“He was ahead of his time,” Dr Dre declared retrospectively about his late friend and N.W.A collaborator, Eazy-E — and never has a truer word been spoken. N.W.A may not have been the first hip hop group to make an impact, but Eazy-E had a singular determination to strip away the MTV friendly gentrified version of the genre and bring the streets to the mainstream in all its guises and glory. In many ways N.W.A did to urban music what punk did to rock and Eazy-E was the central protagonist of this story.
Nearly 30 years before the group dropped their debut single ‘Panic Zone’, Bob Dylan had launched a similar incendiary attack on the status quo and found himself catapulted towards the rarefied tag of ‘the voice of a generation’. A year before N.W.A’s first single was released in 1987, Dylan had featured on the Kurtis Blow rap track ‘Street Rock Duet’. Following his experience in the world of rap, he had this to say: the rappers “weren’t bullshitting,” they were, “poets who knew what was going on,” and he declared that the next artist to take “power and dominion over the spirits” and elucidate the truths of modern life would be “a kid with a chop top hairdo, who came from that world, who knew it.” And according to Dylan, these kids would change things in the same hard-hitting way that he had back in the ’60s. It would seem that his prognostication came true in the form of the chop topped form of Eazy-E.
Sadly Eazy-E’s time as a musical luminary was cut tragically short. The rapper passed away 26 years ago, on March 26th, 1995. The official cause of death was HIV Aids. He was only 30 years old and by this point was at the height of his solo career. At a Hollywood news conference on March 17th, 1995, the rapper shocked the world by announcing that he had contracted Aids. Less than two weeks later he was dead. During his short time suffering from the disease, he illuminated the devastating effect that it was having on communities and dispelled the discrimination that was entwined with the illness, stating: “I’m not saying this because I’m looking for a soft cushion wherever I’m heading. I just feel I’ve got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn about what’s real when it comes to Aids. I’ve learned in the last week that this thing is real, and it doesn’t discriminate. It affects everyone.”
Since his passing, a looming cloud of conspiracy has hung over his legacy. Below we’re taking a look at how those who knew him best responded to his passing and delving into the controversy that has surrounded the final weeks of one of music’s most influential figures.
Diagnosis – On February 24th, 1995, Eazy-E (real name Eric Lynn Wright) was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with a violent cough. He was later diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
Statement – On March 16th, 1995, he announced the aforementioned public statement via his friend and attorney, Ron Sweeney.
Official Line of Contraction – It is officially believed he contracted the disease via a sexual partner. The name of this sexual partner remains unconfirmed despite wide speculation.
Official Cause of Death – On March 26th, 1995, he died of AIDS-induced pneumonia, one month after his diagnosis.
Age at Time of Death – Although it has largely been reported that the rapper was 31 years old at the time of his passing, this misinformation is the result of the rapper falsifying his date of birth by one year. He was in fact 30 years old.
Net Worth – At the time of Eazy-E’s death it is reported that he was worth around $50m USD.
Comments supporting the idea of a conspiracy:
“[There is] this the new thing, right? So, if somebody gonna do something to somebody, technology is so high, right? So, you shoot somebody, you go to jail forever. Kids, you don’t want to go to jail forever, right? So, they got this new thing out, people sell ’em all the time. They get this stuff they call — they get blood from somebody with Aids — and then they shoot you with it. That’s the slow death. The Eazy-E thing.” – Suge Knight, On Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2003.
Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s chat show in 2003, Suge Knight, who is the leading suspect for Easy’s death amongst conspiracy theorists (as he is in just about every other rap conspiracy theory) made the shocking declaration above. Suge Knight was appearing on the talk show following a stint in jail for an unlicensed firearms conviction and made the comment in response to Kimmel playfully wearing a bulletproof vest for the interview. Not to be glib about a serious and tragic story, but if you were approaching the subject from the viewpoint that there is a conspiracy to be uncovered then the fact that the theory’s leading suspect admitted to injecting the victim with Aids live on TV is fairly compelling evidence.
The supposed motive put forward by conspiracy theorists is one of economic gain. Suge Knight was the head of West Coast rap label, Death Row, the main rival to N.W.A’s label Ruthless Records.
Jerry Heller, Ruthless Records co-founder and N.W.A manager, told the Murder Music Show, “I think, even more so now, that Suge Knight is an evil human being. Eazy said, ‘You know this guy Suge Knight?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘Well, I’m gonna kill him.’ He said, ‘This guy is gonna be a problem and I think I should kill him.’ I said, ‘Let me think this thing through. I said, ‘First of all, we’re doing $10 million a month with six employees. We don’t even have a typewriter in the office.’ I said, ‘We’re the most successful start-up record company in the history of the music business and you want to kill this guy?’ I said, ‘That just doesn’t make any sense to me.’ You know something? I should have let him kill him. I would have done the world a favour. He would have done it, for sure, by himself. He always rolled by himself and he was fearless […] I think that he was gonna go do it. I shouldn’t have talked him out of it. Ruthless would probably still be around. Dr. Dre. and Ice Cube would probably still be with Ruthless. It would have been an empire.”
