originally published July 23, 1991 / VILLAGE VOICE
So it’s 92 degrees in Brooklyn and I have the pleasure of sitting in on an aesthetically correct Hip Hop listening session. That is, I’m riding in a jeep, windows rolled down, a monster bass kicker in the back, Cee Wild at my side, Papa Prince Paul at the wheel, and Scott on tape selection. We slide into a red light; two culture queens wearing African amber earrings roll their eyes at the sonic attack Paul’s system launches. They see three Black men and kind of sigh. They spot me, in all of my Black, bald, Womanist glory rockin’ to Niggaz4Life
(Ruthless/Priority, N.W.A.’s latest colossal drive-by album. They suck their teeth and shake their heads…I’m caught.
I want to tell them if it were up to me, we would never hear N.W.A. again. Like all Black nationalists, I wish N.W.A. would cease to be backward misogynist roadblocks to revolution. I wish they would cease to be. Eazy-E, M.C. Ren, Dr. Dre, and DJ Yella are four punk ass mothafuckas who are due an ultra critical beatdown; Dre for (allegedly) stompin’ Pump It Up! host Dee Barnes at a Hollywood party this January, the other three cowards for endorsing it. May Dee walk away with 22 million gangsta dollaz. And a righteous shout out to Ultramagnetic MC’s Tim Dog, the first artist in the industry, male or female, large enough to address the issue on wax or otherwise. Catch Tim Dog’s single “Fuck Compton” (Ruffhouse/Columbia): “All that gang shit’s for dumb motherfuckas/But you go on thinkin’ you’re hard/Come to New York and we’ll see who get’s robbed/…Beatin’ on Dee from Pump It Up!/Step to the Dog and get fucked up!”
But Tim Dog didn’t debut at No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart. Tim Dog will never see double platinum. Nor will East coast lyrical heavies like KRS-One, Brand Nubian, or Poor Righteous Teachers. Since N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton put the relentless bass back into rap it’s been increasingly difficult to pledge allegiance to the Bronx. The astronomical sales of Cali’s Too Short, Ice Cube, and DJ Quik, almost always with no radio play, are capitalism’s true testimony to the West Coast’s ruthless stomp to the top of the Hip Hop Kingdom.
Any New York rap fan will, teeth clenched, reluctantly concede that it was Dre and Yella’s Pathfinder production, Cube’s furious lyrics, and Ren and Eazy’s size-12 delivery that set the West Coast shit off. Niggaz4Life begins, “the mothafuckin saga continues…” and what follows is, with little exception, the stuff that formal Hip Hop dreams are made of. Ren’s delivery has improved: his flow is particularly phat and fluid on “Always Into Somethin’.” When he describes gang-banging a 14-year-old, you’re at once repulsed by the savage misogyny and painfully amazed by his ability to flip a phrase (i.e., construct his poetry). Eazy still doesn’t write all of his lyrics (high treason in the Hip Hop Nation) but his quick delivery may have you reciting rhymes that disavow any and all prior commitments: “No, it’s the E, the mothafuckin’ pussy beater/And I’m the quicker picker-upper/Quick to pick up a bitch/So come here bitch and lick up the, lick up the, lock up the dick.” On the production tip, there are few who can fuck with Dre and Yella. Dre unloads a large order of steady beats that ooze with Bomb Squad-density made gangsta thick by tight loops only to be interrupted by swift, clean breaks. Niggaz4Life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—is poised to be on of the most important albums in Hip Hop.
