Music Interviews

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Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy E, Yella, Dr. Dre

Interview by Frank Andrich
published in Shark (Germany)


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“There's nothin' that's real that you can escape— otherwise, people wouldn't be putting so much fuss over the record, if you could escape reality. Wherever you go, reality is there to set you straight. There's no Utopia nowhere, you know.”

-M.C. Ren

Rap—which arguably began ten years ago [this interview is from 1990—ed.], mostly in New York's poorer areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn and the lower east side of Manhattan—has in that time grown into a multi-level, multi-million-dollar industry.

Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" was perhaps the first song to make serious inroads into the consciousness of white America, even though the song chronicled a reality that was alien to much of this privileged public. But it had such an infectious dance beat and all-around sound that it nevertheless captured the feet and subsequently the imagination of the upscale dance-floor denizens.

Still, it was only four years ago that the internationally-known and influential MTV Music Network was still defending its policy of not airing black artists to the American public because it claimed that research conducted on their viewer demographics showed that the affluent white viewers that advertisers were courting were "not interested" in hearing black music or seeing black artists at home on their TV screens.

Well, how times have changed! Finally forced to do something to stem the charges of blatant racism, MTV came up with "Yo, MTV Raps," but originally buried it in their late-night programming once a week (following the almost equally denigrated heavy metal "Headbangers' Ball"). To all the demographers' surprise, within months viewer response forced MTV to place the show in prime time for a half hour every day, soon expanded to a full hour every afternoon, just after school lets out. In fact, it's now a "showcase" program, for which MTV proudly pats itself on the back at industry luncheons, while complimenting themselves on their insight and programming genius.

And today, those same researchers who told us so recently that we'd never accept this style of music are telling us that rap and heavy metal (also proclaimed "dead" a few short years ago), are equally popular among the average American teenager.

Indeed, the "pop" side of rap music, exemplified by such artists as Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Rob Base and D.J. Eazy Rock, Run-D.M.C. and Salt & Peppa, have now sold millions of records in addition to their stupendous popularity on the country's dance floors. Mid-tone artists such as LL Cool J and Tone Loc, a Los Angeles rapper whose "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina" have received massive video, radio and dance floor airplay and brought in the bank notes with the same surety as popsters like Bobby Brown, Milli Vanilli, Jody Watley and New Edition.

Even the infamous hard rappers Public Enemy sell in the millions, regardless of the fact that their message is not of the kind that conservative radio and politics take to heart—or to the airwaves. Their most recent single, "Fight The Power," released in the wake of the flap over alleged racist/anti-Semitic comments, also appears in the new Spike Lee movie, Do The Right Thing.

And then there's N.W.A. (Niggers With Attitude). This group, hailing from Compton, California, has captured the ears, heart and feet of over one million people who individually went out and purchased the group's latest album Straight Outa Compton on Ruthless Records, their own label.

All the members of N.W.A.—Ice-Cube, Ren, Eazy-E, Dr Dre, and Yella—write music and/or lyrics and produce the songs found on Ruthless vinyl, tape and CD under the banner of N.W.A. Songs with titles such as "Panic Zone," "Dopeman," "A Bitch Is a Bitch," "Gangsta Gangsta," and "Fuck the Police" tell it like it is, sporting a rhythm backed by a beat so strong that it matches the band's explicitly realistic lyrical stance.

I once knew a bitch who got slapped
'Cuz she blamed me like she was all wacked.
A bitch can be your best friend and talk behind your back
About who's fuckin' who, and who's gettin' fat.
Look at yourself for me:
Do you fall in this category?
'Cuz the niggers I hang with ain't rich!
We all just say 'Fuck you, bitch!

N.W.A. are not prone to doing interviews; they seem to be misquoted or maligned by many, even their peers in rap. Some claim they promote violence and sexism. Some who actually listen to the songs and their lyrics know better, but still cringe at their hard-hitting vision of their world. But then, poverty, pain, drug abuse, no housing, joblessness, hopelessness and the epidemic of crack have been bitter pills to swallow. The words of N.W.A. have never been candy-coated in their music, and in this interview, they stand with no embellishment.

As Ice Cube puts it, "It's all about five brothers from the streets of Compton, tellin' it like it is. No shorts. We're just tellin' it exactly how it is, like a newspaper reporter. We don't water it down. It's like, if you saw somebody get shot, there's no one there to say this person got shot: 'Oh, you're not supposed to say that; that's a bad thing to do.' just say what's goin' on. That's the same thing we do with our mouth, to the people. For the people who don't see or don't know, we become the vehicle to introduce it."

Q: Let's talk about your video. I understand "Straight Outa Compton" was banned by MTV.

M.C. REN: It's a strong video; it scares people. See, people who get scared are scared of the truth; they were scared of it 'cause it's so real. It tells the truth about how the police harass innocent people all the time in gang sweeps of Los Angeles. They don't want to see that, you know. They think the crowd is ready for all this devil worship and all that kinda shit, but they are not ready for something that's real to life, the real shit.

Q: Let's talk about your video. I understand "Straight Outa Compton" was banned by MTV.

ICE CUBE: These people whose kids listen to Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy, or watch Rambo or The Terminator, or anything where you're watching, to see people killed—somehow these people don't want nobody to listen to N.W.A. and Eazy-E. It's like they think violence just started when we made our records. But, you know, violence has been here forever, and it's gonna stay here till the end of the world, so everybody should just wake up.

EAZY-E: In fact, violence is a sure bet on what's gonna end this world, you understand what I'm saying?

ICE CUBE: That's as real as you can get!

