Monday, November 7, 2016

Revisiting N.W.A.'s "Niggaz4Life"

A lot had changed with N.W.A. after the release of the seminal "Straight Outta Compton," and my "Hip Hop Nostalgia session" for that album can be checked out in the blog archives. In addition to signing what was perceived to be a lucrative deal with Jerry Heller, Ice Cube stunned many people when he decided to part ways with the group. The story has been told many times over the years (mainly by Cube) as to why he left, with the short version of a long one being "differences with money and business." Cube's departure was definitely a huge blow to N.W.A., but to their credit, the now four man team of Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Eazy-E and DJ Yella marched on and became more aggressive, outspoken and controversial in the process. In what could've been a prelude to the album I'll be discussing today, on August 14, 1990, they released the dope "100 Miles and Runnin" EP, and it was that title track in which they threw the first shot at Cube, and trust me there's more of that to come. With hip hop slowly but surely continuing to become the dominant genre of the day, even in 1991 any form of the word "nigga," especially in the form of an album title, was deemed controversial, so it has to be considered a stroke of genius for the crew to make the title in a backwards form ("EFIL4ZAGGIN"). How did N.W.A. rebound after the departure of the powerful force in Ice Cube? We'll go back to 1991 for the second and final album from N.W.A., "EFIL4ZAGGIN/Niggaz4Life."

Release date: May 28, 1991


All songs produced by Dr. Dre and Yella for High Powered Productions

1. "Prelude"
MC Ren

This prelude/intro not only sets the perfect tone for what's to come, but it's also one of the hardest openings to an album you'll ever hear. Ren comes through with two equally hard verses, and if you thought they had multiple things to get off their chests with the previous album, you ain't heard nothing yet! I normally don't rate intros, but this is another exception I'm making and it's the perfect segue into.....
*5 out of 5*

2. "Real Niggaz Don't Die"

"Real niggas don't die cause they eventually multiply/The niggas I'm wit, they take an eye for an eye" -Ren

Although there are many quotables in this HARD classic, the one above by Ren defines this one in a nutshell. I mean, holy shit, speaking of hard, this is one of the hardest, apply titled songs you'll ever hear. Ren and Eazy drop highly dope verses, but Dre's opening verse was nothing short of tight and it's probably one of the most aggressive verses you'll ever hear from Dre. This was QUITE the statement from the crew and I'm sure it scared the hell out of those in the media who didn't understand, government officials and the "upper class of White America" who probably had children that LOVED this music, no question. Oh, and the production? Don't get me started. This bass driven, guitar laced production is SO damn dope that it makes you want to tear up shit while listening to it, seriously, and the sampling of Rare Earth's "I Just Want To Celebrate" is NOT out of place at all. DOPE, dope stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

3. "Niggaz 4 Life"

"It's plain to see, you can't change me, cause I'm gon be a nigga for life!"

As mentioned, the word "nigga" at this point in our history was still a relatively controversial word. Sure, we heard it in a good number of movies, but for better or worse depending on your perspective, it wasn't until the emergence of West Coast hip hop that the word itself became part of hip hop's vocabulary, so to speak, that exists today as I type this, plus it's MUCH more widespread now than it was 25 years ago. Needless to say, Ren, Dre and Eazy answer this one question as only they can: why do they call themselves niggas? Well, their explanations were simple yet effective: it's based on their skills on the mic, the size of their manhood, the unlawful police harassment, the language they used (exercising their right to free speech) and ultimately deciding "it's just the way shit has to be." You can also say they used the term as a sense of (Black) pride and awareness as opposed to something disrespectful. No matter what side of the fence you were on for this one, the crew made their cases.
*5 out of 5*

4. "Protest"
In what could be one of the most disturbing skits ever (for the lack of a better term), at an N.W.A. concert, there's all types of rioting going on as a "reporter" tries to cover it, facing an ambush in the process. After said skit is over, Dre's just laughs, as if to say, "got you."

