Birth name – Eric Lynn Wright
Born – September 7, 1963
Compton, California, U.S.
Died – March 26, 1995 (aged 31)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres – Gangsta rap, West Coast hip hop, gangsta funk
Occupations – Rapper, CEO, record producer
Years active – 1986–1995
Labels – Ruthless, Priority, Relativity, Epic, MCA
Associated acts – N.W.A, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, The D.O.C., Rhythum D, Above the Law, B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Sylk-E. Fyne, Ice Cube, Brownside
Eric Lynn Wright (September 7, 1963 – March 26, 1995), better known by his stage name Eazy-E who is affectionately called “The Godfather Of Gangsta Rap” was an American rapper who performed solo and in the hip hop group N.W.A. Wright was born to Richard and Kathie Wright in Compton, California. After dropping out of high school in the tenth grade, he supported himself primarily by selling drugs before investing in Ruthless Records and becoming a rapper. When Ruthless artists Dr. Dre and Ice Cube wrote “Boyz-n-the-Hood”, Dre, Cube, and Eazy formed N.W.A. After DJ Yella, MC Ren, and Arabian Prince joined the group, N.W.A released N.W.A. and the Posse. In 1988, they released their most controversial album, Straight Outta Compton. The group released two more albums and then disbanded after Eazy released Dr. Dre from his contract.
Eazy’s main influences included 1970s funk groups, contemporary rappers, and comedians. When reviewing Eazy’s albums, many critics noted his unique overall style, with Steve Huey of the All Music Guide summing up: “While his technical skills as a rapper were never the greatest, his distinctive delivery (invariably described as a high-pitched whine), over-the-top lyrics, and undeniable charisma made him a star.”
Early life and Ruthless Records investment
Eric Wright was born to Richard and Kathie Wright on September 7, 1963, in Compton, California, a Los Angeles suburb notorious for gang activity and crime. His father was a postal worker and his mother was a grade school administrator. Wright dropped out of high school in the tenth grade, but later received a high-school general equivalency diploma (GED).
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 being a “dope man” and “thug”
Wright supported himself primarily by selling drugs. 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”. 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.”
In 1986, at the age of 23, Wright had allegedly earned as much as USD $250,000 from dealing drugs. However, he decided that he could make a better living in the Los Angeles hip-hop scene, which was growing rapidly in popularity. He started recording songs during the mid-1980s in his parent’s garage.
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. Heller said to 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.” Along with Heller, Wright invested much of his money into Ruthless Records. Heller claims that he invested the first $250,000, and would eventually put up to $1,000,000 into the company.
N.W.A and Eazy-Duz-It (1987–91)
N.W.A was formed when Ruthless signees Dr. Dre and Ice Cube wrote “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. It included Wright, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube, and later DJ Yella, MC Ren, and Arabian Prince. 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. The album featured N.W.A collaborating with the Fila Fresh Crew, a West Coast rap group originally based in Dallas, Texas.
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 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. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and largely written by Ice Cube, with contributions from MC Ren and The D.O.C.. 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. 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 Wrights’s writing and performing; he performed on eight songs and helped write four songs.
After the release of Straight Outta Compton, Ice Cube left due to internal disputes, and the group continued as a four-piece ensemble. N.W.A released 100 Miles and Runnin’ 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. Wright performed on seven of the eighteen songs on Niggaz4Life.
In March 1991 Wright accepted an invitation to a lunch benefiting the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle, hosted by then-President George H. W. Bush. A spokesman for the rapper said that Eazy-E supported Bush because of his performance in the Gulf War.
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’.” Dre sent Suge Knight to look into Eazy’s financial situation because he was beginning to grow suspicious of Eazy and Heller. Dre asked Eazy to release him from the Ruthless Records contract, but Eazy refused. The impasse led to what reportedly transpired between Knight and Eazy at the recording studio where Niggaz4life was recorded. After he refused to release Dre, Knight declared to Eazy that he had kidnapped Heller and was holding him prisoner in a van. The rumor did not convince Eazy to release Dre from his contract, and Knight threatened Eazy’s family: Knight gave Eazy a piece of paper that contained Eazy’s mother’s address, telling him, “I know where your mama stays.” Eazy finally signed Dre’s release, officially ending N.W.A.
