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His own attitude

Lil' Eazy-E, son of rapper Eazy-E, isn't coasting on his father's fame.

October 19, 2005|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

THE necklace is remarkable, not only as an exquisitely crafted piece of hip-hop jewelry roughly equal in value to a small condominium, but also as a memorial to the dead.

The diamond-encrusted likeness of the late rapper Eazy-E, the size of a fist, hangs at the end of a thick cable of white gold. His characteristic sunglasses and "Compton"-emblazoned baseball cap are adorned with glittering black "ice."

The necklace is the property of Eric "Lil' Eazy-E" Wright Jr., firstborn son of the hip-hop trailblazer Eric Wright, a.k.a. Eazy-E, the frontman of incendiary Compton collective N.W.A and one of the founding fathers of gangsta rap, who died of AIDS-related illness in 1995 when Wright Jr. was 10.

Leading up to the January release of his first album, "The Prince of Compton," Wright Jr. has become a combative torchbearer for his father's legacy.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 19, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Lil' Eazy-E -- In some copies of today's Calendar section, an article about the son of the late rapper Eazy-E misidentified him as Eric "Lil' E" Wright. His professional name is Lil' Eazy-E.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 26, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 150 words Type of Material: Correction
Lil' Eazy-E -- An Oct. 19 Calendar article about Lil' Eazy-E, the son of rapper Eazy-E, included a quotation from Columbia University's Samuel Roberts on hip-hop culture that Roberts made during an interview with the reporter at another time and on a separate subject. Roberts, a professor of African American history and public health, said: "To be singing about fancy cars and what kind of cognac you drink is totally dissonant of reality for most people. It's been a long time since hip-hop was socially conscious. And Top 40 hip-hop hasn't been that thought-provoking." Roberts made those comments during an interview for a Sept. 23 Times article about an unauthorized remix of Kanye West's "Gold Digger," which includes West's remark that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Roberts' quotation was not used in the Sept. 23 article; he was not interviewed for the Oct. 19 article about Lil' Eazy-E.

While the deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G. continues to be immortalized on posthumous singles (and an upcoming "duets" album) and Tupac Shakur still outsells most rappers nearly a decade after his death, Wright Jr. thinks the hip-hop music industry owes Eazy-E a debt it has been reluctant to pay.

"That's what brings the anger in me, when that [stuff] doesn't get recognized," he said. "They got the blueprint from him. As a businessman and an artist, he made it possible for them to be saying what they're saying."

Thematically, on "Prince," Wright Jr. revisits many of the familiar Compton touchstones N.W.A chronicled two decades ago: lowriders, malt liquor, drive-by shootings and at least one helicopter newscast of a police car chase. At a time when police estimate that Compton's escalating murder rate is 90% gang-related, he wants his gritty raps to be a "cry for help" for the city but also a wake-up call about the way people are living "in the ghettos across America."

In addition to landing a "seven-figure" deal last December with Virgin Records -- which includes his debut as well as a commitment for subsequent albums -- Wright, 21, is quickly establishing his bona fides in a branch of the music biz, hip-hop, that has almost no history of nurturing second-generation talent and in which a performer's bloodline offers no guarantee of money or fame.

Just last month he signed with the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency, and he has begun maneuvering to land endorsement contracts, make a publishing deal for his autobiography and break into acting. The rapper is being groomed for a role portraying his father in an Eazy-E biopic currently in development.

Street credibility -- real or manufactured -- is the bedrock of hip-hop, and Wright says his immediate responsibility is to return a sense of urgency and "realness" to a form of quintessentially Los Angeles-based music that his father helped create.

In a dimly lighted North Hollywood recording studio where he was finishing up 11 tracks for his album, Wright ran his finger along the necklace and spoke again of his father.

"I'm doing what I want to do," he said, "keeping his legacy alive but adding to his yardstick."

No silver spoon

ANY understanding of Lil' Eazy-E must begin with an understanding of his Compton upbringing. Wright was born and raised by his grandparents in the same one-story stucco home in which his father grew up.

In the mid-1980s, in the Wright residence's converted garage studio, Eazy-E Sr., O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson, Lorenzo "MC Ren" Patterson, Antoine "DJ Yella" Carraby and Andre "Dr. Dre" Young came together to form N.W.A, a group that exploded across popular culture and sold millions of albums.

Their songs, including "F*** Tha Police," "Boyz-N-The-Hood" and "Straight Outta Compton," demonized the LAPD and mythologized the deceptively quiet bedroom community where drive-by shootings are a fact of life -- N.W.A received a cautionary letter from the FBI for its efforts in 1989. The group articulated underclass rage in a way that carries on as a guiding force in hip-hop.

Unlike Lil Romeo, the son of rapper and label owner Master P, who grew up in Beverly Hills and was encouraged to begin rapping professionally at age 10, Wright didn't pull any strings to get where he is. And he was never insulated from the streets by his father's fortune -- even as Wright Sr. grew rich and influential as co-founder of Ruthless Records, one of hip-hop's first rapper-owned labels.

"A lot of people assume I grew up in the Valley, but I grew up here, in the streets," said Wright, seated in the Compton garage where N.W.A spawned gangsta rap. Plush sofas lined the walls, and a bedspread with pink and purple flowers covered the carport door. "I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth."

"Master P is alive, and he was able to push Lil Romeo," said Emmanuel "E-Man" Coquia, music director for Power 106, Los Angeles' top hip-hop station. "Whereas with Lil' E, all he has is his father's legacy."

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