N.W.A. & Close Affiliates Detail The Making Of efil4zaggiN 25 Years Later
Over the last 12 months, much has been discussed about N.W.A.’s groundbreaking album Straight Outta Compton. The classic LP was given new life when the N.W.A. biopic of the same name was released. Although the film covered the entire lifespan of the group, its central focus was on the time leading up to and after the release of that seminal album.
However, as important as S.O.C. was and continues to be, particularly as the only album to include all members of the group, for many fans, their best album, sonically, was efil4zaggiN (aka Niggaz4life), N.W.A.’s final album. At the time of its release on May 28, 1991, the album made history, debuting at number 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts and eventually moving to number 1. Straight Outta Compton’s peak position on that chart was 37. What’s more, efil4zaggiN‘s debut was the highest album debut since Michael Jackson’s Bad in 1987, and the highest in the newly-minted SoundScan era, where chart rankings were based on actual sales, instead of records shipped to stores. Unlike Michael Jackson, however, who dominated MTV, BET and national radio with ubiquitous singles, save for college radio mix shows, N.W.A. had zero airplay when they achieved their feat. Their commercial success was a virtual miracle in a time before the Internet, when it was believed that music could not penetrate without the muscle and might of major record labels and radio. Further, it was the most potent indication to date of the power of Hip-Hop, its transcendent nature, and its ability to defy all rules of convention.
The success of the album was far from guaranteed in 1991. Ice Cube, the group’s chief lyricist and street conscience, had left the group 2 years prior and had released the critically-acclaimed Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. Many questioned whether N.W.A. would be able to maintain the same allure without Cube’s pen and penetrating voice. Their release of just a 4-song EP in 1990’s 100 Miles and Runnin’ added fuel to the speculation that they’d lost their creative anchor. From Dr. Dre’s first lines on album opener “Prelude,” however, all doubts were laid to rest about where their beliefs lay, as he confidently stated “The muthafuckin’ saga continues.”
Although the brash tone Dre conveyed was consistent with Straight Outta Compton, there were radical departures, both sonically and lyrically from that album on efil4zaggiN. With Cube out of the picture, the vast majority of the writing on the new album fell to MC Ren and The D.O.C. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, MC Ren, DJ Yella, The D.O.C. and other close N.W.A. affiliates recently spoke to Rolling Stone about the making of the album.
A big part of the new sound that powered efil4zaggiN was N.W.A.’s shift away from sample-based music to live instrumentation. Bassist Colin Wolfe and guitarist/bassist Mike “Crazy Neck” Sims were brought in to help Dre and Yella translate their ideas about the musical direction. In describing his creative process with Dre, Wolfe said “Sometimes we would listen to a record we like and change a note or two from the groove to make it our own. If it wasn’t working, we’d shoot from the hip and figure something out.” Sims also noted that while Dre wasn’t technically trained, his music knowledge was awe-inspiring. “I remember working on ‘Niggaz 4 Life,’ we had the bass line down and he sang me a guitar part. Being the guy who studied music in college, I told him, ‘Dre, I don’t think is going to work.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Just play it, motherfucker.’ So I did and it blew my mind because it worked in a way that I would never have come up with. It was unbelievable. That’s when I knew that guy was a genius. He heard that in his head. From that moment on I never questioned him on anything. It was humbling. That moment changed my life,” Sims told Rolling Stone.
Lyrically, the album was much more dark, hedonistic and downright misogynistic than its predecessor. MC Ren showed why he had the nickname “Ruthless Villain” with his rhymes on songs like “She Swallowed It” and “One Less Bitch.” On those records, he rapped about gang banging the preacher’s daughter in a car and punching a woman in the eye and forcing her down to her knees if she refused to provide oral sex. Of the rawer material, Ren said “It was just having fun. Back then I was just young, in my early 20s. We were on tour, young, stuff was happening.” He does however, acknowledge regretting some of his words, saying “There are a couple. “I don’t want to talk about which ones, but there a couple. I’m older now.”
For The D.O.C.’s part, the album represented an extension to his career, after a life-altering car accident robbed him of his voice. Rolling Stone reports not only did he write a good portion of the verses, he also developed a code that illustrated the proper cadence for his lyrics. And, although it was D.O.C. who wrote most of the incendiary rhymes about Ice Cube, he is the first to admit that N.W.A. lost its “essence” when Cube left the group. . “N.W.A was the realization of the streets becoming conscious of the shit it was drowning in, and Cube was its Chuck D,” he told Rolling Stone.”When Cube left, it just turned into nigga shit. It was back to, ‘What can we say that could shock people or make people angry?’ All the soul was gone. The reasoning of why you were saying ‘nigga’ and all these things that could be considered vile was gone. The reason why you were angry or upset was gone.”
Regardless of what may have been missing in consciousness, the musical and lyrical combination worked. Ironically, the group would break up at the height of the album’s success.”When we broke up, the group was Number One on the Billboard chart. I mean, groups don’t break up at Number One. They break up at Number 1,000,” said DJ Yella. Still, the formula that was developed on efil4zaggiN would be that same blend of melodic music and venomous verses that became the foundation of the G-Funk on which Death Row Records was built. In many ways, the album was the all important transitional third piece in Dr. Dre’s most celebrated trilogy, flanked by Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic.
Click here to read the entire Rolling Stone article.