Well, with three hours left, unless the Fear of a Black Planet fan club finds this blog and drastically changes the outcome, It Takes a Nation of Millions…..will have won in a landslide. I can’t say I’m surprised about it winning, but I’m kind of surprised by the large margin of victory. I guess I did “underestimate” something as one of the comments left mentioned, and that is the greatness or It Takes a Nation…, or maybe I simply forgot. None the less, the nation has spoken, and it was unanimous. Let’s hope this week is a little more exciting.
Final Verdict 93-24 “It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”
I started reading “Have Gun, Will Travel” by Ronin Ro this week past week. It details the rise and fall of Death Row Records. I’m way late on reading this book, and while it’s not the best written book I’ve ever read, the story itself is a fascinating one. The second chapter deals with Dr. Dre and N.W.A., which is kind of the reason this week’s “This or That” is pitting NWA’s first album, Straight Outta Compton and their second album, Efil4Zaggin (not counting the 100 Miles & Running EP) against each other. I’ve been trying to think how I first heard of NWA, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I want to say I heard of NWA before the “Yo! MTV Raps” days, quite possibly off of the liner notes for Ice-T’s Rhymes Pay LP. I had NWA & The Posse before both either the Eazy solo album, or obviously the first legit NWA solo album. Regardless of how I heard about them, they were quite influential on my early listening habits. Coming out of my lily white suburbs, the things NWA was talking about, even on that NWA & The Posse album were shocking, but intriguing to say the least. We’d (meaning me and my friends) would snatch up Eazy E’s Eazy-Duz-It when it dropped the winter of ’88. Although I was pretty hard into the east coast music at that time, NWA would join Ice-T and Too Short as west coast artists that got a lot of play in my Walkman. I’m sure I was drawn to them for the same reason a lot of kids in my place were, also for the same reasons I was drawn to last week’s group, Public Enemy. It was rebellious, daring, shocking, and sounded amazing.
N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton Vs. Efil4zaggin
Straight Outta Compton
NWA burst on the scene in the spring of ’89 after releasing a compilation album with their homies (NWA & The Posse) and Eazy’s solo album the fall of ’88. But it would be Straight Outta Compton that would shake the hip hop world down to it’s very last compound. The album would propel the west coast gang life into the American mainstream. One could argue, they were the west coast versions of Run DMC in that they kicked the door wide open for the west coast and “reality rap”. Yes, Ice-T had already done Rhyme Pays, and did quite well with it, but it was NWA that made middle America stand up and take notice of what was happening in the neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. With the their topics of drive-bys, police brutality, and the gang life, NWA soon become a favorite of many suburbanites, which drove Straight Outta Compton’s sales over the two million mark, unheard of at the time.
Straight Outta Compton leads off with one of the greatest trios of songs found on any hip hop album ever made. We are warned that we are “….about to witness the strength of street knowledge”, then the drums kick in. By this time, we were already familiar with Dre and his production skills, if not from his World Class Wreckin’ Cru days, surely from the Eazy E solo album. Dre’s production on Straight Outta Compton the album was bare bones in the approach and the title track was no different. The drums hit hard as the kick from a twelve gauge shotgun and the rest is just drenched in west coast funk. The F.B.I.’s favorite song, “F–k Tha Police”, leads off all-time follows come batting in the two spot. Dre ruled the drums back then as another ruff drum track kicks in. Coupled with a couple different guitar loops, it’s the perfect backdrop for Ren, Cube and Eazy to kick one of the most prophetic jams ever. They were one of the first to tell the world of the injustices found in LA by it’s police department. “Gangsta Gangsta”, the third song found on side A, found Dre lacing some more bangin’ drums. Dre’s production showed that the west coast could do more than the electro beats found early on in the west, as the production found on Straight Outta Compton is straight up, in ya face, bangin’ music. Dre would change his style many times during his long and illustrious career, but this is where it all started.
Even today, the west isn’t known for it’s lyrics. It’s known for it’s funk drenched music and it’s shocking images that are conveyed through the lyrics, but a lot of times the quality of their lyrics are lost in all the other traits. But with < span style="font-weight: bold;">NWA, you had one of the best lyricists on either coast in Ice Cube. Cube painted portraits, directed movies and capture images with his lyrics. On the track “Dopeman”, a personal favorite of mine, Cube paints the life of a big wheelin’ drug dealin’ neighborhood drug dealer. It’s shocking when hearing it for the first time when you come from a little white town:
It was once said by a man who couldn’t quit
”Dopeman, please, can I have another hit?
The dopeman said: “Cluck, I don’t give a shit
If your girl kneels down, and sucks my dick!
