One of the original “gangsta” rap artists from the West Coast, MC Eiht helped make the city of Compton, located near Los Angeles, a well-known center for rap and hip-hop culture. Fellow Compton rapper Ice Cube called the gangsta genre “reality rap” for the style’s descriptions of brutal street life, urban alienation, autobiographical rage, and action-movie fantasies. After Ice Cube and his group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude) brought Compton street life to mainstream America, Eiht followed suit with his act, Comptons Most Wanted (CMW). He recorded three albums as Comptons Most Wanted, then earned top billing for his subsequent four records. We Come Strapped marked Eiht’s major breakthrough. The 1994 album went gold album, selling about 621, 000 copies in all. Moreover, the record entered the Billboard R&B album chart at number one, holding the spot for five weeks, and the pop album chart at number five. After the release of two not so well-received albums, Eiht signed with a new label, Hoo Bangin’, and returned with Section 8, redeeming his reputation as a rap star.
In addition to recording as Comptons Most Wanted and MC Eiht, the rap artist has appeared on several best-selling movie soundtracks, including Boyz N The Hood, Menace II Society, Tales From The Hood, New Jersey Drive, and The Show. Lending his face to the silver screen as well, Eiht played a cameo role in John Singleton’s Academy Award-nominated Boyz N The Hood and played the part of A-Wax in the critically-acclaimed Hughes Brothers film Menace IISociety. For the role, Eiht received an award at the First Annual Source Magazine Awards for best acting performance in a film or for television.
MC Eiht, born Aaron Tyler in 1970 to hardworking parents, watched his mother and father separate at an early age. After the breakup, Eiht’s father left the family and moved to Oklahoma, while his mother settled in Compton, California, near Los Angeles. Spending most of his childhood in the low-income neighborhoods of Compton, Eiht first attended a Catholic school before being expelled. As a result of the expulsion, Eiht was forced to go to school within the Compton public school system, considered one of the worst school districts in the state. In fact, the California state legislature later ended up taking over the district in 1996 to try and make improvements.
Like many urban rap artists, Eiht first experienced street life by joining a gang and dealing drugs in his teens, although he admitted that he never excelled as a criminal. “I wanted to be on the streets so much that I started gangbanging and selling crack just because everybody else was doing it,” remembered Eiht, as quoted by Solomon Moore in a feature for Blaze magazine. “If youwas from the hood, that’s what you did.” But after siring a son and not selling enough crack to feed his baby, Eiht came to the realization that he needed to find a new direction in life. “I was gettin’ high one night… and the shit just came to me. I started rappin’. It was just like a wake-up call.”
Around this time, a group called N.W.A. had just succeeded in taking the gangsta genre, or reality rap, to the mainstream. Also formed in Compton, N.W.A. included several rap artists who later achieved success as solo acts, namely Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, the late Eazy-E, and MC Ren. These rap stars would put their city and their West Coast sound on the map, sell millions of records, and raise political and social concerns over the gangsta genre’s use of rhymes that describe violence, misogyny, and sociopathic behavior.
Taking cue from N.W.A, Eiht formed a rap group with some of his neighborhood pals, including Unknown DJ, DJ Mike T, DJ Slip, and the Chill MC, called Comptons Most Wanted. They made their initial mark in 1989 with the release of two singles: “Rhymes Too Funky” and “This is Compton.” For their first album in 1990, It’s a Compton Thang!, only three of the original members participated, one of which was Eiht. Though not an especially hardcore rap album, the record gave the group some street credibility with the track “One Time Gaffled
Born Aaron Tyler in 1970; one son.
Moved to Compton, CA; formed Comptons Most Wanted, c. 1989; released first album, It’s a Compton Thang!, 1990; released hit album We Come Strapped, 1994; signed with Hoo Bangin’ label c. 1998; released Section 8, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Hoo Bangin’/Priority Records, 6430 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 900, Hollywood, CA
Em Up,” and the single “Growin’ Up in the Hood” captured the hopeless desperation of street life and was commissioned for the movie Boyz N The Hood. Eiht also made a cameo appearance in the film.
