Learn 10 Mind-Blowing Facts About Dre, Tupac, & Eazy From The Definitive Book On L.A. Gangsta Rap
Perhaps even more than Hip-Hop’s inception, or its commercial rise, the history of N.W.A. and the diaspora of West Coast Gangsta Rap is the culture’s most intriguing story. There are heroes, villains, fights, triumphs, and a plethora of great music. Author Ben Westhoff’s just-published Original Gangstas is as comprehensive a research as one can find. Beginning in the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, the book compiled 112 interviews, analyzed hundreds more—in search of the truth, the detail, and the balance that so many reports can lack.
Underneath it all, Westhoff is a music journalist—in search of great grooves as much as conflict or arc. This text treats Gangsta Rap with an investigative aim for facts, color, and truth. Meanwhile, the author’s writing completely understands the nuance—whether describing the evolution of G-Funk, the poetry of Ice-T, or the forgotten greatness of Da Lench Mob’s Guerillas In Tha Mist. In the course, Heads can visualize the offices, take garage tours, and get the where-are-they-now details of some of the figures of a mass movement out West.
There are stories—whether Dr. Dre’s complicated history with women, Suge Knight’s interactions with Eazy-E, or Suge Knight’s derailed plans to play for the San Francisco 49ers—that are presented with new accuracy. If you loved this culture in music videos, ’90s Rap mag folklore, or Straight Outta Compton, this comprehensive examination will revive that passion. Ben’s studied the interviews, the timelines, and the legal documents behind the music Heads love. Moreover, he’s hosted many new discussions, probing at the answers and details fans crave. Here are 10 things that stood out to us from the book, with plenty more there for the curious.
Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Jerry Heller Were All Neighbors—Even During Beef
After the royalties started mounting, in 1991, Dr. Dre bought a french colonial mansion in a Calabasas, California gated community. According to the author (who visited the neighborhood for his research), D-R-E lived two blocks away from Eazy-E (who lived two houses away from Jerry Heller), even after the beef started in 1991. In an interview with The Howard Stern Show from 1993, E confirmed this as well—claiming that Dre used to put his head down whenever he saw his former N.W.A. band-mate. While these guys were saying terrible things about one another, they literally had to look at each others’ front doors all the time, and pay the same community ground fees. All three men loved cars—with Eazy having a white BMW 8-series coupe. The Compton MC gifted Heller one to match, right down to the “RTHLSS” license plates.
Michel’le’s Children By Dr. Dre and Suge Knight (respectively) Get Along Great
Fans of West Coast Gangsta Rap folklore know that Michel’le has children by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. While that may seem incestuous to Death Row Records circles (they co-founded the imprint), that also means that when Knight was dissing Dre in interviews, releasing his address on Death Row film collections, and his later artists were calling out the very man who helped build their employer, Dre’s son and Knight’s daughter had real family ties. Ben Westhoff interviewed Michel’le to reveal that Marcel (Dre’s son) was largely raised by the singer’s mother. Moreover, Bailei, her daughter with Suge, and Marcel get along famously. “People think they should be the Hatfields and McCoys. No, my kids love each other,” the songstress (and onetime acting CEO of Death Row) told the author.
Snoop Dogg & Puff Daddy Held A Truce Meeting Before The Notorious B.I.G. Was Killed
Historians often consider the deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. to be the abrupt and tragic ending to several years of East and West Coast beef. However, Westhoff’s research points to a February 12, 1997 truce meeting—just before a taping of The Steve Harvey Show in Los Angeles, California. At the time, Suge Knight was incarcerated from a probation violation the night of Tupac’s murder. However Snoop, fresh off the release of Tha Doggfather, was the label’s star act. Less than one month later, Biggie Smalls was gunned down just miles from where the truce meeting took place. They also appeared on a corresponding episode.
Ruthless Records Once Ran Ads Including Comedian Chris Tucker On Their Roster
Westhoff’s book spends a lot of time looking at the post-N.W.A. days of Ruthless Records. He highlights some of the other executives brought in, and their diverse roles—from security to some controversies around Eazy-E’s 1995 death. There is a lot of detail about bringing in acts like Mexican-American veteran MC Kid Frost and Brownside. However, the author also points out that circa 1997, Chris Tucker was said to be a Ruthless act, around the time of the Epic distribution deal. Nothing was released, but around the same time that Tucker was running with Ice Cube and DJ Pooh on the set of Friday, he was reportedly in biz with the Gangsta Rap label.
