It was 20 years ago this week that Eazy E cruised to that great safehouse in the sky. I’ll never forget first hearing the news that he had AIDS and was dying in Cedars-Sinai. The radio station, 92.3 The Beat, kept public vigil. Dre and Cube and Bone Thugs reportedly filed in to pay last respects to the legend. The hospital was only about a mile from where I had Little League practice and a group of us debated wandering over before quickly realizing that we weren’t exactly wanted. So we got Slurpees and silently mourned the man who directly swayed our generation towards the charms of gangsta rap, Raiders jackets, and Kings hats.
You’ll probably read only a couple memorials to Eric Wright. He doesn’t receive the same reverence as 2Pac, Biggie, Dilla or Pun. It’s obviously because he was closer to a creative entrepreneur than a pure artist, but his shock value style and proto-trolling bears closer resemblance to the YouTube era than it does the charmingly antiquated “please listen to my demo” 90s. There’s no doubt that Eazy intuitively understood the future more than almost any of his peers.
From marketing, branding, aesthetic to the importance of iconic videos, Eazy understood both where the streets were at and where music was heading. When the Roc-A-Fella crew were still wearing Gazelles, Eazy flipped a kilo into an empire. Don’t dismiss his A&R gifts either — he signed Bone Thugs, The Black Eyed Peas, Above the Law, and of course, NWA. He tried to sign Quik too, but Profile Records got there too quickly.
When the Feds sent NWA a warning letter, Eazy flipped the publicity into a million more records sold. People criticize him as a rapper, but I’ve already been over this before in my Rolling on Dubs tribute. He had presence, voice, and a striking viewpoint, which is more than most. Less known but no less important was his wicked sense of humor. If you took his music at face value, you’d probably find it horrifying. But it was clearly exaggerated for comic effect — sometimes obviously — sometimes less so.
In answer to Kendrick’s statement, a rapper with a ghostwriter is Eazy E. Without him, it’s unclear whether Dre would’ve ever become Dre — starting a chain reaction that forever alters the rap space-time continuum. Sure, Cube and Ren’s pen scripted Eazy’s rise, but you never felt like it was anything less than Eazy at his rawest. With some rappers, it felt like they were playing a character. With Eazy, it just felt like he was a great television host who employed a staff of joke writers.
I could post some of his music, but I suspect you’ve already heard most of it. To really understand the three-dimensionality and sly wit, it’s best to watch these old interviews excavated from YouTube. The look on his face when the Miley-white NBC host reads his lyrics back to him is priceless. The velocity with which he shifts the conversation is brilliance. Eazy can’t be forgotten. He was the first to flip a few square miles into the entire world.