“I went to Yella’s birthday party […] and I remember seeing Eazy right before he went into the hospital and he looked fine to me […] next thing I know, he’s gone like that [clicks fingers] and that seemed weird to me.” – Arabian Prince, speaking on DJ Vlad’s YouTube channel in 2016.
These comments by Eazy-E’s former N.W.A collaborator, Arabian Prince, document the often-discussed fact that there was only a month between diagnosis and death in Eazy-E’s case. Whilst it is possible that he had been living with the virus for years, he didn’t show any noticeable symptoms until a few days before being hospitalised.
“Even to this day none of his kids, none of his baby momma’s, his mistresses, anybody, nobody has come up with HIV or nothing like that. So, just rationally thinking something had to go on.” – Wi$h Bone, speaking to DJ Vlad’s YouTube channel in 2015.
It has often been discussed as anomaly in the case of Eazy-E that the rapper was the only person within the rap community who seemingly contracted the disease. Swathes of anecdotes from the scene at the time claim that the rapper was sexually active with several women, as well as having children, and yet, fortunately, the contagion did not seem to spread.
Comments that dispel the conspiracy theory:
The Medical Science
One of the main points of contention for conspiracy theorists is the speed of the onset of Eazy-E’s illness. However, whilst it is not very common for symptoms not to materialise for years and suddenly present themselves, “clinical latency” is an inherent element of the disease. According to medical science surrounding the illness, people can live healthily with Aids for years without displaying symptoms, and it is not uncommon for the onset of illnesses to cause rapid deuteriations in health.
Naturally, there has been no research into how somebody would be affected by Aids if the virus was injected directly, however, various medical journals reason that it is unlikely the illness would be exacerbated or accelerated owing to this.
An HIV expert, Justin Goforth explained to the Washington Post, how HIV contraction via a needle works, “Needle sticks are an extremely difficult way to get HIV,” Goforth said. “They’ve got good data because of health-care workers like myself being stuck by needles by people that are known to be HIV-positive. So a needle stick itself, if the blood is known to be HIV-positive, it’s about a third of a percent chance of getting HIV from a needle stick. But that’s really different from sharing injection drug needles where you’re actually injecting a decent volume of the other person’s blood into you. That’s different than a stick.”
Furthermore, the fact that none of Eazy-E’s apparent sexual partners didn’t contract the disease is also easily explainable. According to the latest research by Standford Healthcare, the transmission risk for unprotected vaginal sex is around 2%.
Various reports seem to suggest that the FBI did indeed investigate Eazy-E’s death. Uncorroborated documents seem to suggest that the main cause for suspicion was a lawsuit involving Wright’s Ruthless records company. In the settlement of the lawsuit, an unnamed person received $1.5 million from the record label and according to the language in the FBI file, appears to have been tied into the alleged extortion scheme.
However, evidently, the FBI investigation didn’t lead anywhere and nothing suspicious was found relating to the circumstances of Wright’s death itself. The fact that the FBI were able to close the file on the case, indicates that they were happy to conclude that the rapper simply died of natural causes.
“It would be hard to imagine a pussy hound more rabid than Eric Wright. Even before Ruthless kicked into high gear, he had multiple girlfriends. I would sit with him in that little former porn-video office adjacent to Lanark Park and marvel as I listened to him talk to his multiple lovers on the phone, one after another. “Eric,” I would say to him, sadly prescient, “pussy is going to be your downfall.” He was so smart in every other way. Women were his Achilles’ heel. I couldn’t believe that a guy with so few other weaknesses indulged himself in such a huge one.” – Jerry Heller, from Ruthless, A Memoir.
It is well documented that Eazy-E was highly sexual promiscuous throughout his life and as Jerry Heller’s memoir suggests, it is highly possible that he contracted AIDS conventionally via intercourse.
In the end, it would seem that this case will forever linger on. Loved ones continue to fight for what they see as justice while substantial evidence remains elusive. The story itself is one that shines a light on a multitude of regrettable elements. Suge Knights public talkshow comments, in particular, illuminate the regrettable ‘gangster’ element of Hip Hop; his comments may not be proof of anything, but the fact that he felt he had to make them is condemnable in the utmost as both heartless and irrevocably stupid.
It is a tragic incident, but perhaps the take-home message is the one imparted by Eazy-E himself in his final days as he attempted to transfigure the devastation of his illness into a meaningful message for society to learn. Although the shadow of conspiracy and a life cut short may loom over his legacy, the work that he left behind and its vital voice in promoting social issues, shines through the murk of his final chapter as a soaring invocation of talent and humanity.