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Eric Lynn Wright[6][7][8] (September 7, 1964 – March 26, 1995), known professionally as Eazy-E, was an American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur. Dubbed the "Godfather of Gangsta Rap",[9] he gained prominence for his work with N.W.A, where he has been credited for pushing the boundaries of lyrical and visual content in mainstream popular music.

Eazy-E
Eazy E headshot (cropped).jpg
Eazy-E in 1993
Born
Eric Lynn Wright

(1964-09-07)September 7, 1964[1][2][3]
Compton, California, United States
DiedMarch 26, 1995(1995-03-26) (aged 30)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of deathPneumonia induced by HIV/AIDS[4]
Burial placeRose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, California, United States
Occupation
  • Rapper
  • record producer
  • entrepreneur
Spouse(s)
Tomica Woods (m. 1995)
Children11[5] (incl. Eric Darnell Wright)
Musical career
Genres
Years active1986–1995
Labels
Associated acts

Born and raised in Compton, California, Eazy-E faced several legal troubles before founding the Ruthless Records record label in 1987.[10] After beginning a short solo career, where he worked heavily with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the trio came together to form the group N.W.A later that year. As a member of the group, he released the controversial album, Straight Outta Compton (1988), which tackled many socio-political issues. The album has been regarded as one of the greatest albums of all-time, and one of the most influential in the genre. The group released their final studio album three years later, and disbanded shortly after, due to long-standing financial disputes.

Eazy-E then resumed his solo career, where he released two EPs, which drew inspiration from funk music, contemporary hip-hop, and comedians.[11] He also engaged in a high-profile feud with Dr. Dre, before being hospitalized with AIDS in 1995. He died a month after his hospitalization.

Early life and Ruthless Records investment

Eric Wright was born to Richard and Kathie Wright on September 7, 1964, in Compton, California, a Los Angeles suburb noted for gang activity and crime.[12][13] His father was a postal worker and his mother was a grade school administrator.[14] Wright dropped out of high school in the tenth grade,[15] but later received a high-school general equivalency diploma (GED).[16]

No one survived on the streets without a protective mask. No one survived naked. You had to have a role. You had to be "thug," "playa," "athlete," "gangsta," or "dope man." Otherwise, there was only one role left to you: "victim."

Jerry Heller on Eazy-E[17]

Wright supported himself primarily by selling drugs, introduced to the occupation by his cousin.[15] Wright's friend Jerry Heller admits that he witnessed Wright selling marijuana, but says that he never saw him sell cocaine. As Heller noted in his book Ruthless: A Memoir, Wright's "dope dealer" label was part of his "self-forged armor".[17] Wright was also labeled as a "thug". Heller explains: "The hood where he grew up was a dangerous place. He was a small guy. 'Thug' was a role that was widely understood on the street; it gave you a certain level of protection in the sense that people hesitated to fuck with you. Likewise, 'dope dealer' was a role that accorded you certain privileges and respect."[17]

In 1986, at the age of 22, Wright had allegedly earned as much as US$250,000 from dealing drugs. However, after his cousin was shot and killed, he decided that he could make a better living in the Los Angeles hip hop scene, which was growing rapidly in popularity.[18] He started recording songs during the mid-1980s in his parents' garage.[16]

The original idea for Ruthless Records came when Wright asked Heller to go into business with him. Wright suggested a half-ownership company, but it was later decided that Wright would get eighty percent of the company's income and Heller would only get twenty percent. According to Heller, he told Wright, "Every dollar comes into Ruthless, I take twenty cents. That's industry standard for a manager of my caliber. I take twenty, you take eighty percent. I am responsible for my expenses and you're responsible for yours. You own the company. I work for you."[17] Along with Heller, Wright invested much of his money into Ruthless Records.[19] Heller claims that he invested the first $250,000 and would eventually put up to $1,000,000 into the company.[17]

Musical career

N.W.A and Eazy-Duz-It (1986–91)

N.W.A's original lineup consisted of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube.[20][21] DJ Yella and MC Ren joined later.[22] The compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse was released on November 6, 1987, and would go on to be certified Gold in the United States.[23][24] The album featured material previously released as singles on the Macola Records label, which was responsible for distributing the releases by N.W.A and other artists like the Fila Fresh Crew, a West Coast rap group originally based in Dallas, Texas.[25][26]

