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Eazy-E Day

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 7, 2008 01:10pm | Post a Comment
Happy Eazy-E Day, a holiday observed over in Compton by order of the mayor. I'm not sure what customs are attached to the day so I'll just share my Eazy-E story.



I first heard Eazy-E back in 1988 when I was in junior high. Even before I heard him, I'd heard of him. Back then, new music was still mostly disseminated by word of mouth and the trade of mixtapes. Our computers were Apple ][es and the internet was still just one of Al Gore's fantasies. The only rap they played on the radio was harmless (but fun) stuff like Whodini, UTFO and the Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff. But just looking around the school hallways it was obvious that there was more to the hip-hop world than what got played on the air. Kids wore enormous clocks around their necks like Flava Flav of the airplay-denied Public Enemy. When teachers distinguished me from another Eric by referring to me as "Eric B.," the question "where's Rakim?" often followed-- uttered by a savvy classmate. The rap that most people listened to as far as I know (with the exception of Ice-T, Too $hort ) was either from the East or South Coasts. Then, seemingly overnight, kids started wearing Raiders and Kings gear. A wind picked up from the west...



One day around that time, my younger brother Evan and I were out riding bikes down past Bill Wolf's property. Bill Wolf was kind of a big man out in the country who built a lot of homes, owned a lot of land and used to shoot copperheads-- plus he claimed to have seen panthers in the woods behind our house, long before they were officially verified to have returned to the area. I remember the tar on Old Mill Creek Road used to bubble in the heat and pop under my Schwinn's deliberately swerving tires. There was probably the loud buzz of cicadas in the air. Down by Mill Creek (where I used to try to catch crawdads) Evan (riding our sister's orange 3-speed) found a chewed up, discarded cassette by the bridge. He said that the tape was unraveled and draped across some weeds. It was labeled "Eazy Duz It." I got excited at the opportunity suddenly afforded us to listen to something we probably wouldn't otherwise hear. Evan wound the tape back up with his finger and took it back to the house.

    

We went to the Green Room, a room almost entirely furnished in green (hence the name) located safely in the basement since it was the most remote corner of the house. There was a green couch, green walls, a green Persian rug and all of our dad's old Aurora Monster models.  Evan tried to repair the tangled cassette. The first song we heard was "Nobody Move."  Previously, Evan had christened the massive boombox he received for Christmas exclusively with the likes of Nu Shooz and Club Nouveau. We were both shocked by the depravity and lewdness of the lyrics whilst transfixed by the amazing production and narratives. We knew our outspoken, feminist mother would not approve and yet somehow we snuck enough time, in the months to come, to memorize the entire album, which we both still remember pretty well.



Around that time, N.W.A. and Easy-E made "Compton" a household word even over in far-off Missouri. In reality we had our own gangs to contend with -- the homegrown 2 Hard Posse and City-Wide Posse as well as imported gangs like the Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples (this was back before Squad Up, The Cut Throats and Louie Bound) and our own cities of Kansas City and St. Louis were plagued which much higher crime rates than any in California although it never affected me any. Anyway, I was fascinated with the colorful, cartoonish tales of this far off, impossibly mythical South Central locale where Mac 10-toting Crips apparently robbed banks and then almost had sex with trannies, a city where women routinely unloaded submachine Uzis in municipal courthouses and seemingly everyone drove 6-4 Impalas. Critics attacked Eazy-E, N.W.A. and their gangsta rap ilk for glorifying violence and misogyny. The group countered that they preferred not to think of their music as "gangsta rap" but rather "reality music."

 

Eazy-E, to me, was the perfect anti-hero for the junior high set. Built with a tiny frame and equipped with a distinct, high-pitched voice, he still managed to seem simultaneously menacing and charming while rapping Ice Cube's and Ren's lyrics-- which were juvenile and peppered liberally with earthy language. It probably wouldn't have delighted me so much if I had been any older. At 14, anything that adults hated had some worth. From the point that my brother and I first heard Eazy, we followed N.W.A. casually, at the very least least. I was initially disappointed when Ice Cube left but I remember taping the amazing video for "100 Miles and Runnin'" off the TV and still being a fan. When Dre and Eazy's relationship soured and they seemed to focus solely on bitching about each other, the fun started to fade, like we were kids trapped in a bitter divorce. Eazy went on to discover Bone Thugs, who I also loved, before Eazy succumbed to AIDS.  Ren and Yella disappeared and Ice Cube started doing children's films and making appearances on Jay Leno. But for a couple of summers, Eazy E was almost as big as Pee Wee Herman to me.


Other rappers where quick to exploit and capitalize on Compton's name. I remember Compton's Most Wanted, the D.O.C., the West Coast All Stars and DJ Quik. Colors came out around then and, a couple of years later, Boyz N the Hood. Together, they complimented Eazy-E's accounts while remaining decidedly more grounded in reality. It wasn't long before my attention moved back to the south and east.


When I moved to L.A. in 1999, I volunteered in Compton at a community garden. I was nervous at first, given Compton's reputation, but what I found was a mostly Latino neighborhood which didn't at all resemble the war zone I'd seen in Colors and the like. Of course, I thought Echo Park would be like Mi Vida Loca too and it also proved to be pretty mellow... I should've known better. After all, Road House isn't really much like the Missouri that I came from.


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1980s (49), N.w.a. (3), Holidays (91), Eazy-e Day (1), Compton (3), Black History Month (122), Eazy-e (1), Gangsta Rap (7), South La's Eastside (6)