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USA Today

03/23/00- Updated 10:13 AM ET

The return of N.W.A.

By Steve Jones, USA TODAY

After years of talking about getting back together, the members of N.W.A. got back to rapping before a raucous audience at a Los Angeles soundstage.

It was the first time in 11 years that members of "America's Most Dangerous Group" - Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren - had shared a stage, a move perhaps only slightly less startling than their raw, profane anthems, such as Straight Outta Compton and F*** Tha Police, which turned society on its ear.

N.W.A. put the West Coast on the hip-hop map with blistering gangsta rhymes that unflinchingly shined a light on the festering underbelly of urban America - and so blatantly ignored prevailing taboos that the FBI warned the group's record label to tone it down. With baggy jeans and black-and-silver L.A. Raiders caps, the members became heroes, though never the good guys.

And they're still not, judging from their performance on Jimmy and Doug's Farmclub.com - a unique combination TV show/Web site/record label - which airs Monday at 11 p.m. ET/PT on the USA Network. In addition to the classic Straight Outta Compton, they present recent collaborations Hello and Chin Check, on the latter of which they "release the hound" - Snoop Dogg - who makes his bow-wow bow as the group's newest member. The show and the new songs, they say, are just appetizers for a world tour and full-fledged album, the latter tentatively titled Not Those N****z Again.

"It went really well considering that we didn't get a chance to rehearse or anything," Dr. Dre says.

"It was like being in 1989 or something," MC Ren says.

Ice Cube - who finally put an end to years of procrastination stemming from personal beefs, scheduling conflicts, individual stardom and the 1995 death of founder Eazy-E - pulled everyone together late last year to record Chin Check for the soundtrack of his film Next Friday.

"We were sick of talking about it and saying what we should do," Ice Cube says. "I said the only way we can do all of this stuff we're talking about is to just go do it."

The name, the impact

In its day, N.W.A. stretched boundaries with its language and exposed the mainstream to unfamiliar subjects, angering just about everybody with tales of crime and misogyny. The very name - Niggas With Attitude - sparked heated debate.

Jimmy Iovine, co-chairman of Interscope Records, who started the Farmclub enterprise with Universal Music Group chairman Doug Morris, compares the long-term impact of N.W.A. to that of such rock groups as the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Clash.

"They opened things up in terms of not only what artists could say, but how they could say it," says Iovine, whose show spotlights unknown and up-and-coming talent and also offers live performances by stars. "I'm not talking about the words they used, but the whole intensity that they brought to what they did."

"We held a window and let the world see things through our eyes," Ice Cube says.

Dre is more blunt. "We said what a lot of people wanted to say for a long time but never had the balls to say on record."

The reunion - which does not include former fifth member Yella, with whom they say they've lost contact - comes at a time when Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are enjoying some of their biggest commercial successes . That's not bad for rappers who a dozen years ago raised the ire of political conservatives and supposedly had America scared to death. Looking back, they say it was all a lot of hype.

"I don't think America was afraid of us, not really," Dre says. "We sold a whole lot of records. I think a lot of it was just the way people talked about us in the media."

"When you think about it, we've followed the pattern of American celebrities - at least young ones, any way," Ice Cube says. "You start out being loved by the kids and hated by the parents, but pretty soon the parents come around. We have so many people out there who grew up on our music. Now there's a whole new generation taking over things, and their minds are more open than the generation before them."

Back in 1988, when the group members came out with Straight Outta Compton, their groundbreaking second album, they appeared to be busting heads rather than opening minds. They laid bare the violence and brutality of daily life in gang-ridden south-central Los Angeles and changed the tenor of hip-hop conversation, which had focused on such hedonistic concerns as partying, sneakers and gold chains.

They were the vanguard of what many saw as a dangerous trend . Their growing influence on other artists and run-ins with the law only fostered that sentiment, as did Eazy-E's drug-dealing past. Still, they sold millions of records.

Internal strife would eventually do what political condemnation could not - tear the group apart. Ice Cube left first, in 1988, after a dispute over money. By 1992, the group was dissolved, and feuds simmered between some members for years.

In addition to Dre and Cube, Ren found post-N.W.A. platinum success, as did the charismatic Eazy-E (Eric Wright), who also launched Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on his label, Ruthless Records. Yella (Antoine Carraby) put out the mildly received One Mo Nigga ta Go in 1996.

Before his death in 1995, within a couple of weeks of being diagnosed with full-blown AIDS, Eazy-E had been trying to bring the group back together. But his death - and subsequent wrangling over his estate - put things on hold indefinitely. The survivors say one thing they agreed on was that they didn't want people who were not directly involved with N.W.A., as Ren put it, "coming out of the woodwork and getting their pockets lined" from any immediate reunion. But, they say, they're sure that Eazy-E would be proud to see them back together.

"That's what he was trying to get done for the longest time," Ice Cube says. "But just about the time I had made up with him, he was mad at Dre. Before we could get serious about it, Eazy died."

As for any issues among Ren, Cube and Dre, they agree that a lot of problems resulted from egos and immaturity and often were fueled by others in their various camps. But they are smarter now.

"When Cube called and set it up, we all went to the studio and were just chilling," Ren says. "Nobody was talking about old beefs. Even if it was in the back of your mind, it was over with, and there's nothing you could do about it but just move on. "

And while they don't have a timetable for the album and tour, they say they have cleared their schedules to make the project happen. Perfectionist Dre says Chin Check used an old track and doesn't come close to what they're capable of. "I wasn't totally happy with that record because it sounds rushed," he says. "We are going to get in there and shock the world and hopefully change the course of hip-hop again."

Still unpredictable

Don't expect any mellowing with age. With Eazy-E gone, the group needed a new outrageous and unpredictable character and found it in Snoop Dogg, who came to prominence on Dre's classic The Chronic album. To N.W.A., he was the only choice. Not only is he stylistically a direct descendant of the group, but, as Ren says, "Snoop is West Coast. He represents that to the fullest. He's like somebody coming from college onto a pro team - he has all the stats, and he broke all the records."

For his part, Snoop says he feels like "a kid who just got his first Atari 2600. This is the illest group ever to come out the West Coast. They founded what is known as gangsta rap."

They're still making sure there are no legal obstacles to getting back together as a group.

Dre says there is uncertainty at the moment about who owns the rights to the name N.W.A. and which record label might distribute such a record. But Ice Cube shrugs off such concerns.

"I'm not even thinking about that because that is just going to be a distraction, and our thing is to make a good record," he says. "Once you do that, it's amazing how things work out. Besides, we all have enough money right now to do it without a record company if we have to."

And when the time comes, he says, nothing will keep them off the road.

Says Ice Cube: "People were asking me about this record in South Africa (where he filmed Dangerous Ground) all the way back in 1996, so we've got to do it. I would stop making movies for us to tour."


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