The Night Tupac Was Shot In 1996, Craig Mack Was To Perform At Club 662
Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight loved publicity stunts during beef. Much has been written about September 7, 1996—the night ‘Pac and Suge were shot en route to Club 662. Knight’s short-lived, rarely-open club on the Las Vegas, Nevada strip reportedly played host to Run-D.M.C. concerts, and a few Death Row demonstrations. However, that night, former Bad Boy Records artist Craig Mack was set to perform. Notably, the former EPMD affiliate had not had a major hit in almost two years. At the time, however, he was running with Eric B., who was long rumored to be a partner in Death Row East. In ’97, Craig and Eric released Operation: Get Down. Westhoff also uncovers a 1995 invitation—by Suge to The Notorious B.I.G. to rock the Club 662 stage (before that Source Awards fiasco).
Eazy-E’s Final Album May Have Contained A Foiled N.W.A. Reunion Track
On the the posthumously-released 1996 Eazy-E album Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton
there is a song, “Tha Muthaphukkin Real.” Featuring MC Ren, the song is produced by DJ Yella. Per the author’s research, the song was recorded following E’s meeting with Ice Cube (who came with Puff Daddy) at The Tunnel in New York City in late 1994. Ren recalls a coughing Eazy during recording. However, it’s plausible he hoped Cube and Dr. Dre would eventually join the record—as the Ruthless Records CEO hired publicist Phyllis Pollack (who had worked with N.W.A. previously) to begin a campaign announcing the group’s return. That never happened. However, in ’93, at the CB4 premiere, Eazy told Fab 5 Freddie that N.W.A. would be reuniting—without Dre. As Eazy reportedly wanted to replace D-R-E with sounds by Yella and Above The Law’s Cold187um, MC Ren disagreed, and did not speak with his label boss and band-mate for more than a year.
Death Row Spent Big Money Trying To Get Jodeci On The Label
Despite a roster that included Nate Dogg, Michel’le, Danny Boy, Jewell, and 6 Feet Deep, Death Row Records never had much success with R&B. Singers thrived in featured roles, and on soundtracks, remixes, and compilations. Beginning in 1998 (with Suge incarcerated and a dwindling glory-days roster), the label tried to change this, to small success. However, Suge wanted Jodeci—formerly on Uptown Records on his imprint. Original Gangstas reports that Tha Row gifted DeVante Swing with a $250,000 Lamborghini Diablo, and a $37,000 ring to JoJo’s mom “for no particular reason.” DeVante worked on Death Row albums such as Above The Rim, Murder Was The Case, and Tupac’s All Eyez On Me track “No More Pain.” His music with Danny Boy would surface more over time, as well as close ties to Kurupt and Ray J. K-Ci & JoJo worked closely with ‘Pac—appearing on singles “Toss It Up” and “How Do U Want It.”
Above The Law And Warren G Had A Standoff, And Tupac, Snoop and Eazy-E Were There
Today, there is a lot of popular debate over who really invented G-Funk. In 1993, as Dre’s The Chronic and Above The Law’s Black Mafia Life were in rotation, Cold 187um (aka Big Hutch) blamed Warren G (who he’d previously let stay in his home and studio) for spilling some game to his big-half-brother. In 1993, at the Marriott Hotel near L.A.X., Westhoff takes interviews to describe Cold 187um stepping to the G-Child. The altercation escalated to yelling, and reportedly guns drawn. 187, as well as Eazy-E’s assistant said that E, Tupac Shakur, and A.T.L. were on one side. On the other, it was Warren G, Snoop, Lil 1/2 Dead, and more. Allegedly a mediating bodyguard with ties to both Ruthless and Death Row chilled the tensions, and the parties left in peace.
After Body Count’s “Cop Killer” Controversies, Dre Yanked This Song From The Chronic:
Hearing the music of Dr. Dre’s vaults is not easy. “Mr. Officer,” featuring RBX and the late Prince Ital Joe was one song yanked at the last minute from The Chronic. Already living through “Fuck Tha Police,” Dre watched Ice-T and Body Count lose their Sire/Warner Bros. Records backing, and he backed out. The book quotes Dre as saying, “Making money is more important to me than talking about killing police.” Here is the song in question, which would have been released one year after “Deep Cover”:
There Are 2 Suitcases Of Unreleased Eazy-E Music Out There…
Since Eazy’s 1995 death, one full-length album of new material has been released: Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton. There have been some bonus songs, some features (Erick Sermon, Mack 10, etc.), but nothing compared to Tupac. Two titanium suitcases containing reels of Eazy material were stolen following his death. Per FBI reports, a man in Ontario, Canada was believed to be the culprit. This same man (whose name is not published) reportedly changed the Woodland Hills, California answering machines at Ruthless to forward to a new Canadian number as well. The FBI reportedly closed the case without ever seizing the reels or the briefcases. For those looking for some more “E,” it is likely out there, somewhere.
Original Gangstas is available in hard copy and digital.