Somewhere I got it horribly wrong. I reviewed Salt N Pepa‘s classic album Very Necessary in January. It’s officially Women’s History Month, and somehow I’m reviewing the most misogynistic and exaggerated piece of crap in the history of classic Hip-Hop.
Nevertheless, a classic album it is. And it’s undeniably Hip-Hop. So we rate it and review it, because that’s what we do here.
This album is super significant because of its place in the N.W.A. timeline. It marks the solidification and full bloom of the group as an indelible and influential force in Hip-Hop, but it also marks their demise. As their second full length studio album, following the EP 100 Miles And Runnin’, the group already suffered internal setbacks and aimed at reforming themselves and affirming their position. While it didn’t produce as many memorable individual songs and singles as their first album, this is where they step up musically and lyrically. Dr Dre‘s production here introduced us to what would become his signature sound and define west-coast hip-hop and g-funk. The bombastic kicks and rich drum patterns and bass lines mixed with clever 70’s funk samples and dj scratches make gangsta rap wet dreams.
My first time hearing this album was in 2006 when I ran thru my brother’s stash of cassettes and figured I ‘d see what it sounded like since I’d already heard Straight Outta Compton. It couldn’t have happened at a better time in my opinion because I felt better equipped to understand the evil genius of Eric Eazy E Wright after being exposed to such controversy-mongers as the 50 Cent‘s of my generation. Everything down to the title of this album is a reflection of Eazy’s strategy and a study in pushing the envelope.
As most of us with knowledge within the Hip-Hop world have come to discover after all this time, none of the members of N.W.A. have any significant documented criminal history and their backgrounds are actually quite tame in comparison to the lure surrounding their rap personas. That makes it all the more interesting how Eazy manipulated this wave of California streetlife- based rap and took it to crazy proportions. Back in the early 90’s, you would’ve sworn N.W.A. was a gang.
The affirmation begins with “Prelude” where the group decidedly approaches from the rap group angle, ironically taking shots at lesser groups who fall off and fail to show staying power. From there, it becomes all about them being simply “Niggas”.
Hearing this album in later years for the first time also has the effect of holding more weight musically due to the ability to point out how much of it has been sampled by more recent rap songs, and by the same token how much of it actually consists of samples. Dj Yella incorporates cuts from famous comedy albums from the Soul era as well as pivotal spoken word excerpts from the likes of The last Poets. All of the incendiary vocal snippets add to the fervor of the songs and the underlying theme of anarchist niggerhood. Coupled with Dre’s dissecting of notorious parts of classic funk jams and splicing them together in menacing arrangements, the production is perhaps the most clever part of this album.
Yet and still, it suffers from 2 things that I absolutely hate in sequencing. It’s clear that with bringing in the 90’s, the group fully embraced the rising trend of incorporating skits, which makes the album longer and more reckless. The skits, full of moments of extreme sociopathic humor and hyperbole including shooting prostitutes and cameramen, serve to contrast the otherwise dark sonicbed that the songs provide. However, this ridiculous comedic element adds to the overall tragic reality that this album takes no responsibility for. The other horrible move in the track listing is the bunching of all of the songs dealing with female-related subject matter. Between the “To Kill A Hooker” skit to Eazy E’s obnoxious solo “I’d Rather Fuck You”, there’s 4 other tracks that do more damage to the depiction of women in rap than Hip-Hop has done in the last 15 years collectively. To hear these songs back to back is like hearing all of those Mel Gibson recorded phone arguments with his ex-wife.
Unfortunately, besides the silly parody song “Automobile”, (that laid the groundwork for hardcore rappers to allow themselves to break character and let loose a la Biggie in “Playa Hata”, and may have actually been funny in 1991) most of these songs sound Dope! These songs are detestable, but the raps go over so smoothly between the pairings of Eazy’s voice with Dre and MC Ren’s deep, creepy snarls with the beats that lend themselves to trunk rattling fullness on the choruses and open allure for storytelling during the verses. I particularly wrastle with myself over the song “She Swallowed It”, which has one of the best beats in rap history and catchy parts that you might find yourself singing if you don’t use your personal filter. I remember hearing kids singing this song when I was a preteen, knowing it was super inappropriate. Hearing it takes me back to that time in my head, almost making me want to cover my ears due to the abrasive nature. As an adult however, I understand the comedy in it, tho I can’t get around how extreme it is.
