This was a very interesting piece that I thought I share with yall. I cant believe that this article went overlooked by many. Anybody thats a fan of hip hop definitely need to read this!
In life, Eazy E seemed a cartoon, less a man than a stereotype on steroids.
To the national media, he was a heartless, irresponsible, gun-toting, ign’ant-and-proud ghetto Gordon Gekko, scaring the authorities and offending everyone except his fans. To ex-friends like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, he was a puppet willing to slave himself to his white boss, and a Mickey Mouse-voiced fool in shades and jheri curls dancing by the roadside for cash.
But when he passed away ten years ago, on March 26, 1995, due to complications from the HIV virus, it immediately became clear that few knew the real Eric Wright. All the words he had used to scare middle America and all the words used to castigate him—by former friends, bandmates, employees, preachers, activists, and politicians—failed to explain his remarkable life and his transformation at the end.
In his final interview, given to his publicist Phyllis Pollack, she told him: “I remember when you used to hardly ever talk.” He answered, “If it wasn’t for this business, I would probably have never talked. That’s how I’ve been all my life, really. I don’t talk to too many people. I’m in my own world.” He laughed heartily. Then he succumbed to a coughing fit.
The two portraits of Eazy E date to the last days of N.W.A.
As 1989 opened, Eazy and his self-proclaimed “supergroup” had conquered the world, with Eazy’s first album, Eazy Duz It, and Straight Outta Compton, two records whose combined firepower set the record industry in a new direction, announced the arrival of a new generation of alienated youth, and made heroes of an unlikely group of black boys from Reagan’s wastelands. Eazy was the leader of the crew, or more precisely, the business-venture-turned-crew, and the one armed with all the sound bites.
Growing up a Crip on the mostly Blood streets of Compton, Eric Wright had lived a life of banging and hustling. “If you looked at Eazy’s knuckles, they were gone. They were dimpled. He had scars and shit,” says Mazik Saevitz of Blood of Abraham, a group Eazy later signed. In 1986, at the age of 23, Eazy had saved, according to Mazik, as much as $250,000 from dealing drugs, and wanted to flip it into a legitimate business. Wright had seen the Los Angeles hip-hop scene quickly mature around him in the early ‘80s, and rap seemed like the next grand hustle.
At Eve’s After Dark Club in Compton, Wright would catch Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young spinning records. They were members of the World Class Wrecking Cru, and two of the biggest DJs on the tastemaking AM hip-hop radio station, KDAY. Dre, who grew up in South Central, had a neighborhood friend named O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, whom he encouraged to write Xrated rhymes. All of their careers were being supported by Alonzo Williams, the leader of the Wrecking Cru and the owner of Eve’s.
Wright began talking to Dre, Yella, and Cube individually. “Eazy had a partner named Ron- De-Vu, Dre was in the World Class Wreckin Cru, I was in C.I.A.,” recalls Cube. “We all kinda was committed to these groups so we figured we’d make an all-star group and just do dirty records on the side.”
One night, Cube and Dre came up with “Boyz N The Hood,” convinced Eazy E to rap it, and struck ghetto gold, selling thousands of records, and launching Eazy’s label, Ruthless Records. Eazy paid Alonzo $750 to introduce him to a white, Jewish manager in the Valley, a guy named Jerry Heller, who had once promoted Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd, Elton John, and REO Speedwagon. When Eazy had Heller on his team, he snatched Alonzo’s rappers away.
The group went on to make history. By 1990, Straight Outta Compton had gone platinum, their tour had grossed $650,000 (despite police riots in some cities), and the FBI had issued a letter to their label asking it to stop selling the record, fueling a debate over the music’s treatment of women, gays, and police.
Eazy E couldn’t believe his luck. He milked controversy for everything he could. “We’re not disrespecting women, we’re disrespecting bitches,” he told a reporter from Spin. “A woman is a woman. A bitch is someone who carries herself in a stuck-up way. A bitch is someone who fucks everybody except me.”
He continued, “Chuck D gets involved in all that black stuff, we don’t. Fuck that black power shit: we don’t give a fuck. Free South Africa: we don’t give a fuck. I bet there ain’t nobody in South Africa wearing a button saying ‘Free Compton’ or ‘Free California.’ They don’t give a damn about us, so why should we give a damn about them? We’re not into politics at all. We’re just saying what other people are afraid to say.”