It all happened and the guy tried to choke her
Nigga living in cash, ain’t nothing but a smoker
That’s the way it goes, that’s the name of the game
Young brother getting over by slangin’ caine
Gold around his neck 14 k, has it
Bitches sucking on his dick, 24-7
Plus he’s makin’ money keepin’ the base heads waiting
Rollin 6-4 with the fresh-ass daytons
Livin’ in Compton, California, CA
His Uzi up your ass if he don’t get paid
Nigga begging for credit, he’s knockin’ out teeth
Clockin’ much dollars on the 1st and 15th kay shizze is a real fuckin g
Big lot of money, nothing less than a twenty
Yo, you want a five-oh, the dopeman got plenty
To be a dopeman, boy, you must qualify
Don’t get high, off your own supply
From a kid to a G, it’s all about money
10-piece, 4-10, base pipe comes free
If people out there ain’t hip to the fact
If you see somebody gettin’ money 4 crack,
Ren played Robin to Cube’s batman and in some cases does just as good of a job on the track as his reputed lyrical superior. I’ve long thought that Ren was severely overlooked in the kind of way that Steve Young was when he was Joe Montana’s back up on the dynasty teams of the Niners. In fact, when Ren & Dre come together on “Compton’s In The House” as sort of a west coast Run DMC as they go back and forth answering each others rhymes and just kicking lyrics together. While Dre isn’t known for being a great MC, for suitable reasons, he handles his own through out the album and on the track. Ren with his deep voice though lives up to his name of “Villain In Black”:
MC Ren is the mothafuckin coroner
Im gettin rid of mothafuckaz as if they was a foreigner
Show no crip(?) to pretend when Im seen
I punch you can block it but Im a still get in
This aint a tko in the first
But its some shit from a nigga in black its much worse
Then a beatin from Tyson cuz Ren is not nice and
Your ass is better off just rollin a dice and
Findin you a number for luck
Cuz you all need it when you see I dont give a fuck
My identity, and the shit is gettin shown
Without a video Im still gettin on
Im at a show then my picture is takin
One click of the flash and punk niggaz are breakin
To the door, tryin to join my fan club
Lipstickin over one of my dubs
And its the minimal scratch for the moment
Until I fuck up the so called opponet
Thats standing in the zone of the twilight
Sayin how in de fuck did he get mixed up in my fight
It wasnt a mistake, it was a set-up
So until Im finished poppin my lyrics you should shut up
And dont attempt to speak
Because its bad enough you rollin up shit quick
With a nigga like ren about the hit
Now lemme hear you mothafuckaz talk some more shit
Im a bust your ass in your mouth,
Yo, unless youre sayin comptons in de house
Straight Outta Compton is a certified classic in the hip hop circles and rightfully so. It was the first of it’s kind to hit the mainstream America, even though none of the first singles were given radio play and MTV banned the “Straight Outta Compton” video. This album has many memories for myself and could be the pinpoint of where the gangster rap kicked off and would take over for a few years in the early 90′s. A classic album that will always bein the top 20 albums of all-times.
A group that had sold 2 million albums of their debut album loses their chief lyricists, who is not only the front man, but the man who writes lyrics for two of the other members and still becomes the first hip hop
group to ever debut an album on the top spot of the Billboard album charts really has something going for them. Efil4Zaggin did just that, it debuted on the top spot for album sales, a first for a hip hop group. The album is a lot different that it’s predecessor both musically and lyrically. While they did lose Cube and his song writing abilities, they still had the DOC who would take on full responsibility along with Ren for Eazy and Dre’s lyrics. Musically, Dre produced a banger, something that I think musically is slept on more than it should be.
The production found on Efil4Zaggin is like night and day compared to the production found on Straight Outta Compton. Dre improved in leaps and bounds on the production tip on the album. The album’s dark and menacing beats are freakin’ genius and should be compared to those found on The Chronic in my opinion. It’s easily one of my favorite produced albums of all-time. After one of the greatest intros in hip hop history in which Above The Law kicks off the album basically daring anyone to come at “The world’s most dangerous group”, “Real Niggaz Don’t Die”, comes in all it’s hardness, with bells, electric guitars and boomin’ kick drums. I’ve always been a sucka for anything using a electric guitar and Dre just hooks this up perfectly in that aspect. The bells also add that dark edge to the track. The kick is just a deep boom in a car with a properly hooked up system, the track is a sonic masterpiece and just sets the tone of what to expect from Dre. “Alwayz Into Somethin’” is another Dre classic, you can hear early G-Funk influences found in the track in the form of the rollin’ siren over a funk guitar loop. “Appetite for Destruction” brings in pulsating synth sound that reminds one of a horror flick as Dre, Ren, and Eazy bring the heat on clearly one of the album’s best tracks. My personal favorite is a track that is kind of lost in the back of the album (I don’t particularly care for the track sequencing on the album). “Approach To Danger” has some nasty ass bass that can only truly be appreciated in a car with a monster system. The bass drops on this track alone could wake up a deaf person. Dre also uses more precursor G-funk sounds on this as well. He would also alter the vocal sounds as it sounds like Dre and gang are rapping in a tunnel. As I’ve mentioned previously, this album is tops on my favorite produced hip hop albums, there is just so many creative musical backdrops on this album, it’s hard not to call it a masterpiece.