Comptons Most Wanted released Straight Checkn ’Em the following year. This time around, DJ Slip and Unknown DJ joined Eiht on the album (Chill MC went to serve jail time half way through the recording process). On the largely overlooked gangsta classic, Eiht began to find his cool yet deadly voice on tracks such as “Comp-ton’s Lynchin” and “Def Wish,” the rap that started a supposed rivalry between Eiht and another Compton rap artist named DJ Quik. As years passed, the tension eventually subsided. “The whole DJ Quick situation is some he said/she said shit, strictly negative,” Eiht explained to John Rhodes in a 1999 interview for the Launch: Discover New Music website. “I’m at the point in my career where I’m just trying to stack some chips, maintain my hustle, and just kick it. I stay away from all the drama.” The group released Music to Driveby in 1992, which, in truth, lacked the provocative nature implied by the album’s title. In some of the songs, Eiht lacked the lyrical quality of the group’s previous release. For example, he led an attack on women in “Hoodrat” and made an unconvincing attempt with the blues-styled track “Niggaz Strugglin.” Nonetheless, Eiht proved his skill at storytelling with “Hood Took Me Under,” a song thatcontinued the hopelessness of “Growin’ Up in the Hood.”
Eiht received his first major break in 1993 when played the role of A-Wax in the acclaimed Hughes Brothers film Menace II Society. For the platinum-selling movie soundtrack, Eiht contributed a stunning single entitled “Streiht Up Menace.” Both the role and the song strengthened his profile. In April of 1994, Eiht received the award in the category of best acting performance at the First Annual Source Magazine Awards. Until this point, Eiht had only earned an underground following for his eerie-sounding rhythmic style and undaunted tales of street realism.
Like his heightened public image, Eiht’s music improved as well. He received top billing for the next album, We Come Strapped, released in 1994. As Comptons Most Wanted was reduced to a duo consisting of Eiht and DJ Slip, the record was released under the name MC Eiht Featuring CMW. Eiht’s greatest success until that time, the gold album that sold about 621,000 copies entered the Billboard R&B album chart at number one, holding the spot for five weeks, and the pop album chart at number five. “People said Jay-Z was the first rapper to hold the number one spotforfive weeks, but it’s nottrue,” Eiht said to Moore, setting the record straight. “I held the spotforfive weeks back in 1994, back when Boyz II Men was on the charts…. So Jay-Z’s the second rapper.”
Critics attributed much of We Come Strappeds success to the fact that both Eiht and DJ Slip took a dramatic new direction in style to create a record that sounded unique from their past efforts. DJ Slip, for one, experimented with more spacious, largely sample-free music dominated by synthesizers and a loud bass, while Eiht slowed his delivery and increased his lyrical dramatics. The most noted tracks included “Take 2 With Me,” “Compton Cyco,” and “All for the Money.” With We Come Strapped, the duo “achieved a nearly cinematic scope, an apex of reality in music,” concluded the Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock. But despite the album’s achievements, Eiht claimed that his label, Epic Street, offered him little support. Although he believed that We Come Strapped could go platinum, Epic stopped promoting the album early and shuffled Eiht off to the recording studio. The label offered him a $1.125 million contract for four additional albums, as well as two releases he owed Epic under his prior contract. Afterslashing his budget in half, Epic’s attorneys started calling Eiht to persuade him to sign the deal. Eiht finally obliged, although with hesitation. “As far as sales and royalties, they [Epic] made sure that I didn’t get a dime. So basically, I just started giving them mediocre shit,” he told Moore.
