These LA Rappers Never Asked to be seen as role models. But with their debut album ‘Straight Outta Compton’ headed toward platinum, they may not have a choice….
Note: Out of all the interviews I’ve done.. this had to be the most intense… Both NWA and myself were very passionate about our positions at the time and both parties came away with a lot to think about.. At the time this interview took place.. there was a raging debate among the Bay Area’s main hip hop shows on KZSU, KALX and KPOO as to whether or not NWA should be played…
It was quite ironic considering KPOO and KALX were among the first stations in the country to not only play..but also grant NWA interviews… In fact NWA performed at a function for KPOO. The end result after a month of intense on air debates which resulted in all three stations droppin NWA for about two years because of lyrical content and the influence their music was having over impressionable listeners.] The boycott was eventually broken when a couple of deejays Billy Jam and G-Spot who were also fans of the group saw this boycott as a free speech issue and pushed back once they got shows of their own..
Below is the article that ran in BAM Magazine April 1989
The following conference call interview was conducted April 5, with KALX DJ Davey D in San Francisco, BAM editor Keith Moerer in Oakland, and NWA rappers Eazy E and Ice Cube in a Torrance studio. NWA’s first album, Straight Outta Compton, has sold 700,000 copies and generated almost as much controversy as public support. In songs like the title track and ‘Gangsta Gangsta‘ NWA portray – some say glorify-gang violence, So far music critics have been kind, with NWA winning raves from Robert Hilburn and Dennis Hunt of the Los Angeles Times. But some college radio programmers, including BAM columnist Davey D, think the group – whose name stands for ‘:Niggers With Attitudes‘ – encourage a negative stereotype of blacks as gun-toting criminals…
Ice Cube: OK, it’s like this. If you see a movie like Psycho III, the person in the movie might be psycho, But kids know what’s real and what’s not. Just because there’s a monster person in a movie who’s psycho and killing people, that don’t mean they gonna go psycho and kill people… Just because they hear something on record, we don’t expect kids to go out and kill people or whatever. Kids know what’s right and what’s wrong, regardless what our record says.
Davey D: But there’s a difference between Psycho III and ‘Boys In The Hood‘ and ‘Straight Outta Compton‘. With Psycho III, that’s not a reality that a lot of people come across. But with “Boys In The Hood” and the whole album, people can look at that and say, “Hey, I can be just like this.”… It’s something they can gravitate toward, or see themselves getting into.
Ice Cube: Nobody talks about Colors, Nobody says, “Why y’all put a movie out like this?” There wasn’t no real message in Colors except that there’s gangs out the and there’s no way to stop them, We’re saying the same thing, but we saying it on wax. But everybody wants to come down on us, “You got a responsibility to the kids.” .. We got a responsibility to the kids to tell the truth. We don’t have to take a side, you know what I’m saying?… That wasn’t our tip in the beginning, and its not going to be our tip in the future. We just tell it like it is, and people swallow it if they can, and if they can’t, they can’t.
Keith Moerer: A lot of rappers feel there is a way of doing something to curb gang violence, and have gotten involved with the Stop The Violence movement. You could involved…
Eazy-E: If we wanted to..
Ice Cube: You can have a little influence, but rappers do not have that much influence, like everybody thinks…KRS-One can do, they can all do, a “Stop The Violence” record, they could have did it for twelve minutes straight. People gonna listen to the record, and they gonna like the record, but they’ll do a drive-by shooting listening to the record.
Davey D: Is there a solution to stopping it at all?
Eazy E: [When] the mother______’ police can’t do shit?…If you could just put out a record and it could stop violence you [wouldn’t] need police, we’d just need to do records. ‘Stop robbin’ banks, stop snatching purses..
Ice Cube: “Stop using drugs.” People been doing stop using drug rap songs every since the drug thing has exploded and it has not done a dent of good, not a dent of good.
Eazy E: Yo, I got something to add to that Check this out: Would you ask a news reporter if he’s promoting gang violence because he’s doing the news?
Davey D: Actually, yes, I would. What happens is, its a matter of perspective of what they choose to show right? When the only image people see is a negative one, gang killings and all that, people are gonna gravitate to that because that’s the only image they have of themselves…
Ice Cube: That means that you can’t deal with reality because…
Davey D: But that’s not the only reality, though, that’s the thing… That’s just one part of reality. That sort of stuff doesn’t go on every single day everywhere, but if you were just to look at the news you might get the impression that it does.
Ice Cube: Not everywhere. But it happens every day.
Eazy E: Every minute.
Ice Cube: It ain’t like we’re out here yin’, you know what I’m saying? Everything is true. If you can tell me I’m yin’ on the record, I’ll stop.
Davey D: It comes down to what you want to focus in on…I mean, there are people who go to school, there are people who do drug dealing, there are a lot of people doing a lot of different things…
Ice Cube: We deal with reality, plus we say what kids want to hear… We talk about things that the news don’t go real deep into. Such as, they never ask a gangbanger how he really feels and get a true answer, Some of my friends are gangbangers, so I pretty much know how they feel, I know why they do the things they do, I just put in on wax… We’re gearing ourselves to kids who already know this stuff. The people who are scared are people who don’t know.
