MC Eiht: The HipHopGods Interview
MC Eiht: The HipHopGods Interview
West Coast O.G. MC Eiht released his magnum opus, “Streiht Up Menace,” in 1993, a time when the lyricists behind the music actually lived the life they rapped about. Born in Augusta, Georgia, Eiht was raised in Compton, California, where he rubbed shoulders with pioneers of the genre, including Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre as part of his four-man crew, Compton’s Most Wanted. “Streiht Up Menace” was featured on the soundtrack for the cult classic film, Menace II Society, which catapulted him on to a path to a lucrative solo career. Fast-forward to 2017 and he’s wrapping up a new album with famed producer DJ Premier, working on two videos and still doing shows. As Eiht was preparing to shoot the first video from the project, he had some time to discuss originally meeting Preemo, Compton’s Most Wanted and keeping it real.
HipHopGods (Kyle Eustice): What do you have going on right now?
MC Eiht: I just done finishing up an album with DJ Premier. As we speak, we’re getting ready to shoot two new videos. He flew out here to shoot one with WC...I’m trying to get everything ready for the new album.
What’s it like working with Premier?
It’s pretty laid back. I’ve known him for over 20 years and we’ve worked together often, so just being in the studio and just vibing out, chillin, kicking it at home - it’s whatever the case may be with me and Premier. Like I said, we go back so far. It’s a mutual friendship outside of just doing business together, so the atmosphere is pretty good.
With him being based on the East Coast and you on the West Coast, how did you initially link up?
When I first started in my career. I was doing a lot of stuff on the East Coast. Basically, the label we were signed through, Capitol/EMI, was based out of New York, so a lot of my first stuff was going to New York, doing promo tours, meeting up with the label, signing contracts - whatever. A lot of my earlier promo tours was when labels used to send artists out on the road - one stops or whatever. I used to cross paths with Premier a lot. One of my first big shows in Los Angeles was with him and Guru. It was Compton’s Most Wanted, Low Profile and Gang Starr. I met him then and we just stayed in touch. We would do concerts together on the road a lot and then when I would do remixes for the record, I would always suggest him. Since he was based on the East Coast and Sony/Epic being based on the East Coast, they would always get at him for remixes I would do on Compton’s Most Wanted. Over the years, we just built a friendship.
He seems to really keep his ear close to the street on what’s happening with current music as well. He just did that Desiigner remix of “Timmy Turner.” Did you hear that?
Definitely. I mean, Premier - he’s an old school head like me, but like you said, he’s a world-renowned DJ first and a producer, so with that being said, you gotta have your ear to what’s new and what’s fresh, but then you always have to keep that familiar sound that people grew up to you on. That’s one thing that’s good about his knowledge and his approval of wanting to do a project because you know, Premier is one of those people I can consider up there with Dre and whoever else is a world-renowned producer. For him to take the time out to want to work with me and put a project together, you just have to respect that. With his ear and with the sound being different nowadays, and with him coming from the old school, it was just a pleasure for him to want to get down with me, and saying the stuff we was doing was a fresh sound to him for what was going on right now.
That’s one thing I’ve heard about you and what I respect about you is you haven’t wavered far from your original flavor and sound. You’ve kept it real. I feel like some artists feel this pressure to switch up their style to match the current trend but you haven’t done that.
A lot of people feel threatened by the change in the times. A lot of old school cats try to adapt to try to stay relevant, but they forget about the people who were brought up on their music. It’s irrelevant to try to step in somebody else's lane or whatever. A lot of the old school cats may be feeling the tightening of their pocketbook or feeling that the next guy they’re not getting as much fame or recognition, so they want to step in a young man’s game or whatever. You can maintain your fan base or whoever you came up with you, you just gotta stay true to your music and to yourself. That’s what I’ve always maintained. Music is going to take the roller coaster ride. It’s going to go here and it’s going to go there, but can you hold on tight and buckle down when it’s your time for it not to be on your side. It’s going to come back, but you can’t lose the loyal fans that have been buying your records for years and switch up your sound.
People wonder what happened?
Then you going to lose the people that supported you in the first place and the new ones ain’t going to buy it anyways, so now you double lose.
Why do you suppose “Streiht Up Menace” was kind of your magnum opus in a way?
I think at the time, dealing with what we were dealing with as far as music, the streets and what-have-you in the rap community, everybody was focused on the gang problems and the poverty and all that. It just hit home at a time to where people felt it resonated good with them. Then they came along with the movie [Menace II Society] and I acted in it. It was like a triple play.
Colors and Menace II Society were some of my favorite movies in high school. Looking back, how does it feel to be a part of such a cult classic? What was that time period like?
It was different for me.
Was that the first time you acted?
Yeah that was the first time I acted in a movie. It was something fresh and new that rappers were getting into. Boyz-N-The Hood, South Central and Colors - that was something that was new for us. Somebody thought of me to give me a chance in the movie. I played a significant role in terms of the character they were looking for.
Who put you in the movie?
