Do Remember: DJ Yella & Kokane – 4 Tha E (Eazy-E Tribute) (Video)
Today (March 26) marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. The founder of N.W.A. and Ruthless Records left a crater on the face of modern music as we know it. The Compton, California native not only made the SoCal city a household name 25 years before good kid, m.a.a.d. city, he pioneered some grassroots practices that shaped the business of music, the video presentation, and the sense that when it’s great, art can be dangerous.
With a run that did not even reach 10 years, Eazy accomplished tons. Tragically, at the time of his HIV AIDS diagnosis and death just weeks later, the music mogul was at a distance from most of his friends. Legend has it that Wright was able to reconcile things with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the two members of N.W.A. who left to find mega-success on their own. However, it was MC Ren and DJ Yella who were by E’s side in the ’80s, and throughout the 1990s.
As the case with many DJs in Hip-Hop groups, Yella’s light often was the least bright in celebrating N.W.A.’s impact. Notably, the CPT native born Antoine Carraby was previously a World Class Wreckin’ Cru member, also alongside Dre prior to joining “Rap’s Most Dangerous Group.” Not only a turntablist—whose greatest skill may have been his intricate mixing—Yella’s production thrived. Alongside Dre, Yella would produce a number of hit records for their respective groups, as well as that for Michel’le, J.J. Fad, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and The D.O.C. While critics and artists regularly allocate Dre the credit, DJ Yella remained elbow-to-elbow with his band-mate on many works. As Dre would later go on to develop Daz Dillinger, Warren G, Sam Sneed, Scott Storch, Mel-Man, and others, perhaps Yella was the first artist to live in the Doctor’s shadow?
In the post-N.W.A. days, Yella remained close to Eazy and Ren at Ruthless. He developed short-lived Ruthless acts like Yomo & Maulkie, H.W.A. (Hoes Wit’ Attitude), and Menajahtwa. Along with Bone mainstay DJ U-Neek, Yella was deeply involved in B.T.N.H’s Creepin On Ah Come Up 1994 debut EP. However, by 1995, upon Eazy’s death, Yella halted work. Reportedly, Yella was the only N.W.A. member at Eric Wright’s funeral. The producer was at the helm for posthumous release Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton, and he was out. Just like that.
Notably one year to the day after Eazy-E passed (19 years ago today), Yella returned with a swan-song. One Mo Nigga ta Go would be the Compton veteran’s only album. N.W.A. did not appear in any form or faction. Instead, mid-’90s Eazy-E proteges including B.G. Knocc Out, Gangsta Dresta, and Kokane would appear on the BMG-distributed Streetlife Records release. Filled with interludes, monologues, and tributes, the album is not a benchmark in the N.W.A. story, inevitably not a storyline point in the upcoming Straight Outta Compton biopic. Rather though, it represents some unadulterated remembrance and emotion from one of the few who can say they were down with E in the beginning, through to the end.
Single “4 Tha E” with Kokane (who Eazy helped make into a solo sensation thanks to 1994’s Funk Upon A Rhyme) is a poignant video. Reenacting Eazy’s funeral and process, the funky song (featuring Hip-Hop, Funk, and scratching) shows the range in the music E made, and his massive impact across the geographic and racial boundaries in the gang/street community. P-Funk-meets-G-Funk, as Yella and Jerry Long make the song cry. As we mourn Eric Wright 20 years later, why not take a cue from two men who knew him, and stood by his side?
Is DJ Yella one of Hip-Hop’s most slept-on producers/artists?
Rest In Peace, Eazy!