Davey D: But it is frightening, what you’re saying. The people who are getting scared, they don’t know about it, but should they not be scared or what? How should people who don’t know about it respond to your records?
Ice Cube: I don’t tell people how to react to our songs… I can’t rap about nothing I don’t know about, We can tell you what goes on in Compton. That’s why we get a lot of kids from the suburbs, they don’t know what’s going on, but they look and go, “Damn, its like that?”
Keith Moerer: “Gangsta Gangsta” begins with a drive -by shooting scenario [in which a innocent bystander gets shot]. You’ve got friends who are gangbangers who nay have been involved in drive-by shootings…So sure, they happen all the tine, but you don’t think they’re a good thing, do you?
Ice Cube: No. The beginning of “Gangsta Gangsta”, its’ just telling people, “Yo, if you hear shooting, don’t try to be nosy,” you know what I’m saying? Cause this guy comes out, “Oh, I wonder who these gangsters got today?” trying to be all nosy, and he gets shot…If you hear shooting, run. Don’t run toward the shooting.
Keith Moerer: So what’s your message, that people should hide out in their houses if they’re not gangbangers?
Ice Cube: No. I’m encouraging people to be aware of what’s gong on. How do you think NWA out to come off to the public.
Davey D: At this point in time? Well, your music is definitely some of the best that’s out there, For whatever reason, a lot of people are attracted to your group right now, I think that NWA needs to move forward, and needs to drop some serious science, just from the mere fact that you like it or not. It’s a responsibility that you have, even though you might not want it..
[If] NWA comes out and says “Stop the violence“, a lot of people are going to listen to it as opposed to Thurgood Marshall or Benjamin Hooks..’cause NWA is perceived by a lot of people as being down with the program- “These brothers are cool, they know what’s happening”-you’re real to the people…[In the past] past most rap groups thought that they were going to stay at the top for a longer period of time, and they were going to stay at the top for a longer period of time, and they changed a little too late, they changed as they were going on the downhill. I say that you guys are on the way up right now.
Ice Cube: We do drop science. Like “Express Yourself“. Songs like that are telling kids to be themselves no matter what. No matte what you say, or anybody else says, we gonna be ourselves no matter what.
Davey D: The problem with that though is that a lot of people don’t have an array of choices to choose from. You’re saying “Be yourself,” but if all I know is gang banging, I’m gonna continue to be myself cause all I know is gang banging.
Ice Cube: So you’re saying we should stop reporting it, and start trying to stop it…
Davey D: There’s nothing wrong with reporting it, but there needs to be a balance in such a sense that people aren’t going to misinterpret it… Right now people are looking up to NWA as role models, people listen to the music and get juiced by it – and some of them take it to heart…And rap is really the only music that gets the kids, that’s what people are listening to.
Davey D: The thing I will say about Ice T is that he’s made himself very clear about where he’s coming from, And I haven’t seen that necessarily with NWA.
Ice Cube: A lot of gang bangers think KRS One is cool. That don’t mean they’re influenced by his music, He say stop the violence all day.
Davey D: We’re not talking about people who are already into it. We’re talking about people who are coming up and don’t know. They’re gonna gravitate toward the people that they think are coolest, for whatever reason, OK? And you already have a situation where drug dealers and hoodlums, they’re already looked up to because they seem to have the most money, seem to be making it the most, etc. etc. And you’re targeting that audience, that’s what you’re telling me.
What I’m saying is that if NWA was to say “Stop the Violence,” I say 800,000 people would listen – a lot quicker, than Run-DMC that have played themselves out – because you guys are the ones who are in the spotlight. But that goes for anybody who’s in the spotlight, You might not be in the spotlight next year, it might another group.
Ice Cube: We’re not telling nobody on the record to go out and be a Crip…We’re not saying to do that and we’re not saying not to….[We’re popular because] we’re so real, we ain’t intimidated or afraid of anything that’s trying to get in our way…We like the confusion. We like the controversy.Cause that’s what helps our group.
Keith Moerer: Helps it in some ways, but could end up hurting you. [KZSU‘s hip-hop show] won’t play NWA cause they think the lyrics are too negative. And the hosts of the hip-hop show on KALX are now considering not playing NWA because they think you’re negative.
Eazy E: You’re talking about the whole album?
Davey D: With Stanford University [KZSU], they won’t play [NWA at all] because they think the whole concept, starting with the name on down, is just a bad attitude, and it sends out a bad message to their listeners.
Eazy E: We need to get [up] there and let people know that we’re not all that they think we are.
Davey D: That’s kind of contradictory, right? Cause just a second ago you said you didn’t care what they thought-to each their own.
Ice Cube: We don’t ask everybody to like us… We don’t expect everybody to like us .. We shouldn’t have the burden put on us just ’cause we’re the top group, we shouldn’t have no pressure put on us to change the way we do records.