With Cube being gone, Dre had to step up his lyrical game more. Once again, Dre is NOT an MC, he is a producer first and foremost. On the 100 Miles & Runnin’ EP, heads were treated to a different Dre, as he changed up his tone and his delivery from Straight Outta Compton. Check his performance on “Real N—-z”, which was originally on 100 Miles and Runnin for proof. On Efil4Zaggin, it wasn’t as much of a change, but it was still noticeable. Eazy of course wasn’t an MC at all, but he was always able to do a well enough it didn’t distract from the overall product (reportedly this was through Dre’s studio presence and editing). His verse on “Appetite for Destruction” was always one of my favorites from him:
Check it out y’all, in de house y’all
So I can show and flow and let the people know
So won’t you ease on down to the yellow brick road to Compton
But first let me tell you somethin’ -
I possess the 10 commandments of the Hip Hop Thugster,
Known as a thief and murderer :
First one - Alibi a nigga with an attitude
Gotta get respected, break your mothafuckin’ neck
Second one - Allwayz gotta fuck outta wedlock
I like it when the pussy goes snap crackle and pop
Number three - I’m a gangsta fanatic
smoke any foolz tryin’ to cause some static
Number four - Here’s what’s in store
A crazy-ass nigga that remains hard core
Fifth one - My killings just begun
I pulled out my gun, now they keep me on the run
Step six - Hmmm, it’s kinda tricky - Can’t forget that I’m mothafuckin’ chickenshit
To the ones who tries to play the E - By the time you reach Seven you’ll be 6 feet deep
Number eight - Make no mistake,
Move real sneaky and you’re bound to catch yo’ pray
Ninth one - I gotta be raw, fuck any brain-washing man made law
Last but not least, I must be real - Number ten – is my appetite to ki…
Ren was solid as Ren always was. He didn’t grab his time to shine as well as he should have, but he didn’t falter either. His booming voice is still one of my favorites in hip hop. There wasn’t one thing he really excelled in, he wasn’t great at telling sto
ries, he wasn’t the most braggadocios MC to be found, he wasn’t going to take anyone out with his lyrical prowess. Lyrically, the crew got it done. The second half of the album was filled with tracks like “Automobile”, which admittedly got a lot of play from us 18 year old high school seniors. Anyone that likes the album can’t say that they haven’t song along to that song. It might have taken away from some of the album in the end though.
When I started writing this, I didn’t really know which way I was going to go. For the longest time, I would have wholeheartedly said Straight Outta Compton, but the past four or five years, I keep listening to Efil4Zaggin and keep thinking what a piece of production it truly is. Dre really came into his own on this album.
Each album isn’t without it’s faults. Straight Outta Compton has those tracks that you always forget are included on the album. I mean, really, how many people ever play the last two tracks (“Quiet On Tha Set” and “Somethin 2 Dance 2″) on the album? I will if I’m not thinking about it, but too often I’ve take the album out after “Dopeman”. And playing devil’s advocate here because I really hate when someone says an album from the 80′s sounds “dated”, but if you weren’t listening to hip hop when this album dropped, you could say this does sound dated. The middle part of Efil4Zaggin gets drug down with overly sexists songs, violent tales against women, and becomes somewhat one dimensional. Don’t get me wrong, at my young age, I loved tracks like “Automobile” (I’m guilty of still liking it in particular settings), “She Swallowed It”, and “I’d Rather Fuck You”, all which were favorites of my friends and I to go cruisin’ with downtown on a Friday night. But in my older and (somewhat) wiser age, I think these songs take away from the overall quality of the album. Two or at the most three of these tracks would have been fine, but not six (including skits) tracks found in a row. Also, the absence of Ice Cube DID take away from the groups overall talent. Sorry, Dre filling in for Ice Cube is like Toni Kukoc stepping in for Michael Jordan back in the day. It just wasn’t the same.
When it all comes down to it, we once again have two classic albums from one of the most important groups in hip hop history. NWA can be credited(blamed) for many of the subgenres and topics found in hip hop even today. They can be credited for bringing reality rap to the mainstream masses. They forced the east to take the west seriously. Both albums accomplished what they were intended to do, but in the end I have to give the narrow margin to Straight Outta Compton despite the superiorly produced Efil4Zaggin.
Winner: Straight Outta Compton