The feud with Dr. Dre continued after a track on Dre’s The Chronic 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.
After Dr. Dre left Ruthless Records, executives Mike Klein and Jerry Heller sought assistance from the Jewish Defense League (JDL). Klein, a former Ruthless Records director of business affairs, said this provided Ruthless Records with leverage to enter into negotiations with Death Row Records over Dr. Dre’s departure. While Knight had sought an outright release from Ruthless Records for Dr. Dre, the JDL and Ruthless Records management negotiated a release in which the record label would continue to receive money and publishing rights from future Dr. Dre projects with Death Row Records, founded by Dr. Dre with Suge Knight. The FBI launched a money-laundering investigation under the assumption that the JDL was extorting money from Ruthless Records to fight their causes. This led to JDL spokesperson Irv Rubin issuing a press release stating “There was nothing but a close, tight relationship” between Eazy-E and the organization.
On February 24, 1995, Eazy-E was admitted into Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with what he believed to be asthma. Instead he was diagnosed with AIDS. He announced his illness in a public statement on March 16. Eazy’s sexual activity began at the age of twelve and resulted in not only a fatal disease, but seven children with six different women. He died due to “complications from AIDS” one month after his diagnosis, on March 26, 1995, at approximately 6:35 PM (Pacific time). He was 31 years old. During the week of March 20, having already made amends with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Eazy-E drafted his last message to fans. One week after the release of that message, Eazy succumbed to the disease. Eazy was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California. In November 1995, shortly after Eazy-E’s death, Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton was released.
Some in hip hop have questioned the circumstances around Eazy E’s death, including Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in November 2009 and B.G. Knocc Out in August 2011, who have said that Eazy E’s death was very sudden for a case of AIDS and that he was still in good health until shortly before his passing.
Musical influences and style
Allmusic cites Eazy-E’s influences as Ice-T, Redd Foxx, King Tee, Bootsy Collins, Run-D.M.C., Richard Pryor, The Egyptian Lover, Schoolly D, Too $hort, Prince, The Sugarhill Gang, and George Clinton. In the documentary The Life and Timez of Eric Wright, Eazy-E mentions collaborating with many of his influences.
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.” 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’s style as “dense, unique, and funky,” and said that it sounded “absolutely revolutionary in 1988.”
Several members of N.W.A wrote lyrics for Eazy-Duz-It: Ice Cube, The D.O.C., and MC Ren. 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.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.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.
Graffiti of Eazy-E in the Netherlands
Eazy-E has been called the godfather of gangsta rap. MTV’s Reid Shaheem said that Eazy was a “rap-pioneer,” and he is sometimes cited by critics as a legend. Steve Huey of Allmusic said that he was “one of the most controversial figures in gangsta rap.” Since his 1995 death, many book and video biographies were produced, including 2002’s The Day Eazy-E Died and Dead and Gone.
When Eazy was diagnosed with AIDS, many magazines like Jet,Vibe,Billboard,The Crisis, and Newsweek covered the story and released information on the topic. All of his studio albums and EPs charted on the Billboard 200, 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. On March 30, 1995, four days after Eazy-E’s death, Tom Elerwine, a Daily Arts editor for The Michigan Daily covered Eazy’s career in a feature story.
A new Eazy-E documentary DVD is set to be released by Ruthless Propaganda in early 2013. The documentary will feature interviews from Jerry Heller, MC Ren and B.G. Knocc Out.
For a more comprehensive list, see Eazy-E discography.
19925150: Home 4 tha Sick
1993It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa
1995Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton
2002Impact of a Legend
1987N.W.A. and the Posse
1988Straight Outta Compton
1990100 Miles and Runnin'
Red Everything Movement