Davey D: People think the music is dope .. the music speaks for itself . I could play an instrumental of one of your tracks and get the same response.
Ice Cube: I can’t believe that…
Davey D: Well believe it because that’s what people tell me..
Eazy E: OK we gonna send you a bunch of instrumentals [ Eazy hangs up the phone]
Davey D: Don’t take what I’m saying lightly.. We had a poll on my show asking people if they thought we should play you. We had some people.. they sounded young on the phone, and we had other people who were adults. We had some adults who thought we should play you. They gave the same reasons that you were saying.. And we had younger people calling up and saying, “Hey, we live in San Francisco and there are Crips up here now” and they don’t like it..
Ice Cube: They say its our fault that there are Crips up there now?
Davey D: Well, they’re blaming you..
Ice Cube: There’s been violence since the beginning of time. There ain’t no such word as peace, There ain’t never gonna be peace.
Davey D: Do you perpetuate that, or do you try and stop it?
Ice Cube: What do you want me to do? Tell it like it is or tell people what to do? That’s where we’re at. Since we’re in the middle, they want us to side… Six months ago, they didn’t care, cause we wasn’t getting the attention like we are now.
Davey D: Six months ago or a year ago, Run-DMC was catching the same flak that you are. Whoever is on top is gonna catch flak, and whoever is on the top is gonna be the role model. It’s just like when Run DMC and Eric B came out with gold chains, people weren’t wearing them before they came out with them. When Public Enemy came out with the conscious beads, nobody was wearing em until they came out with em, So people do look up to you when you’re in the limelight.
Ice Cube: What happened to Run DMC? You think they went down cause they started sidin’, they started doing what the majority of people wanted them to do?
Davey D: No, what happened with them is that they played themselves out.
Ice Cube: Here’s what happened to Run-DMC They got a record that crossed over, and the hip-hop audience said, “_______you”. So the hip-hop audience kicked ’em out and said “Who’s next?”
Keith Moerer: Since you’ve already told kids what the reality is on the streets right now, do you really need to tell them the same thing again on the next record?
Ice Cube: Maybe.
Keith Moerer: Eazy-E, is it true that you used to be a drug dealer?
EAZY-E: I stopped.
Keith Moerer: How long were you a drug dealer?
Eazy E: Years.
Keith Moerer: Why’d you stop?
EAZY E: Because I seen that it wasn’t really worth it, It wasn’t worth my life. My cousins got killed, It really wasn’t worth it so I got out of it, I figured I could do something right for a change instead of something wrong.
Keith Moerer: Why not put that on record?
Ice Cube: We did, that’s the song called “Dopeman” It tells what happens when you sell dope. You’ll beat up your friends, you’ll be on your hands and knees looking for dope…
EAZY E: And at the end you could get killed. In the radio version, the dope dealer ends up in prison.
Ice Cube: But see people don’t hear that, they hear what they want to hear.
Keith Moerer: But they hear a lot of different things, That’s one message that you send out, but “Gangsta Gangsta” sends out another…
Ice Cube: Just cause we don’t come out and say “don’t” That’s the word they want us to say. Don’t. It explains itself…. It’s like with the name. We wanted some people to get offended. We wanted people to say “Yeah, that’s cool” We wanted some people to laugh. We like mystery. We like controversy, We even like interviews like this..As long as what we say is true and what we say is real, then we don’t feel bad if somebody looks at it differently.
Davey D: In the Bay Area, if it wasn’t for KPOO, KALX and KZSU playing you initially, NWA wouldn’t be known – and that’s just the basic fact. And [at] two of the three stations, there’s movement to reverse that. One has already taken a stand and said, “We’re not going to do it,'” and the other one is debating it still, Is it a concern, is it something that you’re gonna think about, the same way that I would have to think about you telling me not to wear red when I come down to LA?
Ice Cube: It’s a concern, but will it change me?…No.
Davey D: Because the consequences aren’t as significant?
Ice Cube: It’s significant, but… I don’t really see all ourselves coming from radio, as would a ….
Davey D: But we’re not talking about commercial radio. I personally say that people are drawn to you guys, a lot of it has to do with your lyrics, but even more so your music.. I’m saying that if Eazy-A and NWA were to come out on a political tip..
Ice Cube: I got a song called ‘Murder, He Wrote‘ It’s’ telling about 400 people getting killing through gang activity in Los Angeles, but when five kids get killed up north, five Korean kids, now they want to ban AK-47s, But what about those 400 people..?
Davey D: Now that’s important stuff, to me at least. When you guys came up here last time, we gave away tickets [to your show, on the air]. We played a speech with Malcolm X, and asked “Who’s this guy talking in the background?” And it took about seventeen calls before somebody guessed it right. That’s a sad indication. People know your name, your lyrics, before they know now [though] is that there’s a lot of misconceptions…
Ice Cube: On the next record, there will not be no misconceptions, everybody will know which way NWA is going.