If I were to ask you to name one person who influenced, and possibly changed, the landscape of Hip Hop and American music in general, how many of us would immediately say Eric “Eazy E” Wright? The fact is, Eazy was as impactful in music as anyone else you can name. It wouldn’t be fair to say he was solely responsible for the birth and nurturing of L.A based Gangsta Hip Hop, but he was unquestionably one of the forebears. Think about where you were when you first heard an N.W.A. song. I was 12, going on 13 and to hear songs like ‘Fuck the Police,’ ‘Straight outta Compton,’ and ‘Dopeman’ was like cursing in front of my mother for the first time. It was that place of conflict that felt so good even though it seemed so bad. To be honest with you, N.W.A. and Eazy helped to change the way many young Black men looked at the world “America,” and social issues like the criminal justice system. When a Black male reaches the burgeoning age of adolescence physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally and begins to be initiated into the understanding that American injustice is a very real thing, it becomes very easy to subscribe to a ‘Fuck tha Police’ mentality.
Eazy E and N.W.A. helped to open America’s eyes to another America that was hidden and misrepresented by media. They used the narratives of their lives to give voice to the harsh realities of poor urban areas in other parts of America that many of us on the east coast barely knew existed. The thing about N.W.A. is they were hard and their rhymes were tight. Some orthodox Hip Hop heads might dare to say Gangster Rap shouldn’t be considered Hip Hop. To those narrow-minded highbrows, I say, shut up. Others would still try to harp on the fact that much of Eazy’s music was written by other artists. Granted, but ghostwriting is as old as Hip Hop itself. Eazy wasn’t quite the gifted lyricist. What Eazy did have was personality and charisma. When you saw an N.W.A. music video or interview Eazy had presence. Whether by design or natural selection, Eazy always seemed to center the focus. And despite the coarse, misogynistic and violent epithets, Eazy was actually quite charming. Unfortunately, it might have been that same charm that contributed to Eazy’s untimely demise.
Eazy was only 31 years old when he passed away from HIV/AIDS related complications. When Eazy died, it compared to when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. It was one of those pinnacle moments in the history of Black America that made you stop and consider the world around you. Eazy’s death gave rise to HIV awareness in Hip Hop and shed light to another atrocity assaulting Black and Brown America. As we observe the anniversary of Eazy’s passing let’s acknowledge his importance to Hip Hop and take a moment to consider the value of healthy behaviors. Particularly during a time when popular music is awash with the promotion of debauchery, promiscuity and drug abuse, let us not let Eazy’s death be in vain. If you’re a parent and your child is of a certain age, continuously have conversations about safe sex.
In closing, we say Rest in Peace Eazy and God Bless you.