This statement is not intended to offend fans of A$AP Rocky, but the most impressive Hip Hop release thus far of 2013 arguably belongs, not to an upstart Harlemite with a Southern swagger, but to an O.G. Westside rider with an East Coast-esque technique.
Thanks to relatively unknown Austrian producer Brenk Sinatra’s slinky smooth production, and the aforementioned veteran’s fit-like-a-glove delivery guiding each tantalizing track, MC Eiht’s just-released EP, Keep It Hood, is indisputable proof that 40-plus emcees can indeed compete on the contemporary Rap landscape.
Unlike the too often uninspired relics from the 1990’s who have desperately resurfaced in recent years to starve off irrelevance, MC Eiht has quietly been amassing his credible comeback one hypnotic headnodder at a time. Thanks to his three-part DJ Nik Bean-helmed mixtape series, Allstarz & Strapz, and an accompanying collection of eye-catching videos to showcase he and Brenk’s tag team efforts, Eiht has reemerged with a rejuvenated sense of purpose and passion over the last few years.
But it was without a doubt his surprising cameo on the joint title-track to Kendrick Lamar’s formal debut this past fall that cemented the return of one of South Central’s original street scribes.
Kendrick’s stylistic forefather in many ways, the onetime frontman for the second most successful group to ever emerge from their notorious stomping grounds, Compton’s Most Wanted, too narrated his tales from the hood atop laidback, oftentimes Jazz-tinged, tracks as he smartly navigated complex social issues with ease—while also taking to task the smarmy Sherane’s of his day.
During Eiht’s recent in-depth interview with HipHopDX, he candidly revealed his initial ignorance to the new king of Compton (and subsequent conversion into a K-Dot fan.) The onetime rival of fellow Hub City legend DJ Quik also bluntly divulged to DX his initial response to Quik’s sinister “Dollaz & Sense” diss, and further detailed how the then archenemies’ dangerous war of words on wax spilled into the streets and tragically claimed a life. The co-star of the classic hood-film Menace II Society concluded his history-filled conversation by providing his fondest memory from filming his role in the defining coming of age story for a gangstafied generation. The CEO of his own Blue Stamp Music Group, (and affiliate of the legendary DJ Premier and Preemo’s Year Round Records), additionally revealed how an N.W.A. member nearly nabbed the role that showcased Eiht’s unique personality and vocabulary to the world, how Tupac’s initial role was deliberately sabotaged by the film’s directors, and why Menace is must-see viewing for Eiht’s son.
The Q&A below is a must-read for anyone of any age looking to learn more about the man Kendrick called on to stamp his debut an official piece of West Coast Hip Hop history. Gyeah!
How DJ Premier And Brenk Sinatra Fit In With MC Eiht’s Musical Influences
MC Eiht: Premier’s a busy cat. He’s supposed to have been doing records with everybody. Nas, everybody been wanting Premier to do a collaboration record. It’s not that he doesn’t want to; it’s just that he’s got so much on his plate. So you gotta be one of them patient cats. I been knowing Premier for over 20 years, so the patience is there. Premier is producing four songs on Which Way Iz West. We got one done; a song I did with original Compton’s Most Wanted [members] Chill and Bam. So we got three more songs to do. I’m doing a song with Bumpy Knuckles.
Premier’s just...He’s got his plate full. But my thing is you don’t wanna rush greatness. So he’s taking his time while we putting it together, which is why we dropped the EP to tide people over. But seeing that the EP is getting a lot of good response, he’s basically right now in full throttle mode on the Which Way Iz West album. So it’s definitely coming.
DX: Brenk, the production he’s done for you is more in line with most of the tracks you’ve gotten down to over the course of your career. I’m bringing that up because the only real criticism that seems to be coming at one of your regional descendants, Kendrick Lamar, is about his beats—to reference a famous Snoop Dogg skit, that maybe they’re a little too “delicate” for a West Coast artist. Did you face any of the same type of criticism from your coastal peers back in the day?
MC Eiht: I used to get—I don’t wanna say criticized for it, but Compton’s Most Wanted always had a different type of sound. We never wanted to follow the typical G-Funk sound, the typical Parliament, George Clinton [sampling sound] Dr. Dre made famous.