M.C. REN: Try and listen to the record and be aware. It's real, you know, you can't escape it. There's nothin' that's real that you can escape—otherwise, people wouldn't be putting so much fuss over the record, if you could escape reality. Wherever you go, reality is there to set you straight. There's no Utopia nowhere, you know.

EAZY-E: All the time, man, all the time! If you find someone in Frisco, Canada, somebody doin' it good in Germany, you're welcome to send us your tapes. We want to hear you, hear what you been up to.

Q: Eazy, on your solo record, the song "We Want Eazy" credits Bootsy Collins and George Clinton with the music. How did that come about?

EAZY-E: They did it, we used it. That's what it's all about. We just changed it around a little bit and added our own thing to it.

M.C. REN: Bootsy's real cool with us, real cool. He comes out to our shows.

ICE CUBE: That's how it should be. When rappers first came out, they couldn't buy drums, they couldn't go buy guitars, stuff like that, you know. They had to do it off other people's music. It's good when the people who really did the music that we stole's good when they get to really do some new music, you know what I mean?

EAZY-E: Yeah, it's not like Run-DMC and Aerosmith.

M.C. REN: It's not like we did it to keep Bootsy alive, you know, we just did it and talked to Bootsy and he was cool about it.

Q: What's the most often asked question N.W.A. gets hit with, that you hate to get hit with?

M.C. REN: "Are you guys as tough as you say you are on the record?"

ICE CUBE: "Are you guys sponsored by any gangs?" (laughs) I mean, that's gotta be the stupidest question!!

EAZY-E: This is the one: "Why do you call all girls 'bitches'?"

ICE CUBE: We don't call all girls bitches! Some girls are bitches and some girls are not. If you're not a bitch, we're not talkin' to you! You can't tell me you never knew a girl that wasn't a bitch! Plain and simple, some girls are, but, hey, some guys are dicks. We all see that every day.

EAZY-E: "Are you guys sponsored by any gangs?" (laughs) I mean, that's gotta be the stupidest question!!

ICE CUBE: The thing that we learned most in the industry, the bigger you get, the more kiss-asses you meet. When we broke out, we just had our 12-inch out and we went out and did spot dates. We got treated like this and that, mostly like shit. Now, we're platinum and they treat us like kings or something, you know. We just look past the kiss-ass people; they weren't really with us at first, they're just there for the business.

EAZY-E: We're a group that demands and deserves respect. There's still some people that don't give us the respect that we demand. There's no ifs ands or buts. You give us our respect! We sell a lot of records. We like real people, we don't deal with fake people. We're not fake people! When we go out, we go out and do what we want to do. You got something to say, word-up, just don't fuck with me. You don't like what I'm sayin', fuck you. You don't like how I'm living, well fuck you! As I've said.

Q: How does N.W.A. actually put a song together?

Ice Cube/N.W.A.
Ice Cube
graphics effects © Joy Williams/Artist Publications

EAZY-E: We take all the different ideas and put them all into one. It gets mixed up different every time, according to each.

ICE CUBE: Look, now here's how we break down a song: (Dr.] Dre and Yella do a beat.... Alright, then, and I say "Yo, man, I got a verse for that." Then up comes Eazy and he has a verse. Then we do our little tricks on the break. So we put all these things together and we got a record. Like on "Fuck The Police," everybody did their own little flavor. Eazy-E wrote his part, Ren wrote his, we all use our own perspective on the subject of fuck the police.

M.C. REN: You see, everybody takes it from his point of view, that's what makes the song so strong.

ICE CUBE: Instead of sitting down together and working things out and having somebody say, "Naw, man, I don't think you should write that," you know what I'm saying? What I'm saying is, this man think. Let him write what he thinks. Let me write what I think. So we never really criticize each other's record.

M.C. REN: If we were to start off altogether and did it, all that shit would have been alike. We gotta be able to get away from each other and get into our own perspective.

Q: Is the road a good place to write from, or do you wait until you get home to write?

ICE CUBE: On the road, you don't see nothin' but hotels, halls and the road.

M.C. REN: Out there on the road you have to concentrate on one thing: the shows, interviews and in-stores. Once you get home, you don't have that much on your mind. There ain't nothin' to do but studio work. That's why so many rap groups are comin' out, puttin' out so many wacked records now. You're on the road trying to work out your rhymes, your beat. A lot of these groups have toured a lot, and then they try to put out an album real quick for the business of it. You know, they're kinda messin' up their sights.

Q: Every Ruthless Record release credits Eazy-E as the executive producer. In label-ese that usually means the guy with the bucks. So it's Executive Eazy-E, Sir, or does "E" stand for Executive?

EAZY-E: I was a businessman and a superhero. I want to go through it like this, I'm the executive producer.

ICE CUBE: Let's do our own thing, man. Let's do somethin' like Gangster Style Underground, alright?

Q: What about influences from the past?

M.C. REN, EAZY-E and ICE CUBE: Parliament Funkadelic.

ICE CUBE: Cameo.

M.C. REN: Al Capone!

EAZY-E: Son of Sam!

M.C. REN and EAZY-E: Charles Manson!

EAZY-E: Ted Bundy, Ricardo Ramirez!

M.C. REN: Jim Jones.

ICE CUBE: Mine was my brother. He was an influence when I was trying to grow up. Now my brother's trying to be like me! One last thing I'd like to say: We're our own group, our own people. We like people who are their own people, that are themselves. That's what gives us, anybody, the right to demand respect. That's what we're after, respect—respect for what we do, what we've done, and who we are. We give respect, we meet you halfway, and that's cool.


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