Police" led to the members being shadowed by the FBI; when they toured Britain they were legally banned from performing the song at a number of venues. Perhaps indicating an ability to perceive the individual merits of controversial situations, Eazy-E surprisingly went on public record as supporting Theodore J. Briseno, one of the four Los Angeles Police Department cops accused of assaulting Rodney King.

Ice Cube left NWA in 1990, going on to enjoy a successful solo career; he claimed that Eazy-E had stolen the group's profits; Dr Dre, meanwhile, recorded the pivotal gangsta rap LP The Chronic, and produced Snoop Doggy Dog, his half-brother.

NWA never officially split up; they simply drifted apart, a chilling bitterness overhanging the relationship between Dre and Eazy-E, whose second solo album, It's On (Dr Dre) 187 Um Killa (an encoded gang threat), was essentially an attack on his former partner in rhyme. Eazy-E subsequently produced two acts, both of whose records were released on his own Ruthless Records: the Blood of Abraham, a group of white Jewish rappers; and Bone, Thugs and Harmony, who had a big US hit last year, with whom Eazy-E sang the lead vocals on their current two-million-selling hit. Last year Eazy- E also co-hosted a Los Angles radio show, and he had been working on a further solo album.

In 1994, however, both Ice Cube and Eazy-E were named by police in the American north-west as having been targeted for execution by a group of white supremacists. One wondered if Eazy-E's potential assassins were aware that in 1991 he had donated $2,500 to the Republican Party and found himself invited to lunch with George Bush.

The diminutive Eazy-E had seven children by six different women. The announcement that the 31-year-old rap star was suffering from fully developed Aids was a brave admission for a man constricted by so much cultural confusion about the origins of the disease, a point he made in a press statement, a message that might dilute the misogynistic, homophobic stance of the urban Californian 'hood. Eazy-E was taken for treatment to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where fans flooded the hospital with more calls than were received for the dying Lucille Ball in 1989.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower