Kendrick Lamar and N.W.A have dominated a lot of the hip hop news in the past few months. And hey, it’s not Drake or Mill, so we’re okay with that. The rapper, who released seminal album To Pimp A Butterfly earlier this year, has been hailed by many as a new voice in hip hop, filling the gap that artists with a more socio-politically minded outlook like N.W.A and Public Enemy left. Some have gone so far as to call Kendrick “N.W.A Junior”
N.W.A are, of course, the subject of upcoming blockbuster biopic Straight Outta Compton. By all accounts, it’s a fantastic film, riveting and real for each moment of 180-minute feature. The media attention has not only greatly revived interest in arguably the most important hip hop artists in history, but music, too, with the release of Dr. Dre’s film-inspired, ridiculously long-awaited and critically acclaimed third album Compton.
In a Billboard feature story, Lamar interviews the legendary group in a broad, detailed and thoroughly interesting chat that’ll no doubt go down as one of the most fascinating hip hop interviews of the year. Speaking with surviving members Ice Cube, Dr Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella, they go through an array of topics, from family lives to their legacy, from lessons learnt throughout the game, to asking for advice on behalf of his current generation of hip hop artists.
You can read more of it below, or check out the video.
Transcript courtesy of Billboard
I’m tripping right now. Man, I’m bugging. So bear with me … When did you first know you were more than local stars?
Dr. Dre: When I saw Axl Rose wearing an N.W.A cap in one of his videos!
How did N.W.A change the history of music?
Ice Cube: We not only changed music, we changed pop culture all over the world. We did that by making it all right for artists to be themselves. You no longer had to be squeaky clean. We opened the floodgates for artists who wanted to work on this side, artists who wanted to be raw.
Dr. Dre: And not worry about being on the radio.
Ice Cube: Right. There were no other examples of artists not doing it the square way. We became examples for not only musicians, but for shows like South Park, even the reality shows where they’re bleeping out words. We started that on the radio — bleeping out words — but the rawness wasn’t in the world until N.W.A said it was OK for you to be yourself. There’s the world before N.W.A, and the world after.
How do you think your music changed the way the world viewed our culture and our community?
Ice Cube: Unless you come from Compton, it’s not a world you’re privy to. Our music let you visit Compton from a safe distance.
Dr. Dre: We gave the suburban kids an opportunity to get up close.
Ice Cube: Now you care. You heard what’s going on in the hood, and you’re interested. Now Compton means something to you. Now you pay attention. We were able to shed light on some of the bullshit that was going down. We presented it in a way that you could digest, comprehend and sympathize with what we were going through.
Dr. Dre: If we had done it softer, it wouldn’t have gotten the attention. It wouldn’t have worked.
DJ Yella: The truth is that there wasn’t much competition. There was the East and the West, but there was really no West before us. We came in so different, so real, that we were immediately heard.
Back then, what was your relationship with A&R guys?
Ice Cube: We didn’t have no A&R guys.
MC Ren: It was like, “How many times can we say ‘n—a’?”
Dr. Dre: We’d say, “We need more ‘f—s’ on this record.”
Did you have any doubts that you would be accepted?
MC Ren: I don’t think we really cared.
Dr. Dre: We had no idea we’d blow up this major. You see, every time we went into the studio we were only trying to make tracks that would rock our neighborhood. Our goal was to be local stars.
Ice Cube: We didn’t think the world cared about gang-banging and dope-dealing in L.A., Compton, South Central, Long Beach and Watts. The hub of hip-hop was the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. We were on the fringes. And that was OK with us.
Dr. Dre: Imagine this: We made Straight Outta Compton in six weeks, and that’s without working weekends. Twenty-five years later, and here’s a big-ass Hollywood movie carrying the same name. It’s unbelievable.
What was the hardest part when you were young and first coming to grips with the game?
DJ Yella: Publishing! We didn’t know anything about publishing. The first go-around we didn’t make a nickel.
Dr. Dre: We were just a bunch of creative guys who got together and did something amazing but were clueless about business.
Ice Cube: Business is the most f—ed-up part. It’s always awkward. It’s fun to make records, fun to be in the studio with your homies, fun to get up onstage. But the business part sucks. It’s always some shit you ready to get rid of so you can go back to being creative.
Dr. Dre: It’s all about getting back in that studio.
