NWA pioneered the gangsta rap subgenre of music back in the late 1980s and into the early ’90s. Their music shed light on a lot of difficult social conversations, caused a lot of controversies, and has earned a lot of money.
NWA stands for “Niggaz Wit Attitudes” and the group consisted of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince, MC Ren, and Snoop Dogg. Most of those guys that are still alive have gone on to build major business empires through their own music or being involved throughout the media industry.
The group started out in Compton, California with Eazy-E (Eric Wright) meeting up with Dr. Dre (Andre Young). They steadily added more members, bringing in Ice Cube, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, and others along the way to success.
NWA and the Posse
The first album released by them was technically “NWA and the Posse,” but that one sits in the shadow of Straight Outta Compton. We’ll get to the debut album in a minute.
Even though this one wasn’t intended to be their first, it still landed pretty well. It was certified platinum and later gold.
This album also had “Boyz-n-the-Hood” on it, which was written by Ice Cube and rapped by Easy-E.
Straight Outta Compton
After “NWA and the Posse,” the group released Straight Outta Compton, which was their official debut studio album. This drew a lot of attention, good and bad.
The album reached gold certification in 1988. On the way there, it was highly criticized for lyrics that encouraged violence toward law enforcement.
It even drew an FBI warning letter and wasn’t played much on the radio. The pushback from government, religions, and parents was probably a big reason it got so popular.
When various Catholic groups and radio stations banned Billy Joel’s hit song Only the Good Die Young, people started buying it in droves. When people are told they aren’t allowed to do something, they usually want to do it.
Ice Cube Out
Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) departed NWA in ’89 because he felt like he wasn’t getting all the profits that he deserved. A lawsuit aimed at Jerry Heller (the band manager) followed.
In the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton, Heller was was made out to look pretty bad. His side of the story is that a lot of the claims made in the movie weren’t true at all.
The Dissing Starts
After Ice Cube left NWA, things started to get pretty ugly. There were a few “diss tracks” produced by both Ice Cube and his former group-mates aimed at each other.
After an they insulted Cube in the EP 100 Miles and Runnin’, he released Kill at Will, which fired back. There were a couple more tracks released in addition to those.
NWA Starts to END-WA
Sorry about that play on words. Into the mid-90s, insults were flying all over the place. A lot of people were starting to dislike Easy-E because of his ego.
Eventually, the rappers all made peace with each other. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren buried the hatchet with Easy.
Unfortunately, he passed away from complications with AIDS in March 1995.
There isn’t a ton out there on how much money NWA/Ruthless Records earned. However, it sounds like Easy-E’s widow, Tomica Wright, is worth about $15 million now after taking over Ruthless when Easy died.
Even if the music didn’t make tons and tons of money, the movie Straight Outta Compton did. At the box office, it brought in $201.6 million on a budget that was between $28-50 million.
Final Thoughts on NWA
Whether you approve of their music or not, these guys made a huge impact. Their disagreements weren’t that unique compared to other musical groups throughout history, either. They ended up shaping a subgenre of music that spawned hundreds of different artists all over the place.