With the release of Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” last weekend, it’s sometimes easy to forget how different rap was before West blew up as an artist. Before the days of people like him, Drake and Kid Cudi was when gangster rappers dominated the scene.
However, while hip-hop continued to evolve in the mainstream’s eyes to something less typically gangster, the angsty teenager in me during high school still preferred more “real” artists. Today, I’ll be taking a look at N.W.A.’s second album, “Efil4Zaggin.”
It’s really hard to listen to rappers from what is considered the “golden age” of rap – and most of that comes from how technically inferior most of the rappers are to the standards of today. To be fair, most of this is because rap wasn’t as well developed as it is today, but it doesn’t exactly make it easier to listen to.
Imagine listening to basic setup-punchline elementary rhymes in an era where people like Kendrick Lamar redefine narrative and the inherent structure of a rap song. Eazy-E is an influential figure in the rap genre, but his technical ability certainly isn’t his strongest point. You can also tell that the album suffers from the departure of Ice Cube, who was N.W.A.’s strongest lyricist.
Although misogyny in hip hop certainly hasn’t totally eroded, the blatant sexism displayed on “Efil4Zaggin” is beyond reprehensible: even if done as a “double-down” of sorts against calls for censorship of their material. This is especially evident in the second half of the album, where N.W.A. basically puts up a big middle finger towards women. Listen to the song, “She Swallowed It,” where MC Ren raps about him and a group of friends having group sex with a 14-year-old girl in a car. Other tracks like “Findum, F***em & Flee,” are similarly cringeworthy.
That said, this doesn’t mean that the group lacks talent. Dr. Dre’s production shines on a ton of the songs – and it still translates pretty well today. Even in the previous songs, the beats are still pretty great to listen to, with memorable bass lines, tight percussion and solid accompaniment to the vocals . For what it’s worth, it also makes for pretty good driving music on a long trip.
Moreover, though the rapping isn’t as complex as rappers today – and its inherent anti-woman aspects definitely isn’t anywhere as meaningful as the subjects more socially conscious rappers talk about today – it’s at least simple and easy to follow. In a strange way, this kind of straightforward storytelling is refreshing to listen to today in contrast to the kind of execution done by rappers like Lupe Fiasco, who while certainly talented can be a bit overwhelming in their delivery.
Although I can certainly appreciate the blunt and edgy style exhibited by N.W.A, as well as understand the hugely important influence they had on the entire rap genre, I can’t enjoy their more simplistic and openly sexist elements in “Efil4Zaggin.” Nonetheless, it provides an interesting and fresh listen to even years later.