The other 2 songs “Findum Fuckem and Flee” and “One Less Bitch” are the ones that make me want to go back in time and join the Rev. Calvin Butts in steamrolling over those gangsta raps CDs in the street. Shit like this was all designed to live up to the hype the group first created by being sought after the FBI for their breakout songs like “Fuck Tha Police”. They chose to direct their shock value towards the female angle this time around by going as far as they possibly could. If you listen with scrutinizing ears, you can hear that literally almost every other word is a curse word with the intent to sensationalize the impact of what’s being said. If you don’t think this was apart of their M.O. purposely, then you must also believe that punch lines are coincidental. On “Findum…” although its pass-the-mic ethos is clever, you get a barrage of sentences like “…there ain’t no joking, when the pussyholes are open/Ready to fuck until my dick is raw/yo, the muthafuckin’ Devil’s son-in-law/ (Peter-Peter, the pussy eater)/ no it’s the E, the muthafuckin’ pussy beater/ and I’m the quicker picker upper – quick ta pick up a bitch/ so come here bitch!, and lick up the – lick up the – lick up the dick!”. And on the loathsome “One Less Bitch” with a deplorable plot about killing women to avoid drama, everyone’s favorite west coast legend – Dr. Dre, goes too far with rhymes forever sealed in recorded history about rape.
But it’s not like Dre wrote any of this stuff anyway. With Ren and ghostwriter The D.O.C. penning most of the bars on this album, the stepping up of Ren and Dre to the forefront of the group compares boldly to the first LP where Eazy and Ice Cube were the dominant presence and Cube was the man with the magic words. Cube’s overly publicized departure from the group was yet another focal point for the group to eschew their controversial stance and ruffle feathers. Where they had already made their point clear about having no love for Cube on 100 Miles and Runnin’, as a group with limited subject matter, they felt the need to rub this sentiment in. Once again they harped on this topic for several tracks, and of course, lumped them together back to back. So from the single “Alwayz Into Somethin” to the skit “Message to B.A. (Benedict Arnold)” and the revisit of “Real Niggaz”, they spend an adequate amount of time dedicated to berating their one-time lead man and what some consider to be the heart of the group.
What makes this album an album, however, and not just a collection of tracks is the strength of it’s first 2 real songs and it’s last 2 real songs. This is the only part of the album where you will receive any semblance of depth from the group. The heaviness and rebelliousness of what they speak of on these tracks is memorable enough that where reflection and contemplation is not present, so much can be taken from their words alone and used as food for thought. Their social commentary came from an inwards-out perspective, whereas most other artists make statements about the world around them and their place in it. Songs like “Real Niggaz Don’t Die” and “Approach To Danger” precede yet predict the atmosphere of L.A. life both during and soon after the infamous riots that would happen a year after this album dropped.
In a way, N.W.A. had to exist. If they were truly an outfit designed to alert the rest of the world to how crazy life was on the inner-city streets of Los Angeles and represent a microcosm of what poverty was really doing to young Black Men around America, then mission accomplished. I just wish that their arrival didn’t also signify the start of the glorification of that very violence that they were making everyone aware of. Perhaps it’s only poetic justice that the group fell apart after this record and they were meant to exist for only that short time and leave one hell of an impression.
A contrived group with contrived tactics that succeeded somehow in bringing us some of the realest shit ever. Although I cannot tolerate too many of the songs and I NEVER play or will give this album any other play, I always judge music objectively first. Especially when Iam reviewing it. Therefore, my favorite songs on this LP are “Real Niggaz Don’t Die” and “Niggaz 4 Life” both for their social relevance and politically incorrect credos that are evidently timeless. I like the latter so much so, that I remade it for my West-Coast themed mixtape, Westside Til I Die with a more in-depth and conscious spin. My other favorites (and I hesitate to say favorites) include the eerie “Approach To Danger” and “The Dayz of Wayback”.
Overall, against my personal opinion and better judgement, this album gets 8 Candles out of a possible
4, 8, 12 or 16.
4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)
8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)
12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)
16(Classic all around)
My alternate rating for this album is 1 fucking Candle but you know…