As seen in the 2015 biographical film, Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. was a hip-hop project like no other. The collective was among the earliest and most important figures of the genre as they used the medium to express very real social and political issues in western society, and the US in particular.
The original lineup, formed in early 1987, consisted of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. DJ Yella and MC Ren joined later that year to complete the lineup before the release of their first material which came in the form of the compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse. The release garnered the group respectable acclaim across California and the album reached number 39 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. But it wasn’t until the release of the group’s 1988 debut studio album, Straight Outta Compton, that the attention of the country as a whole shifted towards the provocative group.
The debut album made history early on, becoming the first gangster rap album to achieve platinum certification. Over the years following the album’s release, its impact on hip-hop and rap artists has been incalculably vast. Despite N.W.A.’s brief existence, they spawned a group of creative masterminds with buckets of personality who went on to continue shaping the genre.
Most notably, N.W.A. was the group that spawned the rapper, beat-maker and production virtuoso Dr. Dre. Following his work with N.W.A, Dr. Dre has become one of the most renowned collaborators in the field; he has made his mark as a creative mentor, having worked with some of the biggest names in rap, including Eminem and Snoop Dogg. No other has done so much to bring rap into mainstream consciousness as a prominent art form than Dr. Dre.
Possibly the second most successful ex-member of N.W.A. was Ice Cube. His major contribution both with N.W.A. and as a solo artist was his lyrical genius. The beginning of the end for N.W.A. came when Ice Cube left the group in December 1989. He left due to his ongoing dissatisfaction concerning the distribution of finance within the group. Ice Cube had engaged in an ongoing dispute with Jerry Heller, the group’s manager, over extra royalties he believed he deserved because he had ostensibly written most of Straight Outta Compton as well as a significant portion of Eazy E’s 1988 solo album Eazy-Duz-It.
Heller ignored Ice Cube’s demands, eventually leading to his departure. Over this time, Heller seemed to warm to Eazy E in a dangerous bid of favouritism. Ice Cube quickly set about working on his first solo album, 1990’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, as the remaining members of N.W.A. worked on their 1990 EP 100 Miles and Runnin’. The title track from the EP contained a direct jab at Ice Cube that only served to make matters worse. The lyrics read: “We started with five, but yo / One couldn’t take it—So now it’s four / Cuz the fifth couldn’t make it.”
Ice Cube’s feud with Heller began to traverse towards the members of his old group and Eazy E in particular due to his closeness with Heller. In 1991, N.W.A. disbanded following frayed relations within the group as Eazy E began to grow apart from Dr. Dre as well. The two swiftly set about insulting each other in their respective solo material during the early 1990s.
In February 1995, Eazy E fell ill with a violent cough. Upon admission to hospital, he was diagnosed with AIDS. On March 16th, 1995, he announced the illness to the public and just ten days later, on the 26th, he had sadly passed away from AIDS-induced pneumonia.
As it transpires, the feuding trio had seemingly managed to patch up their differences in the short period while Eazy E was on his deathbed. In a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter sat beside Dr. Dre, Ice Cube recalled, “I had met with [Eazy] a few months before he died, and we had talked about getting back together. And at the time, our feud had died down, and him and Dre was still at odds, so I was like, ‘If you can get Dre to do it, I’m ready.’”
“We would probably be working together right now,” Dre added. “[We would probably be] arguing about the work, as we did back in the past. It’s like, every project, we had some little argument about what the project should be creatively, and I would say we would probably still be doing that, but at the same time getting the work done and probably doing something amazing.”
In another 2015 interview preceding the release of the film, Straight Outta Compton, Ice Cube reflected on the difficult time the group had when filming the scene depicting Eazy E’s final hours. “It was rough shooting a couple of scenes,” Ice Cube said. “The whole hospital scene with Eazy was rough.” He continued, “I don’t want to give away the movie…I dropped a few tears.”