The legacy of NWA was solidified from the opening bars of Straight Outta Compton. It was a beat that hit so hard that the reverberations circle the globe to this day. The game changed so drastically upon that record’s release that the topography of hip-hop was forever altered—the fun and the playful rhymes of rap’s early years were rendered all but moot for the raw anger and passion that oozed out of every word and through every beat on that record. Playfulness and merriment was replaced by rage and cold tales of hardened gangsterism. It’s not often an album does this, but when it happens it becomes a force of its own.
The culmination of the lives and experiences of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Yella, Eazy-E, and Arabian Prince (who left the group shortly after the record’s release), Straight Outta Compton has influenced the sounds and content of nearly every hip hop album to come out after it. It’s the gold standard, really, and its effects on the culture are difficult to fully quantify. While the group disbanded shortly after the release of their second full length, Niggaz4Life, their legacy lives on.
Part of the legacy is an extended family of artists that all rose from the ashes of what NWA left behind. Reading a list of the best albums of the last two decades of hip hop is a reminder of all that NWA did to affect the scene. With the release of the NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton, set to hit theaters this Friday, we take a look back at some of the albums from NWA and their protégés that prove that the spirit of NWA continues to live on….
Dr. Dre—The Chronic
Dre’s beats provided the backbone of NWA’s hard hitting sound and propelled the album to the heights that it reached. After leaving NWA to co-found Death Row Records with Suge Knight, Dr. Dre honed all of his skills behind the board, behind the turntables, and behind the mic to deliver the next most monumental record The Chronic. Like Straight Outta Compton before it, The Chronic ushered in a new sound in hip hop—abrasive beats evolved into a smoothed out, funk laden sound that forever became affiliated with the west coast scene. This is one of the few post NWA releases from a member of the group that lived up to the name NWA and it solidified Dr. Dre as one of the foremost producers in the hip hop game.
Ice Cube—Amerikkka’s Most Wanted
Released around the same time as NWA’s Niggaz4Life, this record absolutely destroyed his former group’s in terms of acclaim and content. Cube was the lyrical mastermind of Straight Outta Compton and without his presence they just faltered. The venom he spits is apparent from the opening bars—Cube has never been as furious and as hungry as he was on this record. Propelled by Public Enemy’s production team, The Bomb Squad, Ice Cube cemented himself as a devastating lyricist and fully capable of handling himself as a solo artist. This momentum continued with 1991’s Death Certificate, which is every bit as raw and powerful as Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.
Snoop Doggy Dogg—Doggystyle
The real legacy of NWA lies in their protégés. Snoop (Doggy) Dogg was the first and most prominent protégé to make his mark and Doggystyle is an absolute masterwork of gangsta rap. After making his debut with Dr. Dre, on the theme song to the movie Deep Cover as well as heavy appearances on The Chronic, Snoop unleashed this beast upon the world. This album, along with The Chronic, put the flag up on the West Coast and was a signal to the world that New York didn’t have the monopoly on the hip hop game. It’s an album so good and so remarkable that Snoop has never been able to top it, and probably never will.
The DOC—No One Can Do It Better
Outside of Ice Cube, The DOC is the man most responsible for the lyrical content of Straight Outta Compton. Coming from Dallas, DOC mentored the group on how to spit bars and frame their lyrics, and his ability is displayed for all to see on this solo record. His skills on the mic were second to none and were accented perfectly by beats provided by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. In a lot of ways, it’s a superior record to Straight Outta Compton; DOC was a master of delivery and lyrics and one of the greatest to ever rock the mic. Tragically, his career was cut short after being ejected from a windshield in a car accident. Though he miraculously survived the accident, his larynx was crushed, altering his voice and making it impossible to spit like he used to.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony—E. 1999 Eternal
Introducing Bone to the world was arguably Eazy-E’s greatest post-NWA accomplishment. This Cleveland crew caused waves in the underground with the Eazy-E mentored Creepin’ On Ah Come Up, and this follow up record was their finest achievement. Playing on the West Coast vibe, E. 1999 Eternal adds its own twist on the formula to create an album that’s darker and more foreboding than the sunny feeling sound of LA. It’s a Midwest classic that proved you didn’t need to come from either coast to spit fire or make a splash.
Eminem—The Slim Shady LP
Back in the 80’s, if you had told anyone that the rise of NWA would lead directly to the rise of a white rapper, you probably would’ve been laughed out of the room. Yet here we are. After causing a sensation in Detroit’s underground scene, Dr. Dre signed Eminem to his newly formed, post-Death Row label Aftermath. No one could’ve anticipated the waves this record would make, with its lead single “My Name Is” crossing over into an alternative hit. Anyone expecting the rest of the record to have that sound was shocked by the rest of the album’s content. I’m still not convinced anyone fully appreciates the brilliance of this record. Behind the violent and shocking lyrics is a surprising amount of raw emotion from an awkward kid who never really fit in. His humor was a defense, keeping people at bay while he exorcised the demons of growing up dirt poor and nerdy. This record was monumental and sounds as good today as it did when it first dropped in 1999.