N.W.A was honored Wednesday (August 7) at the Indie Entertainment Summit (IES) in North Hollywood, California. The Compton, California-based Rap group consisted of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and was honored at IES for the role it played in independent music.
“It was just so simple for us,” DJ Yella said Wednesday of N.W.A’s initial material, which was released on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records through Macola Records before partnering with Priority Records. “We weren’t trying to make money, nothing like that. If we would of tried that, we wouldn’t be talking today. It was just about the music, the passion.”
N.W.A broke through in 1988 with its Straight Outta Compton album and the singles “Express Yourself” and the title track. Eazy-E‘s 1988 album, Eazy-Duz-It, included the cuts “We Want Eazy” and the previously released “Boyz-N-The Hood.” But it was N.W.A’s “_ _ _ _ Tha Police” that catapulted N.W.A to national notoriety.
N.W.A Changed Ruthless Records Forever
“When things really turned around is when the police came up to me and said the records I was making were causing them a lot of trouble,” Donovan “The Dirt Biker” Sound Smith, engineer of Ruthless Records’ landmark releases, said at IES. “Seriously they came up and said those records you’re making there, can’t have that ‘Fuck Tha Police’ shit. That blew my mind.”
Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records employees were equally amazed with their boss’ business acumen. While promoting the label’s material the Compton rapper-businessman chose to kick it with random boys in the hood. “We’d go to a radio show and we’d all be in a 14-passenger van and he would say, ‘You know what, take me to the hood,'” said Charis Henry, a former Ruthless Records employee. “Excuse me sir? To the hood, where they sell dope, they slang crack? We’d go to the hood, pull up with about 10-15 brothers outside slanging crack, doing whatever. He’d open up the window, the door, and would jump out and say, ‘What’s with ya’ll in Palm Springs?’ They would look flabbergasted, looking for what’s up and would be like, ‘That’s Eazy-E.’ [Eazy-E did that everywhere.] He’d be like, ‘I just came to see what ya’ll were doing in San Diego. What’s crackin?’ He’d smoke a joint, pass out tapes. We would do that for 16 blocks in the hood.”
As Ruthless Records became a powerful independent label whose roster also included J.J. Fad and Michel’le, Eazy-E began recruiting other local talent, including Pomona, California Rap group Above The Law. While working on a video for Ruthless Records artist The D.O.C., Eazy-E took Above The Law into a room and explained his vision to them. “Eazy was like, Yeah I’m going to try to make ya’ll like N.W.A, a big group like N.W.A,” Above The Law’s Big Hutch aka Cold 187um said at the event. “His vision was crazy. We just wanted to stop selling dope. We just wanted to make some legal money and Eazy was talking all this other shit. Next thing I know, we’re on tour with these dudes, running around the world with these dudes.”
DJ Quik Says Ruthless Records “Started An Ideology”
Gold and platinum records from J.J. Fad, Eazy-E, N.W.A, The D.O.C., and Michel’le came in quick succession for Ruthless Records as the imprint became one of Rap’s most successful businesses, independent or otherwise. “If Eric was here to see what seeds he planted, both him, Dre, Yella, [one-time N.W.A member] Arabian Prince, Ren, and Ice Cube, they started more than just a label,” said DJ Quik, referring to Eazy-E as Eric Wright, his given name. “They started an ideology,” Quik continued. “That music is for everybody and for generations after Eric will never die. He will always live in our hearts and souls, and in his music.”
As Ruthless Records enjoyed success, Ice Cube and then Dr. Dre left the label over financial disputes, effectively ending N.W.A. The label soon found another major group, however.
Bone thugs-n-harmony Extended Ruthless Records’ Legacy
The Ruthless legacy continued with Bone thugs-n-harmony. The Cleveland, Ohio act is scheduled perform at Rock The Bells 2013 and feature a virtual performance from Eazy-E, a testament to Ruthless Records’ impact in Rap history. “I think that was the model and that was something that Wu-Tang [Clan] picked up on and other groups,” Rock The Bells’ Chang Weisberg said in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “Ultimately, sometimes it takes a setback or challenge in order to understand it and grow from it, and I think that’s what N.W.A is. The challenge of being on a major for the first time, the challenge of being in a record contract, and maybe not really understanding what that is, forced all the individual members to wake up to what was going on in the music business, their business in particular and their music subsequently. A lot of greatness came from that particular camp.”
“The Ruthless movement with us, and Doc, and Michel’le, and N.W.A, and Eazy collectively, what happened was we were able to take it on a global scale as far as the business,” added Big Hutch. “When it comes to impact on Hip Hop, Ruthless was definitely that powerhouse at the time that launched all those other labels and is the reason why a lot of music is here now.”