The studio is like a drug. It’s hard for some people around me to understand that the music is all I think about. It’s like I’m possessed.
Dr. Dre: You can’t explain that feeling. It’s an obsession. But it’s what makes you real.
As one of your offspring, anything I do comes from what y’all have done before me. I’m curious to know how you feel about my generation of artists.
MC Ren: I like a few. I like you.
Dr. Dre: You’re No. 1 on my list because of the care and attention you bring to your tracks and the precision you bring to your sound. There are a few people out there I listen to and respect.
MC Ren: Pusha T.
Dr. Dre: Definitely Pusha T.
MC Ren: I’m not saying this because you’re here, Kendrick, but I like your song “Cut You Off.” I’ve been listening to you for a minute.
Thank you. Now I’m wondering, is there anything my generation should build on and bring back to the game?
Ice Cube: That’s tricky, man. An artist has to do it like he feels it — not because he should, or someone else says he should. Hip-hop got too focused on results and record sales. Sales have nothing to do with the art you create in the studio.
Dr. Dre: When we started out, it wasn’t for money. It was for the love of music. You treat her right, and she’ll treat you right. If your only aim is money, your time will be limited.
DJ Yella: We just went in there and did what we wanted.
Y’all have gone through so many eras and stages of success. How have you managed to keep your sanity?
Dr. Dre: The love of the music. It’s all about my passion for this hip-hop thing. Can’t let anything get in the way of that. It’s my first love.
Ice Cube: When I was young, I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t let the game change me. From the clubhouse to the courtroom, I was going to be myself no matter what. Let the chips fall where they may.
Dr. Dre: It was an unspoken thing for all of us. We were going to stay centered in ourselves.
MC Ren: I’ve tried to put God first. Don’t take everything so seriously. Let everything fall wherever it’s going to fall.
DJ Yella: I just stayed the same. Me and Dre go back so far — a long 30 years — even before N.W.A. The way we talk to each other now is the same way we talked when we first met. No big heads, no ego stuff.
How do you balance your professional lifestyle with your family?
MC Ren: I keep the two separate. There are too many fakes in the game, and I try to keep my family away from that. Coming up, we all went through it — all the shady characters.
Ice Cube: Family time is family time, and work is work. As my kids got older, they wanted to be part of the business, and I helped create an avenue. My son, O’Shea Jr., is into acting. He plays me in the film. My other son is into producing. It all comes down to their talent and hunger.
Dr. Dre: I protect my family and keep them away from the bullshit, but at the same time they’re supportive of what I do. They understand how much I love this music, and they push and inspire me.
Eazy-E. What was that relationship like?
MC Ren: Cool. Just a cool brother.
DJ Yella: Ahead of his time.
Ice Cube: Straight visionary.
Dr. Dre: He took that street knowledge and brought it over to this thing. Super-smart cat.
MC Ren: In the early interviews, Eazy was calling us an all-star group, and this before anyone even knew us. But he knew before we knew.
Ice Cube: Eazy’s thing was, “I want the music hard, hard, hard.” He wanted the rough hardcore shit that couldn’t be compromised.
What was the energy like in the studio?
Dr. Dre: The energy was crazy. Free. Fun. Eazy’s paying for it, and we’re just sitting there creating.
Ice Cube: With every character in the neighborhood dropping by. That was the fun part.
You ever bump heads creatively?
Dr. Dre: All the time. Argued night and day. But always out of mutual respect. Always out of a desire to get the best. And always settled with a cool compromise.
Boiling it all down, what do you see as N.W.A’s legacy?
Ice Cube: World’s most dangerous group — a group that made it all right for artists to be totally themselves.
Dr. Dre: A legacy of inspiration, because we came from nothing.
DJ Yella: Dirt nothing.
Ice Cube: A legacy that says that although we were living in a destructive neighborhood, we were able to do something constructive.
Seems as if today y’all have the same bond you had when you started out.
Ice Cube: We have a bond that you can’t buy or manufacture. We look at each other and know what we went through to get here. The obstacles. The censors. C. Delores Tucker. Tipper Gore. The FBI. Man, we were tangling with some of the biggest power entities out there. And still we didn’t crack.
MC Ren: We only got stronger. Now our hope is that this movie makes some young people go out and do what we did — something new, something fresh.
Dr. Dre: The inspiration we excite in others isn’t just about music. It’s about all of life. Keep pushing. Keep cracking. Stay strong.