5. "Appetite For Destruction"

Man, words cannot express how incredibly DOPE this damn song is. It features one of Dre's tightest beats EVER, such a slammin', dramatic production that more than complements Ren, Dre and Eazy as they lyrically destroy anything in their paths. I also heard that Dre may have had a hand in mastering the video (which will be posted below) and if that's the case, I can see why it's just as good because the video itself plays like a short film/movie, featuring N.W.A. in their most violent, I don't give a fuck about anyone or anything ways. Straight classic gangsta shit in the first degree. (Peep Eazy's "10 commandments of the Hip Hop thugsta" at the end.)
*5 out of 5*

6. "Don't Drink That Wine"
This was more or less a skit to allow the listeners to catch a breather (and a couple of laughs).

7. "Alwayz Into Somethin"
Dr. Dre and MC Ren

The production for this classic is smooth without being too laid back and quite frankly; this is where you begin to hear the first glimpse of what would be known as "G-Funk." This may be your standard/vintage N.W.A. fare, but it's SO good and nowhere near cliched at this point. Dre and Ren continue the hard, aggressive style of the crew on this appropriately titled song. And no, the reggae bits here are not out of place. Granted they make you chuckle a little bit here and there, but it adds to the song in its own way.
*5 out of 5*

8. "Message To B.A."
Oh man, this skit right here. With all the audio clips present here, this was one giant "fuck you" to Ice Cube. Honestly, if the crew thought they were burying Cube with this, man, they were in for a rude awakening when "No Vaseline" came out (and that has also been covered on the blog, check out "The Ice Cube Effect: Death Certificate" in the blog archives).

9. "Real Niggaz"

This joint somewhat revisits the same themes found on "Real Niggaz Don't Die," however, what's notable about this song were the direct shots at Ice Cube. And while this is a dope song on its own, the crew were sadly mistaken if they thought going at Cube was going to be a walk in the park. It wasn't.
*5 out of 5*

From this moment, at least until we get to "Approach To Danger," the album's content takes a very controversial (some would argue misogynistic), sexually charged turn. It's definitely not for all ears.

10. "To Kill A Hooker"
The crew are out on the town "searching for chicks." One lady happens to come to their ride, doing herself NO favors by saying, "what kinda money you talkin' bout?" Now, I'm not justifying what happens next, even on this skit, but that type of attitude is something these brothers DON'T like or appreciate when it comes to women, which always necessitated the "bitch/ho/hoochie" label. It's unfortunate, but that's the reality of the situation. Eazy later gets impatient with everything....and decides to "shoot her three times in the car." This takes us into.....

11. "One Less Bitch"
Dr. Dre and MC Ren

Ok, this song right here. You would think these men had some serious issues with women based on their actions in this song. Paranoia probably describes Dre's frame of mind, as he decides to, um, "kill" the women he's involved with after he sleeps with them; in one session, he allows his niggas "to fuck her first" before the ending, and in another session he's mixed up with "the wife of the District Attorney." Ren's issues with his chick is one of apparent infidelity, as he comes home early only to find her "on the couch with her other nigga countin' his cash," and you can guess the ending for both of them. It leads you to ask the question: are these men just that ruthless, no pun intended? Are their actions the only ways of dealing with sexual frustration and preventing other men from dealing with said issues? Either way, the song is fairly entertaining for what it is if you don't take the content too seriously, and that's really the case with the next few songs. On shock value alone, this is a "5 out of 5," but it gets a "4 out of 5" overall.

12. "Findum, Fuckum & Flee"

I'll let you use your imagination to determine what the title of this song means. Eazy, Dre and Ren pull no punches when talking about their desires for extreme sexual activity at any given hotel in California or wherever. Their "plan b's" if said chicks "start fuckin' up" is just as raw, NO pun intended.
*3.5 out of 5*

13. "Automobile"
This Eazy led portion of the album, a skit in my view which plays on Parliament's "My Automobile," is another one meant for laughs and for us to take a breather in between songs.

