In every music genre there’s moments of significant loss. Rock N Roll has “The Day Music Died”, February 3, 1959, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash.
There’s the losses of Jimi Hendrix & Janis Joplin in my mother’s generation in the fall of 1970.
And for hip hop there are several, the very first loss is when Scott LaRock was killed from Boogie Down Productions (BDP) in August 1987.
Of course there were the untimely deaths of Tupac Shakur & Notorious BIG in 1996 and 1997 respectively.
But March 26, 2015 marks 20 years since N.W.A. founding member Eric “Easy E” Wright died of “complications from AIDS..
For those of us of a certain age that resonates, not just because of who but how. I was a freshman at DePaul University when this happened, just coming off of spring break.
Remember those of us approaching 40 years old now were children during the AIDS crisis of the early 1980’s and we are children of the hip hop generation which also came of age in the 1980’s and really broke through in the late 1980’s.
And the godfather of west coast gangsta rap was Eazy E.
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I remember that cover of Source Magazine the next month with his picture and birth and death years and how sobering that was. Easy E was someone so much bigger than life, who had even reinvented himself and was just back out with new hip hop stars Bone Thugs in Harmony and now he was gone.
I was a cocky 19 year old college freshman, deeply entrenched in hip hop culture, the music, clothes, I didn’t miss a beat back then. On Friday afternoons my classmates and I would watch rap videos and all we ever talked about and listened to was hip hop. We made weekly trips up to the old Tower records on Clark & Belden checking out what was new in hip hop music.
And now one of the most important people in our hip hop world was gone.
It didn’t seem real, I know “coming of age” sounds clichéd but it’s true. I mean we thought we were invincible and our hip hop heroes were too.
Just the previous summer when school started we were introduced to Bone Thugs In Harmony by a classmate and we played them constantly, it was definitely the “next level” in hip hop and just like in the previous decade when it came to hard core hip hop, Easy E led the way.
Easy had a great flow, had blown up with N.W.A. went through an acrimonious split with the members, struck out on his own, got a new group of young bucks and started all over again.
I think the hardest thing about Easy’s death is he was just starting his next chapter and as long as there was hard core hip hop, from its infancy on the west coast to its nationwide explosion, Easy was one of the faces of the music.
He seemed like “one of us”, was against the establishment, wore all black, spoke in four letter words, he was great. His music rebellion with N.W.A. was off the charts and unheard of and played right into our ears.
I sat back today with a co-worker and all we could say was 20 years…., for those of us who grew up with hip hop, this was our first major loss. The first reminder that the even the hard core hip hop movement was fragile and our heroes were human. They made mistakes, they were mortal, sometimes unmoral and then they could die.
Like I said it was sobering and 20 years later, we still want Easy.
Filed under: African American History