who makes beats by dre headphones A history of ‘gangsta rap’ shows its influence on pop culture
Late last month, Beyonc arrived at the VMAs with the mothers of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin in tow. In her performance, dancers dropped to the floor one by one in pools of red light.
Ben Westhoff’s “Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap” tells how gangsta rap was born and how it shaped American pop culture. By intimately profiling four rappers, Westhoff shows how “inside the Trojan horse of catchy beats and clever rhymes, Dr. Dre and his brethren smuggled in the hopes, dreams, and fears of those who were otherwise mostly ignored. They took the experience of the inner city and made it understandable to people who had never set foot there.”
“Original Gangstas” begins with 21 year old Eric Wright aka Eazy E pushing drugs and making mixtapes in his mom’s garage. Eazy connects with Dr. They called their aesthetic “reality rap” and sought to capture life in their California neighborhood and do for Compton what artists like Run DMC and Beastie Boys were doing for Brooklyn.
Westhoff says, though, “America wasn’t ready.”
The group drew obscenity charges and warnings from the FBI.
Westhoff follows Dre, Cube and Eazy through their solo ventures, through Eazy E’s death from AIDS, Ice Cube’s solo success in music as well as the “Friday” and “Barbershop” films, and Dr. Dre’s success with Death Row Records. As gangsta rap evolves in the ’90s, Snoop Dogg, Warren G., Suge Knight and finally Tupac Shakur enter Westhoff’s history.
Envision Dr. Dre wearing Prince inspired sequins and eyeliner. Picture Eazy E buying his signature Compton hats from a North Korean vendor at a swap meet. See Maya Angelou reducing Tupac to tears on the set of “Poetic Justice.” Admonishing him for cursing and fighting, she asked, “Do you know that we stood on slave ship decks and stood on auction blocks, and were hosed down like dogs, for you, so you could live?”
Throughout, Westhoff constructs a political backdrop that highlights the importance of rap as an American art form and “the lingua franca of the new youth movement.” Through the crack epidemic and the divisions drawn by the Bloods and Crips in Los Angeles, from police brutality and the Rodney King riots, rap shifts from a controversial genre MTV wouldn’t play to a commercial powerhouse and essential piece of pop culture. Reflecting on his own adolescent fascination with rap in St. Paul, Minn., Westhoff says, “Despite the fact that most of us couldn’t place Compton on a map, we imagined the city to be both terrifying and the epicenter of cool.”
“Gangsta rap,” he concludes in this highly readable and important history, “more than any other art form, made black life a permanent part of the American conversation.”