I’ve always been a musical cat. So when it came down to our production early on, I wanted more jazzy type of sounds; I wanted more piano riffs, strings, saxophones. We would listen to Isaac Hayes and Barry White, as opposed to George Clinton, Parliament and Zapp. We would listen to The Meters and Otis Redding type of songs. Or, we would listen to Ronny Jordan records, Jazz records. We would listen to that type of music. And then, [DJ] Slip, who was our main producer, was one of these diggin’ in the crates producers. He’s one of these cats who had like wall-to-wall milk crates of records. Wherever we would go, whether it would be Tennessee, or New York, or a small town in Alabama, he would always walk into a record store and just buy records. So, he would always find those sounds. And us wanting to be distinctive [drove our sample selections]. Because back then everybody was in comparison: C.M.W./N.W.A., Ice-T/King T, everybody was the bang culture or whatever. So we wanted to be a little different.
I was a ‘70s kid, as far as music is concerned: Michael Henderson and Michael Cooper and Con Funk Shun. It was all type of different sounds [that influenced me]. Even though where I grew up it was gangs and all that, I was into music. So, I didn’t want my songs to just be like a typical bass line, 808’s, scratch.
If you listen to “I Gots Ta Get Over” from Music to Driveby or you listen to “Hood Rat” with the saxophone, or you listen to “Driveby Miss Daisy” [from Straight Checkn ‘Em] with the long piano solo, I enjoyed [incorporating] musicians. A guy named Willie Z used to play all the instruments for me. And I would basically just let him go off. He used to play for Janet Jackson, and [the Spinners and Lakeside], and a lot of those ‘70s bands. William Zimmerman. I would just open the track up and tell him to play through the whole song. And then we would just cut it up wherever we needed to.
It was something to try to distinguish ourselves from the N.W.A.’s and the King T’s. Not that we wasn’t trying to speak on the same things and tell people about what it was, but you just have to have some type of different edge as far as the music is concerned.
How Kendrick Lamar And MC Eiht Came Together For “m.A.A.d. City”
DX: You mentioned “Hood Rat,” that was one of my favorite cuts from that album. It’s like the original “Sherane” story.
MC Eiht: There you go.
DX: I’ll use that as a segue to talk a little bit more about Kendrick. I love that Kendrick thought to reach out to one of his stylistic forefathers for his official introduction to the world. How did that unification of two generations of left coast listeners come to be for “m.A.A.d. City”?
MC Eiht: Well, Kendrick’s the young generation. And I wasn’t really up on the young generation with Rap, because of the style and the direction they were headed—no realism in the music. So I wasn’t too keen on a lot of these newcomers.
But, Kendrick reached out to me, through family members. So I thought from just that was respect. He coulda went and got anybody. C’mon, let’s face it, him being on Aftermath and affiliated with Dr. Dre, he coulda went and got Snoop, he coulda went and got Game or Quik or whoever. So, for him to come to me, I just felt [that respect].
When I talked to him about the direction of where he was trying to go with the song, and how he was saying his album was basically telling the story of his life in Compton, it was a perfect match. He was like, “When I thought about the song, and I thought about growing up in the city, the first thing people said was you need to get with Eiht. He’s a perfect storyteller. He ain’t never strayed off the path of realism in his records. He’s always represented Compton in that type of light.” So, we got in the studio, and he explained it to me, and then I just came up with my verse. And, it happened to be one of the best songs on his album.
I appreciated that he came to me. ‘Cause, like I said, he coulda went anywhere but he came here. That was a significant stamp. Because, with him claiming Compton and saying I’m coming from Compton, people look at our type of music as [connected].
It was a good look. It worked out good for both of us.
DX: Have you gotten an opportunity yet to go back and listen to some of K-Dot’s catalog, like his Section.80 album?
MC Eiht: I’ve listened to his Section.80 album. And, it’s pretty good. I must say, it shocked the hell out of me because—I can be honest—I was a guy who didn’t even know who K-Dot was. I wasn’t even up on him.
But, to go back and listen to some of his earlier stuff, it’s like, Okay, he’s got the talent, and he knows what his direction is. He’s a cat that got on his bicycle and said, “This the way I’ma ride mine. Y’all might be riding on the handlebars or standing up or doing tricks, but I’ma get in my own lane and I’ma ride mine like this.” And he stuck with it and it’s paying off. You gotta be true to yourself and to your craft. Once you do that, people will follow along.
A Verbal War And A Reconciliation Between DJ Quik And MC Eiht
DX: Let’s take it back for a quick second to once and forever clear up a piece of your past. I know you guys have been on good terms for years now, but you know we gotta talk about DJ Quik’s “Dollaz & Sense.” What was your initial response when Quik infamously declared that you “left out the ‘G’ ‘cause the G ain’t in you”?
MC Eiht: I thought it was a clever line. It wasn’t nothing to the authority of the realness. But, that’s Hip Hop. It’s him shooting at me, me shooting at him; it’s Kool Moe Dee and L.L. Cool J, it’s N.W.A. and Ice Cube, it’s Tha Dogg Pound and Above The Law; it’s just Hip Hop.