Eazy subscribed to the notion that any kind of publicity was good for business. He voiced support for Ted Briseño, one of the officers who had beaten Rodney King, noting that Briseño had tried to get the others to stop. Willie Dee of the Geto Boys tried to label him “a sellout.” His donation of $2,500 to the Republican Party won him a lunch with President George H.W. Bush. To his detractors, Eazy sneered, “I just got a kick out of the fact that I could stab the motherfucker with a pen.”
The persona of Eazy E—ruthless gangsta, unrepentant misogynist, unscrupulous entrepreneur, airhead Republican, and hardcore rapper—was one big, exhilarating, exasperating, and often hilarious improvisation.
It had to end sometime.
The first to go was Ice Cube. Together, Straight Outta Compton and Eazy Duz It had sold three million copies, but Cube had only received $23,000 for the tour, $32,700 for the album. After being unable to resolve his differences with Jerry Heller, he left the group. When N.W.A. began publicly dissing Cube, he answered with the scathing “No Vaseline”: “Eric Wright, punk, always into somethin’, gettin’ fucked at night by Mr. Shitpacker/Bend over for the gotdamn cracker, no Vaseline.”
Dre left to work for a former security guard named Suge Knight, who had recently stolen another former Ruthless artist, The D.O.C., for a new label he called Death Row. When Knight needed to have Eazy sign over the D.O.C’s and Dr. Dre’s contracts, he invited Eazy into his office, and threatened to beat Eazy and hurt his family. “I figured either I’d sign the papers, get my ass kicked, or fight them,” Eazy later said.
After he signed the papers, Dre unleashed a string of devastating, indelible disses, including “Dre Day” and its video. The media image of Eazy as untouchable black thug gave way to the image of Eazy as a dimwit unable to handle himself or his business.
Even his old Compton homie, MC Ren, expressed disgust with Eazy, although he stayed with Ruthless Records. To Ren, Eazy had become obsessed with answering Cube and Dre, but he didn’t have the talent to match up. “I don’t need to be around anyone who’s self-destructing,” Ren said. Only Yella remained close to Eazy. Yet, Ruthless Records was on its way to another peak. Eazy’s company was valued at over $20 million. His records were selling millions, and he was scoring hits with Ren and the surprising multi-platinum Bone Thugs-NHarmony. He even collected royalties through clauses he had secured in Dre’s contract. “‘Dre Day’ is my payday,” he joked.
The year after Eazy’s death marked the first time (and likely the last time) indies ever outsold the majors, and Ruthless was the number one indie label in the record biz. Eazy E had not just built the biggest black-owned indie label since Berry Gordy sold Motown, but one of the biggest indies ever. His breakthroughs paved the way for a new breed of rap entrepreneur; see P-Diddy, Master P, and Jay-Z.
But as these rappers were learning by watching him, Eazy, after splitting very publicly with his friends, was entering the final phase of his life.
Mazik Saevitz and Benyad “Ben” Mor saw a different side of Eazy E.
“Eazy was absolutely 100% gangster, but he was in his own way. He was very quiet. Every day, he was the epitome of ‘Real bad boys move in silence.’ He was very, and I’m quoting Jerry Heller, ‘Machiavellian.’ He knew power and he knew he was a businessman, so everything was a business model to him,” Benyad says.
“But he was completely mild-mannered, completely calm. You never really heard him disrespect anybody—in how he spoke to women or how he talked to you. Totally unassuming.”
Mazik and Benyad were two Jewish kids from the Valley, recently graduated from Birmingham High in Van Nuys and working in minimum-wage retail jobs at the Topanga Mall. Mazik had been sent from Las Vegas, where he had been running into trouble, to live with his grandmother in the Valley. His friend, Benyad, was the son of an Israeli civil engineer, and got his introduction to hip-hop at the Anaheim Celebrity Theater, where he saw L.A. crews like the Throwdown Twins and Rodney O & Joe Cooley perform.
The two were huge fans of underground hiphop, eagerly devouring tapes by Pete Rock and CL Smooth, KMD, and De La Soul. They hooked up with a seasoned producer named Epic and cut two demos. They began calling themselves Blood of Abraham and ran into Eazy at a Hollywood club called Spice, where they freestyled for him. Eazy expressed interest, but took no action. Occasionally, they spotted Eazy E at the Topanga Mall, but while he was cordial, he wasn’t trying to sign them.
