“When we broke up, the group was Number One on the Billboard chart,” N.W.A‘s DJ Yella, says. “I mean, groups don’t break up at Number One. They break up at Number 1,000.”
“It was, like, shit – all good things come to an end,” says bandmate MC Ren.
N.W.A issued their second and final album, Efil4zaggin — pronounced by the surviving members as “Niggaz4Life,” 25 years ago this weekend. They had attempted to pull off the impossible and one-up 1988’s brilliant, controversial gangsta-rap battle cry Straight Outta Compton. Even though they were over before it came out, they accomplished their mission: Efil4zaggin claimed the Number One spot on Billboard for one week and it was certified platinum later that year. “Hell has apparently frozen over,” Rolling Stone declared.
Although the making of Efil4zaggin wasn’t especially documented in last year’s Straight Outta Compton biopic, it was a sonic triumph that provided a crucial launching pad for the G-funk sound that producer and rapper Dr. Dre would usher in the following year. The LP’s fascinating history begins with Dre and Yella ditching samples by and large in favor of recording real instruments, for the tighter, deeper sound that would eventually turn gangsta rap into America’s popular music of choice. They fused metal with soul (“Real Niggaz Don’t Die”), wrote their own horror soundtracks (“Approach to Danger”) and indulged in dubby sex jams (“She Swallowed It”). The story ends with the group slowly imploding as Dre and associate D.O.C. sought to create their own greener pastures. It’s too big to fit in a film.
“I think we got the story told pretty good in the movie, it’s pretty close,” Yella says. “But there was just so much going on with that album. It would have to go into a ‘Part Two.'”
For all of the surprise success and notoriety the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous Group” achieved with 1988’s revolutionary Straight Outta Compton, from platinum plaques to withstanding FBI threats, that version of N.W.A wouldn’t make it through the decade. Ice Cube, the MC behind some of the group’s most cutting lyrics, clashed with Eazy-E and manager Jerry Heller over payment and quit at the end of the 1989 tour. “He didn’t even ride back to L.A. with everybody else,” says the D.O.C., the Texas rapper and associate who wrote some of the group’s lyrics. “It was over after that. There was no more Cube.”
Undeterred, the members of N.W.A moved on. Dr. Dre had been busy in 1989 producing the D.O.C.’s classic full-length debut, No One Can Do It Better and R&B singer Michel’le’s self-titled debut. Early in the next year, he worked on Livin’ Like Hustlers, the first recording by Above the Law, the pioneering L.A.-area crew that predicted the G-funk sound. Before long, N.W.A regrouped to record their own statement of intent, the EP 100 Miles and Runnin’.