It was a clever line, because I spelled my name differently than “eight” is spelled. So, if you a Hip Hop dude and you smart with your lyrics and you smart about your wordplay, then you gotta come up with clever lines like that...just like when I said [on “Def Wish III”] “DJ Quik’s in a khaki bikini,” you have to come up with lines that will basically maintain your round, [whether it’s] the second round, third round. It’s just like a prizefight: you hit once, they hit you back twice, you hit them back three times. Eventually the fight’s gonna be over sooner or later, so...
I never took it personally to where [I was like], “Aw, I’m fin to get out in the streets and go”—because that’s what we was on back then. I had to take it in stride [like], “This is what’s going on; we putting out diss records.” I would have to think he’s gonna say something to me, just like I said something to him. We did [the “Def Wish II”] video, had the guy dressed up in the Compton jacket and the wig on. You know, it’s things that you have to do to keep yourself fresh, and keep yourself on your toes. So, [“Dollaz & Sense”] didn’t do nothing but make me go back to the drawing board and say “Okay, let’s go back at it.”
DX: You seem to have a vision of it as being sort of just traditional battle rap. But, Quik was beyond seething on that song, and was openly offering to take y’alls beef off wax: “Remember that time you was rollin’ on the westside and a little brown bucket pulled up on your side?” I mean, didn’t it really get into the streets?
MC Eiht: It probably got into the streets on his aspect. But see, back then, our thing was talk is cheap. Because, if you really wanna take it there, there’s plenty of times we coulda took it there. I was in Compton every day; just like he was, apparently. And, we weren’t nowhere but maybe five minutes away from each other in neighborhoods.
DX: So that Club El Rey incident, where someone got killed...
MC Eiht: That was a real incident. Basically, I know what position I’m in, right? I got like four albums out, I done did this movie; I’m basically in the public eye. You can diss me all day, is what I would say. You can say, “Fuck Eiht, Eiht ain’t this, Eiht ain’t that,” but when you start mentioning—he mentioned the neighborhood: Tragniew Park. So, you are basically taking this out of me and your element and you putting it into the element of the streets.
I never mentioned Tree Top Pirus; I never mentioned your set or your hood. Because, I know the repercussions of that; I’m not gonna be able to stop involving a whole neighborhood. And he took that step, because he had something to prove.
It was a lot of people sweating Quik because they said he wasn’t real, he wasn’t hard enough. I never got into as many confrontations as he did, as far as concerts and on the road, fighting people. I had respect for my fans. Even if I went to go do shows for Bloods, I wouldn’t get on stage in all blue. I’m not gonna alienate. You paying your $20 to come see me; you’re obviously here ‘cause you like MC Eiht’s music. Regardless of what set I’m from, you like the music. So I’m not gonna make you feel uncomfortable. I know it’s a thousand Bloods in the audience, so I’ma jump on stage in a blue-rag khaki suit. I’m not gonna do that; I’m not gonna provoke.
But, for him, he had the situation where a lot of his friends, or a lot of his mentors, wanted him to prove his whatever— whatever it may have been—so he decided to take it there [by saying], “Tragniew Park” and “your homies” and all that. So therefore, it’s out of my hands, because now they got their own opinion about what they wanna do. You talking about two, three hundred other cats that got nothing to do with our Rap thing.
So, the situation at the El Rey was [my homeboys being like], “Oh, this cat performing up here tonight; we going up there. This ain’t got nothing to do with Eiht. That’s the homie, but you mentioning the whole sector, which means you taking this to another level.” ‘Cause your personal beef with Eiht is your personal beef; I ain’t got nothing to do with that. But you wanna alienate the whole section, now that’s what’s gonna happen. And, you have to deal with them repercussions. So, they felt, as men, they needed to address that situation. So they went up there, he saw ‘em, and during his performance they figured, “We fin to just start a ruckus.” And it was only three of them, and there was a whole club full of cats [from other gangs]. But, that’s how they felt: “Us three fin’ to go up in here with this sea of Quik’s people and Bloods and other factions and we fin to go stand our ground and let ‘em know we from Tragniew Park and this is how it’s gonna go down.”
DX: And one of your homeboys got killed?
MC Eiht: Not one of my homeboys; somebody else who was in there from another set. I think he was from the [Rollin’] 60’s. And him being affiliated with the Crips, and being involved in this big mass confusion of sets and Bloods and Crips and fighting, he lost his life basically because in that moment there’s no [separation] like, “Oh, he’s not from Tragniew, he’s from here.” There’s none of that. You a Blood, you a Crip, and this is how it’s going down.
