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N.W.A.: A Nasty Jolt for the Top Pops

5 minute read
Jay Cocks

No time to chill. Here’s a representative lyric from Efil4zaggin, the latest album by the rap group N.W.A. (Niggers with Attitude): “This is the bitch that did the whole crew/ She did it so much we made bets on who the ho would love to go through . . ./ And she lets you videotape her/ And if you got a gang of niggers the bitch’ll let you rape her.”

Last week Efil4zaggin — “niggaz4life” backwards — was the best-selling pop album in America. It was at the very top of Billboard’s main chart — without benefit of a video on MTV, without the help of a hit single and, most amazingly, without getting much play on radio stations, most of which never received promotional copies. Efil4zaggin has sold so many copies (more than 1 million) in its three weeks of release that it has sailed to the No. 1 position. That means it’s the biggest thing in the music business at the moment.

That also means it could be a long, hot summer.

N.W.A. raps nasty and righteous, with real ghetto heat, and doesn’t give an inch. A couple of the new songs, such as Real Niggaz Don’t Die and Appetite for Destruction, can really stir things up: their fury is incendiary. Everything good about N.W.A. — and a lot that isn’t — is straight street: smarts, attitude, language, beat. Efil4zaggin is a rap mural of ghetto life, spray-painted with blood. It is for hard-case rappers, and it is no sell-out. N.W.A. got to the No. 1 spot by bearing down just as hard as it always has: its first album, Straight Outta Compton, which has sold 2 million copies, contained an off-the-cops cut called F— the Police that catered to the resentment and rage of anyone, white or black, who ever looked down the barrel of a police special.

But if street-seasoned bloods won’t be disappointed by Efil4zaggin, they may be surprised by the company they’re keeping. A major, and perhaps deciding, factor in the album’s startling success is the appeal it has for another crucial segment of the record-buying public: white middle-class teenage males. “T.B.W.A.s, that’s who’s buying N.W.A.’s album,” says Joel Abramson, manager of a Tower Records branch in Woodland Hills, Calif. “Teenage boys with attitude.” Woodland Hills is an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, 75 miles northwest of Compton, the black community where N.W.A. still hangs out. “These boys are looking for something to relate to, to rebel with,” says Abramson. “They’re rebels without a clue.”

They’ve got lots of company all across the country. At Tower stores nationwide, Efil4zaggin was the No. 2 seller for the week ending June 10; at Central South Music Sales, a Nashville-based distributorship, it was No. 1 for roughly the same period. Tom Myers of the Camelot Music shop in Springfield, Mo. — whose patrons tend to be suburban kids rather than ghetto gang members — says the similarly fast sales in his store “are very uncanny for a rap title.”

What’s up? M.C. Ren, one of the members of N.W.A., thinks he has the answer. “The record’s real. It’s the truth. White kids have been seeing so many negative images of blacks in the media for most of their lives. Now they have a chance to see something real. White kids got hip. What can you say?”

Say what? The fact is, Efil4zaggin is an entire open season for negative stereotyping. That’s the classic rap posture, black male division, of course: turning the comic-book white fantasy of the black male as a murderous sexual stud into a hyperbolic reality. Rappers like N.W.A. and Public Enemy want to scare the living hell out of white America — and sell it a whole mess of records — by making its worst racial nightmares come true.

This makes for some interesting distinctions in the group’s audience. Timothy White, editor of Billboard, thinks N.W.A.’s attraction for white male teens is “danger at a safe distance.” Jon Shecter, the Harvard-educated editor of The Source, a monthly journal of hip-hop culture, points out that although “it’s a cool status symbol among white kids to like and identify with N.W.A., most of the black community doesn’t like them. There’s a lot of positive, intelligent rap out there, and N.W.A. is negative to the extreme.”

Women, even more than cops, take the brunt of the abuse on the album. Listening to a continual obscene litany about bitches, hos, and the things they want or are willing to do with the group’s sex organs is an exercise in brutalization. It doesn’t make N.W.A. seem baaad, it makes them look awful. M.C. Ren doesn’t see it that way, natch. “Ever since we did Just Don’t Bite It ((on the EP 100 Miles and Runnin’)), girls tell me how much they like it,” he says. “They like She Swallowed It a lot. The only people who think our stuff is bad are the people who don’t listen to it.”

Not quite. Over in England, where authorities are mulling a ban on the new album, Sinead O’Connor has backed off her previous vigorous support of the group. She told the New Musical Express that N.W.A.’s “attitudes have become increasingly dangerous. The way they deal with women in their songs is pathetic.”

N.W.A. has serious stuff to say, but they are stifled by their ravening sexism. No excuse cuts it, no rationalization holds. Until that attitude changes, “the world’s most dangerous group,” as it bills itself on Efil4zaggin, will be a threat above all to itself.

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