It doesn't get much sadder than this: Just weeks after he was diagnosed and hospitalized with full-blown AIDS, rapper Eazy-E (aka Eric Wright) died of AIDS-related complications Sunday, March 26. He was only 31. As an O.G. personified, Eazy-E is credited with spawning gangsta rap with his 1988 solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It, and his work with N.W.A. Short for Niggaz Wit' Attitude, N.W.A rewrote rap with Straight Outta Compton in 1988, which combined graphic street reporting about life in the 'hood with a hardcore sonic assault and an undeniable political fury — and blew a hole into the charts despite a complete lack of airplay. “Fuck Tha Police” became an instant classic and a point of departure for rappers like Ice-T and Paris; 1991's number one Niggaz4Life drew a wave of racist media outrage over its uncompromising depictions of righteous black rage.
N.W.A's messy breakup led to stellar solo careers for Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, while Eazy-E went on to build his Ruthless Records into a profitable force. The post-N.W.A feuding is legendary, with Eazy-E answering Dre's big Chronic disses with the It's on (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa EP — featuring a dead-on G-funk parody and a hilarious old photo of Dre wearing makeup and a cheesy lamŽ outfit. Eazy-E was a true character: a tiny, squeaky-voiced but tough-talking customer who would never give up his Jheri curl and lived the high life better than anyone. He seemed untouchable, which makes his death all the more shocking to the hiphop community.
“It's a wake-up call for black youth, if you ask me,” says Glen Jones of the Delinquents. “When Magic got AIDS, I didn't really pay it no mind. That was just like when they said that Rock Hudson died of it. I didn't care, because I'm not a homosexual, you know? But hearing about Eazy having AIDS touched me like he was my potna.” The key word is fear: Reportedly national AIDS hotlines and HIV-testing providers have been inundated with frantic calls since the news of Eazy-E's illness broke. “Everybody is scared right now,” says Master P. “It makes a muthaphukka not want to fuck around, you know?”
While groups like the National Minority AIDS Council are working furiously on new safe-sex campaigns, rappers are debating the effect of AIDS awareness on the hootchie-heavy gangsta aesthetic. “This won't change the lyrics in rap, but it will change how rappers act after shows,” argues Warren G. But it's not hard to imagine a re-examination of the industry's casual sex codes filtering down and changing attitudes in the hiphop universe. Remember Eazy and he didn't die in vain.
By Sia Michel, Mark Sneed