When I was a kid, I’d make any excuse to jump in the car with my older brother and listen to his tapes: drum and bass, Eazy E, The Chronic. I started digging into the history, paying attention to music news, and talking to people at record stores. NWA and all the members’ projects became consistent favorites. I love almost everything they’ve done since then. I don’t relate to all their experiences, my life has been very different. But I love that “attitude”.
I hear NWA’s passion and drive. Their determination to make change, to do something, to be heard. They were able to get their aggression out and to express their anger through music, dealing with conflict in a non-violent way. To me, that’s what art is about: expressing yourself through your medium, whatever that is. For them, it is gansta rap; for me, expressionist pastels.
NWA has been so important to music and truly made an impact. They have left a legacy and pathed the road for artists like Eminem, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar and TI. This, from 5 completely broke motherfuckers who got together and shook up rap music. I have so much love and respect for NWA, and I really enjoyed spending time with them through their music as I paid my respect for them through my art.
“I started this gangsta shit and this the motherfucking thanks I get?” –Chin Check N.W.A
My process for making these pieces started with making a playlist of everyone’s albums, all the solo and group projects. I shuffled the songs, threw on my headphones and spent three days sketching them and working with the pastels. Then I hung them up together on the wall and stepped back to look at them together. I couldn’t work on pieces individually, and had to work on them next to each other so that they flow together. I needed a space big enough to look at them all on the same wall, so I could step back, and then get close to work on them.
After sketching, the pastels served as the base coat. Then I put the pieces in order on the wall: Dr. Dre, Yella, Eazy E, Ren and Ice Cube, left to right. I added the black acrylic paint to darken the shadows and get heavy contrast, then the red acrylic background. When it came time to choose the song titles to add, I listened to the artist’s songs and chose my favorites, the ones that really spoke to me about who that artist is. I was trying to pinpoint the impact that NWA has on rap/gansta rap music. After adding the details, I knew each piece was done when I stepped back and felt something from it. Anything more would be too much.
When I look at the Dre piece, what stands out to me is the flow, movement of the words around his face. It feels slow and deep, like his beats. I wanted his lettering to be bolder and larger, because Dre and his beats were the backbone of the group.
Yella had a solo album is ‘96 that was completely off my radar. When I started focusing on this piece, I found the album on youtube, and played that link over and over. With the first listen, I wrote down the tracks I liked best. I felt the songs for the first time almost 20 years after they were released. It was like revisiting a past I never had.
Looking at the finished piece, I see that Eazy E has a dark side and a light side. This wasn’t intentional, but it makes sense because Eazy E seemed to be conflicted and have a dark and light side to who he was. He was still a drug dealer from Compton who invested his money to put the group together. He rapped about that life he came from. The song title “Still a Nigga” is scrolled around his eye; he was true to himself in his songs.
With Ren’s piece, I really settled into the graffiti look of the pieces. His name is swirled on his hat like smoke in a crystal ball. This one came together when I added the words and the red details at the end. My soundtrack for this piece included listening to “Final Frontier” from “Kizz My Black Azz” on repeat. Ren spoke his truth and had real authenticity. He was talking about who he was:
Ice Cube has his own flow: “Check Yo Self” flows down the side of his head like his hair. I played “Bop Gun” on repeat while I worked on the details of this piece, it’s one of my favorites. Ice Cube was central to NWA with his lyrics and his sound. He created “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was significant in establishing his identity. Friday expanded his influence.