Finally, Epic got two major labels interested in Blood of Abraham, and placed the crew on a bill at a Sunset Strip club called Gazzari’s at a gang truce party that Eazy and Mixmaster Spade were hosting. Benyad recalls that Spade introduced them as “The Bloods of Abraham,” sending the Crip sets into a frenzy. “We were shitting bullets because there’s people that had albums out who were getting pelted with ashtrays and bottles,” recalls Benyad. “We were just balls out, just grab on for dear life, and just do your shit.
“Eazy knew that we were talking to other people, and after he saw that show, he was like, ‘Yo, if you can do anything with this crowd, you know, don’t fuck with these other companies, come with me.’”
It was an odd fit: an underground hip-hopstyled, politically-minded Jewish rap duo from the Valley and a gangsta rap mogul from Compton. But Blood of Abraham, whose songs openly confronted the Middle East situation and the role of religion in war, presented the kind of risk Eazy loved. In the wake of Ice T’s “Cop Killer” controversy, major labels were reluctant to sign any new acts that might make outspoken political statements. One of the majors interested in signing Blood of Abraham had demanded a lyric sheet before closing the deal. Eazy E decided he wanted the group, and he was pitch perfect.
“He said, ‘You guys are on a militant tip. This is where you need to be. You can talk whatever shit you fuckin’ want.’” Benyad recalls. “I think he was just real business-minded and I think he saw the potential of white MCs.”
Blood of Abraham became Eazy E’s white act, years before Eminem became Dre’s. They were to spend the last years of Eazy’s life with him.
Eazy-E brought the kids right into the fold.
“He’d be calling us like, ‘You want to go to Vegas? Be at LAX in 2 hours.’ Boom! Next thing you know we’re in Vegas, gambling,” Benyad recalls. “He’d pick me up from my house in his big V12 Mercedes. My dad’s watering the lawn and Eazy E pulls up, comes in the house and has a sandwich with my mom.”
Mazik says, “He would take us to Jerry’s Deli and he’d always get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a virgin piña colada, a glass of milk, and a coke. He’d take sips out of each one of them and he’d eat a little bit off each plate. Every time I’d be like, ‘Why you wasting all that food?’ He goes, ‘Yo ‘cause I can. When I wanted stuff before I couldn’t order it. But now I want to order everything.’”
When Mazik needed a place to stay, Eazy let him live at his Calabasas mansion, rent-free. “Eazy used to collect little miniature monsters. He had a little Chucky hiding behind the bush when you walk into the foyer. There was a little gym, pool, Jacuzzi. I had the master bedroom downstairs. And then there was a staircase that went up. His cousin, this girl, lived up there for some time but then Eazy had another master bedroom that was up there. Most of the time, he wasn’t there. He’d spend more of the time just kicking it. We’d just hang out by the pool. One room was all black; then he had fluorescent pillows with the big-screen TV with the laserdiscs and remote control. It had a neon sign that said, ‘Eazy’s Playhouse.’”
Eazy walked around with rolls of bills in his sock, and licorice-Rizla-papered joints lacing the inside of his baseball cap. In some ways, he hadn’t changed. “He sold weed for fun,” says Benyad. “He was a millionaire, but he had ounces in his trunk because he would buy it off friends.” But with the 1993 release of It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa, and lawsuits against Death Row and Sony over Dre’s contract, Eazy was still fighting with his former NWA bandmates and their associates. “Security was always an issue. There was always beef shit, like it was definitely a war going,” says Benyad.
To promote their debut album, Future Profits, Blood of Abraham joined Eazy for tour dates in the Midwest and the South. “Everybody knows NWA’s reputation and those people coming out to see us are all the wannabe or the real gangstas from that city,” says Benyad. “There were a few times we were walking into a venue and there were shots just a few feet from us in the parking lot.
“One time I remember we were doing a Rap the Vote thing for MTV. It was right after the L.A. riots, and it was in South Central. We were shooting the commercial in a burned-out store. And shots fired off. Somebody had driven by. They knew that he was there. That video shoot was over.” Eazy traveled with three bodyguards at all times, except when he could ditch them in the safety of a Valley mall for the relative anonymity he would find shopping at a Nordstrom’s.
But as Eazy got older, he seemed to want to spend more time with his girlfriend, Tomika Wood, and their child in one of his houses in Torrance. He began a quiet, yet amazing, transformation.
