Words & Photo: Brian Cross
Originally published in ego trip #4 | Spring 1995
I remember the first time I heard Eazy-E, I was standing in Firehouse, a neighborhood bar in the Mission district of San Francisco. Tuesday night was hip-hop night, as the kids from the 15th and Delores projects would come and throw down. It was 1988. “Dope Man” and “Boyz-N-The Hood” were played back-to-back to a frenzied crowd. This sounded new to me, being accustomed to Biz, EPMD, Kane, BDP’s second album, a bootleg copy of the unreleased Nation of Millions, and the radio hit “Wild Wild West” by Kool Moe Dee. Comparatively, Eazy, Cube and Dre’s first efforts sounded rudimentary, even unsophisticated. What I didn’t know, of course, was that this was anything but simple. The creative freedom that Eazy facilitated and encouraged in the face of criticism and controversy changed hip-hop forever.
Many years later (1993 to be exact) I did an interview with Alonzo from the World Class Wrecking Cru that was published in URB. In the interview Alonzo stated he remembered seeing Eazy with bowls of coke and that was how Eazy generated the capital to lure Dre away from the Wrecking Crew (in actuality he just paid some tickets on Dre’s car). The then-head of publicity at Priority called me up vexed, claiming libel and telling me I should interview Eazy to allow him to tell his side of the story. I reluctantly agreed, and went out to Ruthless with a not-giving-a-fuck attitude. I continuously heard “No Vaseline” in my head (I still won’t have dinner with the president). Funny how being a fan of somebody can make you dislike their foes too. I was firmly in the “Cube was the brains behind N.W.A” mind state. I never liked Moe Dee as much after “Jack the Ripper,” or Shan after KRS was finished with him – how fickle we can be.
Anyway, Eric was pretty funny in the face of my best unhappy hip-hop critic demeanor. He told me, “It’s all business and I want to be on that Berry Gordy level.” How ironic it was to be that the announcement of his illness took place in front of the old Motown building on Sunset. Several months later Dave Bett called me from Relativity and told me I was being considered for the photography on Eazy’s forthcoming EP. I got the job without ever showing my portfolio – the cover of this magazine comes from that shoot.
Working with Eazy was like submitting yourself to complete improvisation. There was always a new idea, and anything I brought to the table had to be flushed out carefully before he would do it. We shot from one in the afternoon until well after midnight. As we drove around Norwalk, Compton, and Gardenia, we were continuously approached by people looking for an autograph or wondering what was up. Eazy was popular on the streets. We ended up at Eric’s house, and while I set up the lights in the backyard, he took a nap on the floor. He had smoked his trademark licorice paper joints of killer sess all day, and it had taken its toll. When we were ready to go he woke up and jumped into place – no questions asked. No attitude; professionalism.
I gained new respect for Eazy that day. When we met to review the photos, he showed me the infamous photo he planned to include in the inner sleeve of Dre (in make-up and sequins) doing the Running Man. I left Ruthless feeling nervous about the repercussions that would follow.
After that day, I worked on several other projects with Eric, including the Bone Thugz-N-Harmony stuff. He was always on time, supportive and respectful. I’m gonna miss him. I was confused by the circumstances surrounding his death, as anyone else. Just weeks before the announcement, we blazed and I remember noting how well he looked. Both Eazy and Cube always glow with healthiness – money really helps, I noted to my scruffy self. Within six weeks he was dead. I don’t believe as some do in LA that it was something to do with devil worship, or he fell victim to what comes around goes around. He lived as foul as the rest of us. In hip-hop you have no choice if you plan to stay afloat. Eric lived a tough life, made controversial decisions, and in the end died in controversy. He didn’t have to announce his illness, but he did and I’ll remember him for that final courage. Hip-hop won’t be the same without him.