Blame SOUL Redcords president Hank Schocklee for encouraging Young Black Teenagers to pop that Blackness is a state of mind, accessible to all garbage. Blame X-Clan for riding off into the sunset with a pyramid in the backseat of their pink Cadillac. Blame the commodification of Afrocentricity. Blame who you will, but know that in the midst of Afrocentric showdowns N.W.A. discovered irony and cashed in on the confusion. “Positive” rap has thoroughly convinced the niggaz from Compton that they want no part of it: record sales and jeep rotation suggest that they’ve got allies, perhaps even some converts. N.W.A doesn’t give a damn about your kids, your parents, Alice Walker, Tipper Gore, or Jawanza Kunjufu. But they are concerned with survival. And while it’s always at the expense of others (Black women, nationalists, and moralists, to name a few),, there’s the occasional clarity and focus to their rage. And that rage is at its most empowering when they deal with what’s far too familiar to young Black males: police brutality and harassment. Ren rips shit and calls for arms in “Real Niggaz Don’t Die”: “Niggaz get smart and rebel back/I’m not with that Black shit so I’m not gonna yell that/All I see is niggaz gettin harassed/And can’t do nothin’ about it but get a foot in the ass/But if every nigga grabbed a nine/And started shootin’ mothafuckas, that would put ‘em in line.” In other words, black steel in the hour of chaos, South Central style.
Two years, a sample, and a breakbeat later, Chuck D finds himself reiterating N.W.A’s nigganess—Ren: “I’m a motherfuckin’ nigga… Chuck: ‘with an attitude.” It was Public Enemy who recognized the brilliance of Farrakhan’s theory that the real soldiers against white supremacy were on the so-called margin, in the streets: that they were in fact our last hope. It is to Chuck that Ice Cube attributes his bravery embracement of survival and self-empowerment. It Takes A Nation of Millions was unquestionably the beginning of a new direction for the Hip Hop generation. N.W.A isn’t convinced. They may agree with Chuck that real men wear black, but they’re “not down with that Black shit. As a matter of fact they’ve flipped the game plan and you, my brotha, must prove that you’re a real nigga, i.e., a real man. Consider it a privilege to receive lesson 101 from the title cut: “Why do I call myself a nigga so quick/Cuz I can reach in my drawers and pull out a bigger dick.”
What else do real niggaz do? Ho killin’ and fuckin’ as a sport are high on the list. But most of the gangsta-sex lyrics are so tired that all one can manage is an exasperated hand on hip, nigga pleaze. At some point in our struggle as Black folk we’re going to have to realize that dehumanizing women is as disempowering as shoving a 9-millimeter in Five-O’s face is empowering. The production is consistently solid throughout Niggaz4Life, whether they are slapping bitches or badge-wearing pale faces. “One Less Bitch I Gotta Worry About” opens with a skit where the group cruises a prostitute, then beats her and shoots her for attempting to negotiate her fee. The bass is smooth, seductive even, but there’s not enough Clarence Greenberg aesthetics, distance, or devotion in the world to sever the drum from the brutal lyrics. When will this caveboy shit end? When will Black women Devoted to this movement we call Hip Hop, this aesthetic we call Hip Hop, this nation we call Blackness (in all its regions) cease to experiment physical pain everytime we walk by a boomin’ system and confront another small dick lyric?
“Why do I call myself a nigga you ask me/Cuz my mouth is so motherfuckin’ nasty/Bitch this bitch that niggaz this niggaz that/But in the meantime my pockets is gettin fat.” The question” will we unass eight bonz in the name of the Hip Hop aesthetic—relentlessly true to form beats, heavier skills, and mo’ betta production— thus compromising gender, race, and basic survival instincts?? The white boyz at Priority are banking on it—they’re poised for double platinum. Ice Cube recently referred to NW.A’s manager Jerry Heller as “the slavemaster.” How appropriate. Still, I wouldn’t count on a collective-conscience boycott. Nike and Coca-Cola have already proven that the right commercial will render anyone’s apartheid high fashion. Despite chest beating and loud claims to the contrary, N.W.A continues to be pimped. Pimped by patriarchy, pimped by white supremacy, pimped if you will, by the realities of their surroundings. Yet that’s never once discouraged my 19-year old brother from hitching his hatchback open and kickin’ the Niggaz from Compton’s shit out, as he drives, real slow, through Detroit neighborhoods wearing and ridiculously large Flavor Flav clock on his chest and rockin’ his head to Dre’s bass. “I know what time it is,” he once assured me, his right hand on his nuts, his energy capped by a Raiders hat, and N.W.A, as always, far too loud for me to hear a word he said.