DX: And, were you like, “I’ve had enough of this?” Or did it reinforce things?
MC Eiht: I got calls about what happened. But basically, I was still on the same page, because by this time I’m angry about the situation. But, Quik—who was performing, it was his show [with] the guy dying on his watch—started reflecting on [what happened]. So he turned around and did the song [“You’z A Ganxta”] because of that incident. And then in that song he started trying to open up the airwaves of calming the situation down.
So from there, he knew Snoop, I knew Snoop. And then we got on Tavis Smiley with some shit and then we squashed it; we said we wasn’t gonna beef. And ever since then everything’s been cool. We bump into each other. I see him at clubs [and other] places. He was working with Snoop on his project that I was on, so we would be in the studio a lot. So, everything is all gravy.
You gotta grow up. We were young. We was trying to prove shit to each other and to our neighborhoods, and basically just trying to be loyal to where we had represented for so long. But, when you become a grown man, and you got kids and family and all that, [you start realizing that] I don’t know this cat no more than he know me. We only beefing because he was a Blood and I was a Crip.
DX: I just wanna note that I love that picture y’all took together from a few years back; that picture of you and Quik like champagne toasting together.
MC Eiht: Yeah, that was at Snoop’s marriage anniversary party. [We were] just trying to come together because we knew people would get a trip off of that. So we decided, Hey, let’s take a picture together toasting. It just shows people how you can mature, and how you can [overcome] in this situation and not let it lead to the end result of just fucked up shit.
DX: So on that note, when I spoke to Quik for HipHopDX back in 2011, he heaped praise on you when I brought up your aforementioned plans to work with Premier. He noted how you were one of the original West Coast artists that was basically bi-coastal in sound and delivery. So when are we finally gonna get a DJ Quik and MC Eiht duo joint to finally close that chapter of both of your guys’ careers?
MC Eiht: I guess whenever he goes and sets aside [some time]. I don’t have an ego; I don’t think he has one. But it’s just getting over that hump of really going, “Hey, maybe this could work.” As far as fans-wise, people would love to see it. So, it’s basically just sitting down, trying to [work it out]; just being grown men and seeing if we can work out something. That’s it.
We got in the studio together before. I don’t know what he did with it, but he probably got it in his archives; a song I did with Mausberg and Quik did the beat. But yeah, that’s all it’d take. I’m one of these cats; I’ll get down with anybody. As long as it works, and as long as it’s gonna benefit this nature of Hip Hop and West Coast, and just trying to keep what we do going. I’m down for anything.
The Influence Of Menace II Society And MC Eiht’s Memories Of Tupac
DX: Switching gears here to close out our conversation, you note on “Made In Compton” the way today’s street soldiers are living is “reminiscent of Menace.” So if you don’t mind, let’s take one more quick walk down memory lane and mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of arguably the last truly classic hood film with any memories you have of Menace II Society. What are some of your instant recollections of making that movie?
MC Eiht: [Laughs] Tupac...My nigga ‘Pac had to be the funniest cat when it came to rehearsal. Nobody seen ‘Pac in the movie because he got kicked out. [MC] Ren was supposed to have been in the movie too. Ren had my part. Ren was supposed to have been A-Wax. And, for some reason the Hughes brothers didn’t like the way his portrayal of the character came out. So they decided to scratch Ren and call me, which was a blessing.
‘Pac was supposed to play Sharif, the Muslim. Now, the Hughes brothers knew ‘Pac, because they had shot his first three music videos. So they knew him; they knew his work ethic. Basically, they knew that they didn’t wanna work with him, in so many words. But, them being new directors, new [filmmakers], the only way—from what I hear—that they were able to get Menace done was by guaranteeing ‘Pac was gonna be in the film. ‘Cause, he had did Juice, he had did Poetic Justice; ‘Pac was the man right then. So the corporate powers that be [said], “Hey, y’all need to get him in this movie.”
So, they brought ‘Pac in, they brought us in: me, Jada [Pinkett], Larenz [Tate]. We having rehearsals. So every day at rehearsal when it’s time for ‘Pac to read his part, he’d get up from the table and he’d [in an exasperated tone] be like, “Man, I just ain’t feeling this. I just ain’t feeling it.” He’d do it every day. He did it every day for about a week-and-a-half straight. Every day he jumped up, “I can’t do this. Why am I playing this guy? Why can’t I be a character like Eiht? Why can’t I be like Larenz, O-Dog?” They like, “Because this is who we want you to play.”
They knew what they were doing; they knew they was aggravating him. ‘Cause they wanted him to quit.