He gave away thousands to needy children, and formed partnerships with the Make-AWish Foundation, a charity for children with life-threatening diseases, and a number of other organizations. Out of the spotlight, he went to speak at elementary schools, handed out turkeys for Thanksgiving (a practice that would later become standard for Suge and dozens of nouveau riche rappers), sponsored start-up businesses, threw public street fairs, and personally took busloads of innercity youths to black rodeos, Magic Mountain, and Disneyland. In many other small ways, too, Eazy tried to make a difference: Allen S. Gordon, who would become a prominent hip-hop journalist and editor, received $700 from Eazy to go to college.
The man who had once said he didn’t give a fuck about politics complained to Phyllis Pollack in his last interview about C. Delores Tucker and other critics of gangsta rap. “Why do politicians always try to shut down something that’s black and positive?” he asked. “They want to take us back to where we’re all slaves again. Everything that’s going on: three-strikes (laws), you get caught smoking a joint and they want to take your (driver’s) license away. It’s a lot of stupid bullshit.”
Cube and Dre had been talking publicly about forming a partial reunion called N.W.E.—Niggaz Without Eazy. But in 1994, when Eazy began his top-rated Ruthless Radio Show on KKBT 92.3 The Beat FM, he often played Death Row music, and began to patch up his relationships with Cube and Dre. He fired Jerry Heller, and rumors began to circulate about a possible N.W.A. comeback. But they never got there.
The thing was, Benyad says, “Eazy E loved women.”
He often took Mazik and Benyad out for dinner with the girls from H.W.A. (Hoez with Attitude) or porn stars with names like Lethal Weapons, just to have them push up on the boys. After shows, he took his huge entourage to strip joints, where money, liquor, lap-dances, and much more flowed. At Eazy’s Calabasas mansion, Mazik learned about Eazy’s habits.
“I’d be up in the room with my girlfriend at the time and I’d get a knock on the door. ‘Uh hi, my name is Mercedes and, uh, can I get something to eat? Eazy left me here three days ago.’ He had this code on the phone so you couldn’t call out. So they would be stuck.
“Every once in a while, I’d go upstairs and all of a sudden I’d hear somebody go, ‘Hello?’ I’d go, ‘Hello?’ Then it’d be a chick. And they’d try to hang out with us because they’re lonely. Who knows where they’re from? They’d say ‘Can you call Eazy and tell him?’ Or ‘Where’s he at?’ Or ‘I want to go home.’”
Benyad says Eazy never talked to them about AIDS. Instead, “he talked to us about the importance of us using sheepskin condoms.”
“‘They’re more expensive and they make you feel better,’” Mazik says Eazy told them.
“They’re no good. That’s the irony,” concludes Benyad. “They’re porous. So whoop, there it is. It all went down pretty fast, man.”
The last time Benyad and Mazik saw Eazy was in February of 1995, at about the same time his publicist Phyllis Pollack interviewed him for press materials for what became his last album, Str8 Off Tha Streets of Muthaphukkin’ Compton. The record was reportedly to feature collabos with Dre and Slash of Guns N’ Roses. Blood of Abraham themselves had begun recording their second album, and Eazy dropped by one afternoon.
“We’re outside, the sun’s going down, and he had a trunk full of weed. I’d always hit him up,” says Benyad. “So we’re smoking a blunt right outside of the studio and he had a mean cough. I was like, ‘Yo, you should chill with the weed for a minute, man. Take care of that cold first. You’re not gonna get better if you keep smoking weed.’ He was like, ‘Nah whatever man, don’t worry about it.’ A week later, he was in the hospital.”
On February 24, Eazy E checked into the hospital for what he and his closest friends believed was a case of chronic asthma. Doctors conducted tests and concluded he was HIV-positive and did not have long to live. In death, he proved even more generous than he had in life. On March 16, he issued a bold statement—the most important of his life—through his lawyer Ron Sweeney.
“I may not seem like a guy you’d pick to preach a sermon, but now I feel it’s time to ‘testify’ because I do have folks that care about me hearing all kinds of stories about what’s up,” the statement read.
Eazy went on to admit he had fathered seven children by six different mothers. “Maybe success was too good to me.
“I’ve got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn what’s real when it comes to AIDS. Like the others before me, I would like to turn my problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin, because I want to save their asses before it’s too late.”
In choosing to disclose his disease, Wright became a hero even to many former detractors. In death, after all, he was courageous and dignified.