This week, Straight Outta Compton opens to theaters. Presumably, millions of movie-goers will see Hollywood’s take on the formation, rise, and eventual break-up of one of Hip-Hop’s most influential and iconic groups: N.W.A.
While the surviving members of N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren) all participated in the film’s marketing, the group remains a part of history. The group’s creator, Eazy-E, died in March of 1995. Even before the Compton, California rapper/executive’s death, it had been more than five years since all five members worked together. In the 20 years since, DJ Yella has not participated in the vocal reunions from the other three members. Seemingly, a group makeup, later breaks up.
The Wall Street Journal takes a closer look at this epidemic, as it applies to Hip-Hop. Writer Steve Knopper interviewed Scarface, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, as well as various industry executives and artists, including Quavo of Migos. All discuss the difficulties in sustaining a group, due to industry pressures, logistics, and sheer division of royalties.
“It’s more money in the solo play,” Ice Cube points out, as the first N.W.A. member to push a solo career, care of 1990’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. “The royalties don’t go up for how many members you have in the group.” Cube would notably later form groups such as Da Lench Mob (which he helped produce) and Westside Connection, which he was part of. Since his Straight Outta Compton days, Cube released five platinum (or better) and two gold albums, seemigly proving his point.
MC Ren thinks it was strategic for the industry. “[Record executives] started [putting] people in collaboration records,” MC Ren deduced. “You buy an album and it’s like 15 people on there. You don’t get a chance to really feel that artist.” Ren was the longest artist on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records, staying more than seven years following N.W.A.’s break-up. In the time since, Ren’s career has been largely defined in the mainstream through features in collaborations, on platinum albums such as Dr. Dre’s 2001, Ice Cube’s War & Peace, Vol. 2, and Snoop Dogg’s Tha Last Meal.
For the most recent time, Scarface focused on his own album (the 12th of his career), Deep Rooted, following a failure to crowd-source funds to record an eighth Geto Boys album. 1990s star acts like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Leaders Of The New School, and A Tribe Called Quest have struggled with personnel exits, inner-turmoil, and record contracts. 2000s groups such as Little Brother, Odd Future, and Boyz N Da Hood have also had problems with emphasized solo careers and creative differences.
2015 may best tell the story, as well as offer exception. Last month, Public Enemy released their 13th studio album, Man Plans, GOD Laughs. Although Terminator X left the group (a post now held by DJ Lord), core members Chuck D, Professor Griff, and Flavor Flav have remained. 2015 has witnessed the fifth album from Capone-N-Noreaga (who previously split more than once), the eighth LP by Jedi Mind Tricks (whose founding producer, Stoupe, previously left only to return), and a sophomore EP from G-Unit, who regained Young Buck last year, following a lengthy hiatus.