14. "She Swallowed It"
MC Ren

Man, the previous few songs do took things to another level and so does this Ren solo spot. I can't recall any other song in hip hop that had THIS much focus on oral sex, especially from a man's point of view. In addition to talking about a certain lady who would have sex with multiple men to "taking a broomstick up the butt" (ouch), the second verse finds Ren about to "get into somethin," only to find out that it's the preacher's daughter, and this after an apparent encounter with a car full of dudes at a drive in. One would then ask the question or make the comment: "Ren, you KNOW you probably don't go to church, so how do YOU know this is the preacher's daughter?" It doesn't stop there. Ren is in some deep shit because she's only 14, but instead of immediately removing himself from the, uh, scene, he proceeds with everything because he "wasn't passin' up the chance of his dick gettin' baptized." Wow. Again, a good song for what it is and if you listen to these stories (that's all they are) and don't take them too seriously, you're good.
*4 out of 5*

15. "I'd Rather Fuck You"

This definitely was a bizarre parody (can't really call it a remake) of Bootsy Collins' "I'd Rather Be With You." (I don't know who the lady was on the song with Eazy, but I swear she sounded like Jewell.)
*2 out of 5*

16. "Approach To Danger"

Clocking in at 2:46, this is more vintage N.W.A. and they all but give their accounts, explicit as they may be, on how to encounter situations when danger is present, even with death and destruction staring right at you.
*5 out of 5*

17. "1-900-2-Compton"
This hilarious skit finds a dude being thrown into a jail cell. He calls his girl to bail him out. When she picks up the phone, she thinks it's someone else; in the process, he calls her a bitch (bad move right there), so you can imagine how that goes for him. In another funny moment, he continues to talk into the phone long after she's hung up.

18. "The Dayz Of Wayback"
Dr. Dre and MC Ren

Readers of my post know I absolutely love songs that talk about how things were back in the day. Dre and Ren do that on the album's closer, but instead the reflections of their past include sex, money, murder and mayhem, and not once do they say anything about wanting to go and relive any of those moments. And listening to this again, you almost get the sense that this was the (unofficial) end of an era for N.W.A.
*5 out of 5*

25 years after its release, this is another album that has aged so well. In the face of the absence of Cube, N.W.A. still managed to deliver the essential goods, even if they had to amp up the aggressiveness and all things related in the process. Lyrically, this album is about as gangsta, misogynistic, controversial, dope, thought provoking, menacing, angry, (take your pick) as you will ever hear in hip hop and quite frankly, nothing has been on its level, before or since if you think about it; and in present day 2016, an album like this would never see the light of day (in terms of its content, album cover and title, etc), and trust me I could make an another post about that. Production wise, this was simply incredible, just like "Straight Outta Compton." When Dre said on this very album that he was one of the best producers in the business, he wasn't lying. You can describe this album's production with MANY words, but I'll stick with simply incredible, funky and dope as hell. This is probably one of the best produced albums of Dre's career top to bottom, especially when it came to the use of samples. I also liked how the skits were used. Considering the nature of all the content, it was a smart move to have the majority of the skits allow the listeners to take breathers in between and get a laugh or two. Note to aspiring artists: Skits on albums can work as long as there's a purpose. With hindsight being 20/20, you gotta ask yourself, where does N.W.A. go from here? How do they follow up an album like "Niggaz4Life?" As it turned out, fate largely intervened. Dre, who once said there was tension during the making of this album (I couldn't tell), literally get fed up with the practices of Eazy and Ruthless Records that he left (or had to be forced out of his contract) and linked up with Suge Knight in a history making form to launch Death Row Records, so Dre came out of this about a million dollars or so ahead. Ren did his thing on the solo tip, but his presence was very low-key in hip hop once the group disbanded. The same thing could be said for Eazy, but outside of the Dre diss "Real Muthaphukkin G's" and introducing the world to Bone Thugs N Harmony, his career was on a downswing up until his untimely death in 1995. Yella was even more low-key than Ren was as the 90s continued. It's interesting to look back and see how things turned out for all involved.

Overall, "Niggaz4Life" has a legacy on par with "Straight Outta Compton." Whereas its predecessor was more revolutionary, N4L shocked and scared the hell out of you, but still had you entertained due to the music itself. And yes, the hype, the shocking/controversial elements of this album, the top notch production and the accompanying lyrics all but guarantee this a 5 star rating. Not only did "Appetite For Destruction" and "Alwayz Into Somethin" received moderate video play, but the album was a true success, debuting at #2 on the "Billboard Top LP's" chart, moving 954,000 units (had to have been in its first week), then in an unprecedented note, it moved to the #1 spot the next week, becoming the first hip hop album to do so. It has moved 2.1 million units to date. For older fans, I'm sure most reading this probably still bump this from time to time (it's a personal favorite of mine), but to newer fans, this is a STRONG, strong recommendation to check out if you haven't done so already!


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