[Tupac would say] “I wanna be this type of guy.” So they go, “No, you’re the Muslim.” He’d go, “Well, you niggas need to write in the story how I turned Muslim. Why did I turn Muslim? Why? I killed some niggas, some niggas killed my brother and I took out revenge; don’t have me just coming into the Muslim role without showing [how I got to that point]. Show me killing up some niggas and turn Muslim then. Show it.” They didn’t wanna do that.
So, every day it was disruption in the rehearsal. It was funny to us. We laughed, we joked; it was funny. But they were serious, ‘cause you know them: “We on a time schedule, we on a budget.” So, they kicked him out the movie.
But that was just so funny to me how [Tupac kept disrupting the table reads]. I mean, we had a good laugh for about a week. ‘Cause everybody knew when it came down to his time to read, the whole room would just go silent, and everybody would be looking at him and just start laughing, ‘cause he would not read the lines. He would stand up, act like he fin’ to say something and then [disgustedly] go, “Ah, I just ain’t feeling this.” Oh man, that was a killer. That was some of the funniest shit ever, man. I mean, ‘cause we just waited for it. We’d all get to rehearsal, we’d all walk in the room and be like, “You think he’s gonna do it today?” I’d be like, “I guarantee he gon’ do it today, watch.” And we’d get in there at the roundtable, everybody read they lines, it’d get to ‘Pac, he’d look at me, I’d look, I’d just start laughing ‘cause I know he fin’ to pull it. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] And is Ren still pissed at you to this day?
MC Eiht: Nah, nigga was cool. He knows that didn’t have nothing to do with me. I don’t know what they didn’t like about Ren. They just said they didn’t like the way his screen test came out. So, they called me up. And they called me about three times. I read for ‘em about three times before they actually said, “Okay, yeah.”
DX: Yeah, you definitely had a hell of a screen presence. “Man, both of y’all shut the fuck up. Both of y’all actin’ like some muthafuckin’ bitches.” [Laughs]
MC Eiht: Yeah, see, most of that was ad-libbing. ‘Cause, they had [their friend, Tyger Williams from Claremont, California,] writing the script; he ain’t never grow up in no neighborhood. So he didn’t know from sayings to wardrobe to nothing.
I gave a real screen presence, because they allowed me to basically just be myself in a real situation like that. I think that’s why the character of A-Wax came off a little more realistic than some of the other characters. Because, being in that, growing up around that element—‘cause you know, Larenz was an actor, Tyrin [Turner] was an actor; they were all actors. So it was funny to see them have to portray that, as opposed to somebody who had lived that and was still growing up in it.
They were nervous. ‘Cause we got to Watts and we got to the projects, and niggas coming out the projects and they handshaking and they throwing up signs. And I’m walking up to niggas handshaking and throwing up signs, and they looking like, “Wow Eiht, you know those cats?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” [Laughs] This is natural. It’s like a pick-up game of basketball: “What’s up, homie?” and whoopty whoop. First of all, you pay respect to where you at. You let ‘em know; we know where we at, we know we in Grape Street, we know what hood this is, we pay respect. And then you put a couple of little niggas in the movie as extras or something, and everything is all good.
DX: That film was pivotal to my generation—for better and for worse. As an adult I can admit the horrible influence it had on me; all it did was teach me how to hold a gun sideways and to be paranoid and never accept anyone’s offer of help when I’m in a dark parking lot— ‘cause you never know, it could just be a setup to get shot. [Laughs]
MC Eiht: You never know. But then it showed you what we go through, as inner city youths. It showed you what we had to be subject to. And it basically is a teaching tool, because I show my son the movie. And, he’s fascinated by it. “You really killed someone? You really did this?” Because he’s the squarest of the square kids; he don’t know nothing about that. But I have to show him.
I like to show him that; show him movies, listen to songs. I let him listen to my old records, see videos, all that. ‘Cause you see what I had to go through. You see how we had to stand on the corner and slang dope and get shot at, and police harassment and all that type of junk, because those were the [only opportunities I had]. I didn’t have the opportunity to play baseball, play football; I didn’t have that opportunity.
DX: Well, let’s end where we started, with the Keep It Hood EP. ‘Cause I’m still blown away—not like I’m shocked that you can make a great project, but this is like...I was shocked. [Laughs]
MC Eiht: [Laughs] It’s been awhile. I’ve just been studying, that’s all. I’ve been sitting up the last four years listening to cats, listening to music, listening to the direction. And, there isn’t something you can ride to on just a straight West Coast feel. Because, a lot of our cats over here on the west coast are trying to do what other niggas is doing, to stay relevant. And so, that’s one of my main focuses for putting out Keep It Hood the way I did, is to show these cats you can be who you are and still be relevant.