Real niggaz do die. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, a founding member of the enormously influential South Central group, N.W.A., died of complications from AIDS on Sunday, March 26. He was 31years old. Eazy-E’s public announcement ten days prior to his death that he was sick with AIDS rocked the hip hop “nation” to its very foundations. The admission, made through his lawyers, startled the musical and African-American communities, affirming once again, that disease, unlike society, doesn’t discriminate.
The notorious Compton native was arguably one of the most successful artists in hip hop history. As founder of Ruthless Records in 1986, the label for such acts as JJ Fad, Michel’le and Bone Thugs–N-Harmony, virtually everything he touched went gold or platinum, including his three solo efforts. Ruthlesss was also the home base for rap’s first gangsta rappers, giving brilliantly insightful writer, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) and the visionary Dr. Dre (Andre Young) a launching pad from which to revolutionize pop music. Like author Chester Himes, Cube’s words, often in the mouths of other N.W.A. members) were horrid, abrasive, and painfully honest. With the platinum single “We Want Eazy” from his 1988 platinum debut, Eazy Duz It, Eric’s anemic voice, bolstered by Dre’s developing sound, made Eric N.W.A.’s first recognizable star.
However, after the gradual disintegration of the group---both Cube and Dre left over financial disputes---he also became one of hip hop’s mist visible targets. On Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, Eazy was immortalized as everything from a “half-pint bitch” to a lynched, jheri-curled corpse; with help from Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre cast an Eazy look-alike to receive an onscreen beatdown in his video “Dre Day.” Eazy also infamously alienated his friends and fans when he questioned the guilt of Los Angeles policeman Theodore Briseno, one of the men tried and acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, and when he appeared at a $2,000 –a-head Republican luncheon held at The White House.
But more shocking than any of his career exploits was the March 16 announcement of his illness. Before Eazy checked in to Beverly Hill Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, he had never previously been tested for the virus. From his hospital bed, he married longtime girlfriend Tomika Woods and drafted an aggressively heterosexual public statement, boasting of siring seven children from six different mothers.
Donald Suggs, associate director of GLADD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, applauded Eazy’s efforts to raise consciousness, but also found his remarks regrettably homophobic.
“It’s sad that he felt [black’ people wouldn’t be compassionate unless he insisted on his heterosexuality,” said Suggs.
At one South Central health clinic, a source claimed that more than 200 women were tested the week following Eazy’s announcement. Josh Levine of Urb, a west coast hip hop publication, speculated in Entertainment Weekly that “the same group…who were screwing Magic [Johnson] were also screwing Eazy.”
Suggs resents such suggestions, “To imply that this disease was spread by the uncontrollable sexual appetite of hip hop’s female fans spreads ignorance.”
Nevertheless, Eazy-E’s death is a great loss to the hip hop community. One staff member at Beverly Hills Cedar Sinai Medical Center was exasperated by the inundation of phone calls concerning Eazy’s condition. Before the rapper’s death, one hospital employee remarked that they had received more visits and calls than for former patient Lucille Ball. And though they were unavailable for comments, both Ice Cube abd Dr. Dre reconciled with Eazy on his death bed. Snoop Dogg’s comments, heard on Los Angeles radio station, “The Beat,” echoed those of the larger community. “My prayers are with Eazy’s family.”