N.W.A’s debut, Straight Outta Compton, from 1989, proved that Los Angeles rap could be the hardest rap going. It also upped the cachet of street hustlers who had a way with words: No suburban rapper, regardless of how much he had overheard, could explore the web of street debts and deals with the simple brutality of “Dope Man” or “Gangsta Gangsta.” But 100 Miles and Runnin’, the 1990 EP that followed Compton, was damaged by the departure of rapper Ice Cube; it proved that the ability to describe numbing scenes of violence is not, in and of itself, a very marketable forte, especially given N.W.A leader Eazy-E’s defensive blustering about how everyone resents the group’s success. Niggaz4life, N.W.A’s second album, finds the group with less to prove but also with less to say — listening to it is like hearing the loudest guys at a neighborhood barbecue strut, brag, wolf-whistle and lie about sex.
The Compton posse is well suited to this sort of foulmouthed sing-along. Meticulous about nothing, the group rides one beat until the song runs out, lets whoever is ready with a rhyme jump in and keeps the subjects simple: violent incidents on the first half of the album, bitches, bitches, bitches on the second. While the musical styles can be inspired — they vary from an ominous, Public Enemy-style siren to quick-lipped Jamaican patter and R&B howling — the lyrics about life on the street feel like mere exhaust fumes from that big motor, Straight Outta Compton. The loosest stuff on the record, when the band members sloppily rant, is also the most difficult to follow; the rest is so hateful toward women, and in such a pathetic and sleazy manner, that it’s simply tiresome. For N.W.A, making Niggaz4life may have been something of a party — but not one at which everyone would feel welcome.