Rarely does a group emerge, drop several classic yet extremely controversial albums, endure an ugly breakup, launch successful solo careers and then continue its legacy through different entertainment avenues and new multi-Platinum artists. N.W.A. is just such a group. Coming together in late-'80s Los Angeles, the story of Niggaz With Attitude begins with Eazy-E, a charismatic crack dealer looking to put his street earnings into something more legit. Along with Jerry Heller, he started Ruthless Records and went about drafting artists. He soon hooked up with Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, the World Class Wreckin' Cru and Ice Cube, and N.W.A. started to take shape.
“Boyz-N-the-Hood” was one of the group's first recordings, with Eazy debuting his signature high-pitched flow over Dre's chunky beats, bouncy synths and raw guitar loops. The single was a huge hit locally with its all-too-real lyrics about everyday life in the city. This led to the group's first full-length, N.W.A. and the Posse (Ruthless, 1987), a compilation-style effort that also showcased homies like MC Ren, The D.O.C. and Arabian Prince, who soon became full-fledged members of the team.
N.W.A.'s second record, Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless, 1988), not only kicked open the door but also blasted it off the hinges and burned down the house. With refined delivery, more complex production and increasingly explosive lyrics, N.W.A. became an overnight sensation. The group's ghetto storytelling struck a chord with city kids who could relate, as well as with an entire generation of sheltered suburbanites looking to rebel. N.W.A.'s ferocious tales of drug dealing, police shooting and ho' taming sent mainstream America reeling. Parents, media, politicians, religious figures and law enforcement all came out against the group, which only stoked the flames and helped N.W.A. sell more units.
But all was not well within the crew. Ice Cube in particular was growing increasingly angry toward Eazy's questionable business tactics, feeling cheated by the diminutive entrepreneur. He soon left for New York to record his first solo album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (Priority, 1990), with Public Enemy producers the Bomb Squad. The remaining members (excluding Arabian Prince, who had also left) began work on a new EP, 100 Miles and Runnin' (Ruthless, 1990), still sounding extremely strong thanks to Dre's always-evolving production skills and The D.O.C.'s on-point ghostwriting.
In 1991, N.W.A. released its final album, Evil4zaggin (aka Niggaz4life [Ruthless]), another slamming collection of intricate beats and over-the-top gangsterism. On it, the group took several shots at Ice Cube. Cube fired back with the scathing diss track “No Vaseline” on his second LP, Death Certificate (Priority, 1991), and was unanimously declared the victor. By this time, Dre was also suspicious of Eazy and Heller's money management. Feeling ripped-off and unappreciated, Dre defected to start Death Row, effectively nailing N.W.A.'s coffin shut.
In the years following the group's breakup, most of the members did quite well. Dre discovered Snoop Dogg and released a slew of classic and ridiculously successful albums. After Death Row's implosion, Dre started Aftermath Records. The label got off to a shaky start, but Eminem changed all that, making Dre one of the most powerful and richest producers in the history of music.
Cube continued to release solo albums throughout the '90s, although their quality level dipped dramatically since his early classics. He put out new talent (Del the Funky Homosapien, Da Lench Mob, Kam, Yo-Yo) and got into acting. These days, Cube is considered more of an actor than an MC.
Despite watching N.W.A. crumble before his eyes, Eazy-E never gave up on music. He continued to release solo albums and kept Ruthless going strong, signing Cleveland's sing-song speed rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Things were going well for him until early 1995, when he died of AIDS.
As for the other figures in N.W.A., DJ Yella put out a solo record in '96 called One Mo Nigga ta Go (Scotti) and now produces porn. The D.O.C. still makes music and runs his own label out of Dallas/Fort Worth; he released an album called Deuce (Red Urban) in 2003. Arabian Prince dropped a few solo joints and is rumored to be running a 3D animation studio. MC Ren, arguably the most underrated member of the crew, has released several solo albums throughout the years.
In March 2000, N.W.A. had a reunion of sorts, as Dre, Cube and Ren performed live, with Snoop filling in for Eazy. The revamped group recorded two songs, “Chin Check” and “Hello,” and an all-new album called Not These Niggaz Again was said to be in the works, though it never materialized. N.W.A. wasn't the first rap group to put crime rhymes on wax (Ice-T and Schoolly D came before them), but it was undoubtedly that which refined it and took it to mainstream America.