Rare 25-Year Old N.W.A. Photos & Collectibles Resurface, Care of a Longterm Fan (Interview)
Only now, in 2015, is N.W.A. a group that can test the waters of the digital era. It’s been nearly 25 years since the group existed, and more than that since it had its famous five member lineup including Ice Cube. In 1988, there were no blogs, no streams, no social media, period. Although they have not released any new music as a group, the four living members of that aforementioned lineup can sit before an intrigued Kendrick Lamar for an interview conversation available globally. The group is getting recognition by the elite publications, who now see Ice Cube as a Hollywood superstar off the mic, and Dr. Dre as an electronics mogul. “The World’s Most Dangerous Group” and their Straight Outta Compton biopic is suddenly mainstream, a perceived irony to their legacy as rebellious music revolutionaries.
In their brief but everlastingly impactful run between 1987 and 1991, N.W.A. was getting love. However, instead of web sites, magazines were critical vessels for showing the group of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and DJ Yella to the world. Behind the explosive, often-abrasive lyrics and intricate beats, who were these men from Compton? Their fashion, from black caps to loc’s to black jeans and white sneakers influenced the world. They’re menacing scowls and self-assurance became emblematic of late 1980s Rap cool. While the mainstream was unclear how to handle Niggaz Wit’ Attitudes and their Ruthless Records releases, small publications frequently published photos, advertisements, interviews, and other information regarding the Compton sensations.
An adolescent named Stephan was paying attention. Living in Geneva, Switzerland, he was a Hip-Hop obsessed youth gravitating towards the flare, the fashion, and the f-bombs of N.W.A. Starting then, he began collecting magazines, ads, and even photographing a Niggaz4Life advertisement on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard during a trip to the United States with his half-American father. Recently, in the purist/Heads community, the artist known as The Genevan Heathen (a grown-up Stephan) took the scene by storm with a comprehensive introduction to a 10-volume G-Funk mix alongside Arnaud D. The music was a companion to his years and years of curation.
Today, in the digital world, there are limited photos available on most search engine queries of N.W.A. The great photos of Janette Beckman and Glen E. Friedman are there, but those posed and candid moments between Dre, Lorenzo, Yella Boy, Cube, and E are rare and hard to come by. Armleder’s NWA Scans section of his Rap Scans Tumblr account changes that. There, among the 100+ N.W.A.-related scans, Heads can see a rarity of the six-man lineup of N.W.A. including Arabian Prince, who was notably omitted from the film. Fans can see Eazy-E behind the turntables, Dr. Dre leaning on his 1989 Corvette convertible, Cube’s cruel post-N.W.A. stage prop, and Dr. Dre’s fact sheet/interview questionnaire.
Here are some of the offerings, along with some quotes from Stephan Armleder:
On How The Rap Scans Tumblr Account Began: “I stumbled upon boxes of magazines while helping my mom clean the basement at her place, mostly Hip-Hop and skateboarding mags from the late ’80s and early ’90s acquired during summer trips to the US with my dad,” father half US.
On Why Some Of These Rare Scans And Their Contents Are Fun And Different: “While I still vividly remembered the issues of The Source, Rap Pages, and Rap Sheet, I had totally forgotten about Rap Masters, Yo! Magazine, Word Up and such…their content blew me away – the over the top graphic design, the numerous ‘full color pin ups,’ the absurd contests, the flashy colors, the giant posters – they almost feel like teenage magazines (hell, they probably are), somewhat of a naive and fun approach, as opposed to the serious tone of The Source and similar publications. They provide for an amazing ’80s and ’90s Hip-Hop time capsule, showcasing the diversity of that era, the incredible fashion, the creativity, and the effervescence and authenticity of a culture in its early stages of development.”
On Getting Recognition And What Rap Scans Mean To Stephan: “I started scanning images I felt were representative of the era and different from the old school Rap pics you usually find online and uploading them on my Tumblr. I guess it caught the attention of some Rap fans out there and it started getting a healthy number of re-blogs and all of that. Along the way, super dope taste-makers like UpNorthTrips started showing love and I think that largely helped the site gain traction. After going through all the magazines in the boxes, I started trying to complete the collection via eBay, which I’m still doing to this day. There’s about 700 vintage Rap scans on my website now and this little curation gig has become a very dope hobby and somewhat of a relaxing ritual.”
Why Now Is Especially Important: “Being a huge fan of N.W.A. and Ruthless Records, I already had multiple N.W.A.-related scans on the site, and with [Straight Outta Compton] coming I thought it’d be nice to create a section specially dedicated to them – So I tagged all the existing ones and added about 50 in the course of the last week to reach a total of 100.”
Stephan’s Own Relationship With Hip-Hop: “I got into Rap music at 10 years old when I heard ‘It’s Tricky’ by Run-DMC. I instantly became obsessed, spending nights reading liner notes and trying to decipher magazines (I didn’t speak English then), memorizing everything I could memorize and geeking over everything Hip-Hop-related. Truth be told, there was a general fascination for American culture for us European kids of the pre-Internet era – movies came out a year before in the US, and sometimes didn’t even make it across the ocean, sports came with amazing merchandising and out-of-this world personalities, and music felt so ahead of its time – and for each of these the culture of marketing and branding and image was already very prevalent and efficient. All of this was just very sexy, exciting, and impressive – with the extra mystique of being hard to access. Aside from being musically and aesthetically revolutionary and just plain amazing, Hip-Hop embodied that cool magic of American culture and appeared rebellious and dangerous – how could you resist it?”
His DJ Career And Current G-Funk Anthology Project: “The G-Funk Anthology is a project I’m doing with Arnaud D which is, as its name indicates, an anthology of the Hip-Hop sub-genre known as G-Funk. 10 volumes are dropping over the course of a year, each time with a different DJ on mixing duties, while Arnaud and I pick the songs. The first three volumes are out already, I’m super happy with the result so far. The idea is simply to offer a massive G-Funk archive consisting of classics, remixes and B-sides, unreleased joints, and obscure gems. We also pay very close attention to the DJs we pick – all super skilled with a true love for G-Funk.”
How The G-Funk Volumes Fit Into Greater Picture: “They’re a continuation of the thematic mixtapes I’ve been doing…I did a Sex Rap joint with DJ Raze, an Above The Law tribute mix with Jérôme “Tacteel” Echenoz, and a bunch of non-Rap stuff like a tape with music from John Hughes movies and a Rocky IV Workout Mix with Mattfoley.”
G-Funk Renaissance?: “I don’t think there will be a resurgence of G-Funk, per se. However I believe elements of G-Funk will keep influencing current Hip-Hop production. There’s no question it left a mark that’s still being felt – whether it’s the melodic aspect or the heavy use of synths. You’ll always hear a bit of G-Funk here and there, not only in Hip-Hop, I’ve heard many House tracks with G-Funk whistles or basslines these last few years for example. It makes sense if you consider a lot of the kids at the forefront of making music at the moment grew up in the ’90s. In parallel, there will continue to be a fan base for original ’90s G-Funk like there has been since the inception of the genre – it got a second life with the emergence of the Internet and the sudden access to all kinds of hard to find regional releases it provided. There’s a niche of diggers, notably in Eastern Europe and Japan, who are going super hard on this. I feel these fans will also continue supporting G-Funk veterans who choose to stick to that classic sound.”
Thoughts on Straight Outta Compton: “I haven’t seen the N.W.A. movie yet, it comes out September 9 in Geneva.”