Consequently, Eiht claimed that he never intended for his next two albums to reach the level of We Come Strapped and simply setout to fulfill his obligation to Epic. Although 1996’s Death Threatz yielded some noteworthy tracks, such as the potent and hostile “Run 4 Your Life” and the toned down “Late Nite Hype Part 2,” a seductive expression of violence, the album and its 1997 follow-up, Last Man Standing, failed to impress rap enthusiasts. Eiht himself confessed that overall, the songs on those two albums seemed mediocre as compared to his previous hit record. “The lyrics were boring, the beats plodding, the inspiration lacking,” wrote Moore in agreement.
Desperate to find another record company, around 1998 Eiht signed with Time Warner. However, the United States legislature and the news media had just come down hard on gangsta rap, and Eiht’s new label wanted the rap artist to tone down his lyrics and take a new direction with his music. But Eiht would have no part of such a suggestion. “MC Eiht’s direction is the street. Period,” the committed rapper told Moore. “That’s like trying to tell Cube how to make records. You can’t tell no vet how to make a record! We know how to make records for the fans who buy our music.” As a result, Eiht never released a record for Time Warner, and the label eventually cut ties with the rap artist. “As everybody knows, Atlantic/Time Warner can’t put out gangsta shit. They let Ice-T go; they let the who Death Row deal go. If they ain’t gonna put out Tupac, they sure ain’t gonna put me out.”
Left without record company backing, Eiht spent the year making appearances on other artist’s albums from Cypress Hill, an interracial rap trio from a Latin Los Angeles neighborhood, to New York R&B/hip-hop artist Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor album. Then, after declining an offerto sign with No Limit Records, home to rapper Snoop Dog, Eiht accepted a record deal with Mack 10 and his new Hoo Bangin’ label. As Mack 10 told Moore,“We had this new label… and I thought I needed somebody who’s been around but who still got legs. Eiht ain’t no rookie. You can’t just tell ’em anything.”
With Hoo Bangin’ and a restored sense of creative freedom, Eiht returned in 1999 with Section 8, considered his strongest work since We Come Strapped. For the effort, Eiht assembled a cast of well-known producers and rap artists to contribute, including Mack 10, Ice Cube, members of Comptons Most Wanted, Ant Banks, Young Tree, and Binky Mac. “This album provides the same style as always, but much tighter delivery and tracks,” Eiht told Rhodes. “I wanted to give everybody nationwide something to feel. Hooking up with Mack 10 was a blessing. He understood my vision from the start, and we just clicked.” Also providing insight into Eiht’s personal experiences growing up on the streets of Compton, the album boasted such performances as “Living N’ tha Streetz,” “My Life,” and “Days of ’89.”
with Comptons Most Wanted
It’s a Compton Thang!, Orpheus, 1990.
Straight Checkn ’Em, Orpheus/Epic, 1991.
Music to Driveby, Orpheus/Epic, 1992.
with MC Eiht Featuring CMW
We Come Strapped, Epic Street, 1994.
Death Threatz, Epic Street, 1996.
Last Man Standing, Epic Street, 1997.
Section 8, Hoo Bangin’, 1999.
Menace II Society, (soundtrack), Jive Records, 1993.
Tales From The Hood, (soundtrack), 40 Acres And A Mule, 1995.
New Jersey Drive Vol. 1, (soundtrack), Tommy Boy, 1995.
Rhyme & Reason, Priority Records, 1997.
Master P Presents: West Coast Bad Boyz II, No Limit Records, 1997.
N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton 10th Anniversary Tribute, Priority Records, 1998.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Blaze, August 1999, pp. 80-82.
Dallas Morning News, November 8, 1998, p. 10C.
Entertainment Weekly, August 12, 1994, p. 56.
Newsday, April 26, 1994, p. A08.
Tampa Tribune, August 20, 1999, p. 15.
Launch.com: Discover New Music, http://wwwjaunch.com (June 18, 1999).
iMusic Urban Showcase —MC Eiht, http://www.imusic.com/showcase/urban/mceiht.html (October 11, 1999).
MC Eiht at Epic Records, http://www.epiccenter.com (October 15, 1999).