The Hughes Brothers put me in the movie. You never expected it. They called, but at the time, I was fresh with records and Compton’s Most Wanted. They just wanted to see how I’d do. Did I think I would get the part? No, not really. At the time, I was just the record guy. I wasn’t beyond that. I was just a young dude from Compton who had a couple of records out. That was it.
Have you ever heard Ice T’s story about how he got into New Jack City?
No, I never heard the story.
He was in a Los Angeles club and in the bathroom, talking shit, as he said. He said something like, ‘If you can find one molecule in my body that gives a fuck,” and from the stall, someone said, ‘Whoever just said that, I want them in my movie,’ and it was the director Mario Van Peebles.
That’s crazy [laughs].
Did you do any other acting after that?
I done a part in Mack 10’s movie, Thicker Than Water. I had another little role in Freeway Brick’s story and I did another movie called Reasons with Bernie Mac, but it never came out.
I enjoyed seeing you, Chuck D, Ice T in Hip Hop Revolution, especially since everyone thought rap wouldn’t last. Ice Cube told me he never thought they’d end up on the radio.
We made music not for radio recognition, but a lot of us were doing music just to be getting out what we were going through in our neighborhoods. We looked at it like we would sell a few records on the West Coast about who was gang banging and that’s what we look at it as. Did kats think they would sell millions of records, go on worldwide tours and start a trend? I don’t think we ever looked at it like that. I think we looked at it like we some gang bangin' dudes from Compton and I’m fittin' to make a rap about what happened last night - we got jacked, we got shot at, we shot back - you know, so it was basically for our masses of people that we knew - the homies in the jail, the homies on the corner - that’s who we were making music for. There was corners, projects and all that worldwide so people just gravitated towards it.
Well, even for kids like me, who grew up more sheltered that what you’ve described, albums like The Chronic made an impact. It was profound at the time.
The Chronic was a game changer and introduced me to G-funk.
It was pretty significant for everybody when it first came out.
Did you want to escape the life you described in your music?
Basically, when I first started, it was just me trying to follow the trend of some of the local heroes we had. Everybody heard Run-DMC or whatever, but coming from where we were coming from, we didn’t speak about that. We had local guys like Toddy Tee, Mixmaster Spade, and dudes like that who would make just cassette tapes. Just like the mixtapes today, they would rap off what was the popular instrumentals at the time. Basically, they would rap about what was going on in our neighborhoods. Toddy Tee would rap about what was going on in our neighborhood, police chief, batterrams, you know - dope heads and all that. He would sell the tapes out of his trunk the same way Too Short got started. That was music for us. When I started making records, it was basically just to be that next local hero. I’m fittin’ to rap about my neighborhood, about the big homie who was selling dope, about the homie who got killed, about the homie who got jacked and went to prison for 10 years. I’m fittin’ to represent my hood on that level. It wasn’t like I was figuring to be the next platinum rapper ‘cuz I couldn’t even tell you back then what platinum or gold was. I was just making tapes because I wanted motherfuckers to know about my neighborhood and the n----s I hung out with. That’s how I started rapping.
Where specifically did you grow up?
I grew up on the Eastside of Compton.
What was a day in the life like back then?
Shit, maybe ditching school, getting on the bus and going to the neighborhood and hanging out with the homies all day, drinking, standing in the alley, walking around the neighborhood, drinking 40 ounces. Then at 4 p.m, I would get on the bus and go back home. That’s what my day consisted of when I got out of the ‘I’m going to school every day, good kid era.’
When did that happen? 14, right?
Yeah. It just happens like that. It’s not like a code that’s written, but when you grow up where I grew up, and you hang around dudes in the hood, and they noticing you and you noticing them, you’re becoming one of them. Your thoughts go to, ‘Fuck going to school to get A’s and B’s, I’m going to the neighborhood to hang with the homies B and C.’ That’s how we basically did it. It wasn’t about trying to catch fame or whatever, it was just about hanging out, gang banging, claiming your neighborhood and that’s it. We didn’t have dreams further than that other than I want to be big the biggest drug dealer, have fancy lowriders and shit like that. There was no further dreams beyond that for a lot of dudes. That’s why our music stuck to drug dealing, shootouts, going to jail, and gang banging - there was no further look past that.
Now that you don’t have to rely on that stuff to survive, do you feel pride?
I’ll take the words from when I watched Denzel Washington on ESPN last night. He said some shit I've been saying for years. ‘I’m a normal dude. I just happen to have a glamorous fucking job.’ You get me? I’m a normal motherfucker, but I just happen to have a glamorous job where I can set my own hours, travel, meet a gang of motherfuckers, and I can make music and records. That’s what I do, but I’m a normal n---a who grew up in Compton in a single family household with my mom, brother and sister. We wasn’t fancy. We wasn’t in no two story. We were middle class people…middle class that sometimes turn into low class. That’s what it was for me. There were no dreams outside of that, now to look up today, I’m just a normal dude with a good job. Period. My job enables me to go different places, get a few perks and entertain some people.
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