Kendrick Lamar Interviews N.W.A. & Asks All The Right Questions (Video)
It is fitting that N.W.A.’s first full-length interview in conjunction with Straight Outta Compton be conducted by none other than Kendrick Lamar. On behalf of Billboard, Lamar sits down for an intimate conversation with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Nearly 30 minutes, this interview transcends a cool publication idea into a true master-student conversation, not unlike the edited interview between K-Dot and Tupac Shakur on this year’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Not surprisingly, N.W.A. returns the praise on Kendrick, with Dre admitting that his respect and admiration is beyond their Aftermath Entertainment relationship. Ren says he considers “Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)” from 2010’s Overly Dedicated among his personal favorite songs.
“Anything I do, it’ll always come from what y’all done—period,” says Kendrick, with a Dodger cap brim low, clearly entranced by the MCs, DJs, and producers before him. The questions are not very specific, but broad and thoughtful. The four living members of the Compton, California group show the masses how they interact together all these years later. Especially for Dr. Dre (who often shuns interviews), this is a rare glimpse on camera. Additionally, MC Ren and DJ Yella are shown together with their band-mates in an interview for the first time since the “Yo! MTV Raps” days. Unlike the interviews of those days (popped out sunglasses lenses, automatic guns and all), this is intimate, honest, with four accomplished artists showing that they have changed less than some may think.
In the conversation, Yella and Dre allude to their relationship predating N.W.A., in the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Ice Cube calls the two men the A&R’s for a group who broke through without such an official title at Ruthless Records. Each are asked about their families, and the relationship their children have with their entertainment. Notably, Dre’s son (Hood Surgeon), Ren’s son (Waxxie), and two of Cube’s sons (O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Darryl Jackson) all have aspirations in entertainment.
While the group admits they did not understand publishing royalties and were “broke” throughout much of the 1980s, they speak lovingly of Eazy-E. The four members praise Eazy’s foresight, and his application of the streets to the music industry. DJ Yella recalls Eazy turning down a distribution deal with Island Records (Eric B. & Rakim) due to the fact that Island would not allow N.W.A. to keep the red-and-black Ruthless logo on the vinyl releases. In turn, the group maintained its independence through Bryan Turner’s Priority Records distribution, helping launch a Gangsta Rap power-house. The Niggaz Wit Attitudes members also laugh, recalling Eazy’s convictions of a raw label—until (the Dre and Yella-produced) J.J. Fad became a hit sensation.
Asked about impact, Ice Cube credits N.W.A. with making a path for Comedy Central TV series “South Park.” Later in the interview, the group recalls pressures from censorship advocates C. Delores Tucker, Al and Tipper Gore, and even investigation by the FBI. “The rawness wasn’t in the world until N.W.A. said it was okay to be yourself” says Cube. Asked about making a gang-infested South Central Los Angeles city something known in the suburbs, the MC-turned-actor deduces, “You could visit Compton—from a safe distance, but up close.” Realizing that N.W.A.’s politics, views on sex, and profanity were deeply controversial, Dre says, “If we would have done it any softer than we did, it wouldn’t have gotten the attention that it did.”
Beyond their support of Kendrick Lamar, the group members state that they like both The Clipse’s Pusha T and Drake, as contemporary artists.
DJ Yella, who is often a background member in some accounts of N.W.A. leaves the conversation with some profound words. “The group had to break up for us to do what we had to do…to get here,” says the DJ who would also produce for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, The D.O.C., and Kokane. “I think we’re gonna be bigger now than back then.”