Eazy-E's debut album, Eazy-Duz-It, was released on September 16, 1988, and featured twelve tracks. It was labeled as West Coast hip hop, gangsta rap and, later, as golden age hip hop. It has sold over 2.5 million copies in the United States and reached number forty-one on the Billboard 200.[16][27] The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and largely written by MC Ren, Ice Cube and The D.O.C..[28] Both Glen Boyd from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and MTV's Jon Wiederhorn claimed that Eazy-Duz-It "paved the way" for N.W.A's most controversial album, Straight Outta Compton.[29][30] Wright's only solo in the album was a remix of the song "8 Ball", which originally appeared on N.W.A. and the Posse. The album featured Wright's writing and performing; he performed on seven songs and helped write four songs.[31]

Ice Cube left N.W.A in 1989 because of internal disputes and the group continued as a four-piece ensemble.[22] N.W.A released 100 Miles and Runnin' in 1990 and Niggaz4Life in 1991. A diss war started between N.W.A and Ice Cube when "100 Miles and Runnin'" and "Real Niggaz" were released. Ice Cube responded with "No Vaseline" on Death Certificate.[32] Wright performed on seven of the eighteen songs on Niggaz4Life.[33] In March 1991 Wright accepted an invitation to a lunch benefiting the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle, hosted by then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush.[34] A spokesman for the rapper said that Eazy-E supported Bush because of his performance in the Persian Gulf War.[35]

End of N.W.A and feud with Dr. Dre (1991–94)

N.W.A began to split up after Jerry Heller became the band's manager. Dr. Dre recalls: "The split came when Jerry Heller got involved. He played the divide and conquer game. Instead of taking care of everybody, he picked one nigga to take care of and that was Eazy. And Eazy was like, 'I'm taken care of, so fuck it'." Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. sent Suge Knight to look into Eazy-E's financial situation as they began to grow suspicious of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller. Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. asked Eazy-E to release him from Ruthless, but Eazy-E refused. The impasse led to what reportedly transpired between Suge Knight and Eazy-E at the recording studio where Niggaz4life was recorded. After he refused to release Dr. Dre and The D.O.C., Suge Knight told Eazy-E that he had kidnapped Jerry Heller and was holding him prisoner in a van. This did not convince Eazy-E to release Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. from Ruthless, and Suge Knight threatened Eazy-E's family: Suge Knight gave Eazy-E a piece of paper that contained Eazy's mother's address, telling him, "I know where your mama stays." Eazy-E finally signed Dr. Dre and The D.O.C.'s releases, officially ending N.W.A.[36]

The feud with Dr. Dre continued after a track on Dre's debut album The Chronic, "Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')", contained lyrics that insulted Eazy-E. Eazy responded with the EP, It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa, featuring the tracks "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" and "It's On". The album, which was released on October 25, 1993, contains pictures of Dre wearing "lacy outfits and makeup" when he was a member of the Electro-hop World Class Wreckin' Cru.[36]

Personal life

Wright had a son, Eric Darnell Wright (known as Lil Eazy-E), in 1984. He also had a daughter named Erin[37] who has legally changed her name to Ebie[38] In October 2016 she launched a crowd-funding campaign to produce a film called Ruthless Scandal: No More Lies to investigate her father's death.[39] It ended unsuccessfully in December 2016.[40]

Wright met Tomica Woods at a Los Angeles nightclub in 1991 and they married in 1995, twelve days before his death.[41] They had a son named Dominick and a daughter named Daijah (born six months after Wright's death).[42] After Wright's death, Ruthless was taken over by his wife. According to Jerry Heller, Wright had 11 children with eight different women.[43]

Illness and death

Now, I'm in the biggest fight of my life and it ain't easy. But I want to say much love to those who have been down with me and thanks for all your support. Just remember: It's your real time and your real life.

--Statement from Eazy-E's camp on his behalf, March 16.[44]

On February 24, 1995, Wright was admitted to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with a violent cough.[45] He was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.[46] He announced his illness in a public statement on March 16, 1995. It is believed Wright contracted the infection from a sexual partner.[18][47][48] During the week of March 20, having already made amends with Ice Cube, he drafted a final message to his fans.[49] On March 26, 1995, Eazy-E died from complications of AIDS, one month after his diagnosis. He was 30 years old (most reports at the time said he was 31 due to the falsification of his date of birth by one year).[16][50] He was buried on April 7, 1995, at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California. Over 3,000 people attended his funeral,[51] including Jerry Heller and DJ Yella.[52] He was buried in a gold casket, and was dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and his Compton hat. On January 30, 1996, ten months after Eazy-E's death, his final album, Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton was released.

According to his son Lil Eazy-E, Eazy-E was worth an estimated USD$50 million at the time of his death.[53]

Musical influences and style

 
Logo used by Eazy-E.

Allmusic cites Eazy-E's influences as Ice-T, Redd Foxx, King Tee, Bootsy Collins, Run–D.M.C., Richard Pryor, Egyptian Lover, Schoolly D, Too $hort, Prince, the Sugarhill Gang and George Clinton.[54] In the documentary The Life and Timez of Eric Wright, Eazy-E mentions collaborating with many of his influences.[55]

When reviewing Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton, Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted "... Eazy-E sounds revitalized, but the music simply isn't imaginative. Instead of pushing forward and creating a distinctive style, it treads over familiar gangsta territory, complete with bottomless bass, whining synthesizers, and meaningless boasts."[56] When reviewing Eazy-Duz-It, Jason Birchmeier of Allmusic said, "In terms of production, Dr. Dre and Yella meld together P-Funk, Def Jam-style hip-hop and the leftover electro sounds of mid-'80s Los Angeles, creating a dense, funky, and thoroughly unique style of their own." Birchmeier described Eazy-E's style as "dense, unique and funky", and said that it sounded "absolutely revolutionary in 1988".[54]

Several members of N.W.A wrote lyrics for Eazy-Duz-It: Ice Cube, The D.O.C. and MC Ren.[57] The EP 5150: Home 4 tha Sick features a song written by Naughty By Nature. The track "Merry Muthaphuckkin' Xmas" features Menajahtwa, Buckwheat, and Atban Klann as guest vocalists, and "Neighborhood Sniper" features Kokane as a guest vocalist.[58] It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa features several guest vocalists, including Gangsta Dresta, B.G. Knocc Out. Kokane, Cold 187um, Rhythum D, and Dirty Red.[59] Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton featured several guest vocalists, including B.G. Knocc Out, Gangsta Dresta, Sylk-E. Fyne, Dirty Red, Menajahtwa, Roger Troutman and ex-N.W.A members MC Ren and DJ Yella.[60]

Legacy

 
Graffiti of Eazy-E in the Netherlands

Eazy-E has been called the godfather of gangsta rap.[61][62][63][64] MTV's Reid Shaheem said that Eazy was a "rap-pioneer",[64] and he is sometimes cited by critics as a legend.[65][66] Steve Huey of AllMusic said that he was "one of the most controversial figures in gangsta rap".[11] Since his 1995 death, many book and video biographies have been produced, including 2002's The Day Eazy-E Died and Dead and Gone.[67][68][69]

When Eazy was diagnosed with AIDS, many magazines like Jet,[70] Vibe,[71] Billboard,[72] The Crisis,[73] and Newsweek covered the story and released information on the topic.[74] All of his studio albums and EPs charted on the Billboard 200,[75][76][77] and many of his singles—"Eazy-Duz-It", "We Want Eazy", "Real Muthaphuckkin G's, and "Just tah Let U Know"—also charted in the U.S.[77][78]

In 2012 a Eazy-E documentary was released by Ruthless Propaganda, called Ruthless Memories. The documentary featured interviews from Jerry Heller, MC Ren and B.G. Knocc Out.[79]

In the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E is played by Jason Mitchell and the film is dedicated in his memory.[80]

Discography

References

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Literature

  • Westhoff, Ben (2017). Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. New York: Hachette Books. ISBN 978-0-3163-4485-2.

External links