There are fewer things more West Coast than when you put the needle to the wax on MC Eiht’s “All For The Money.” As soon as the sped-up sample of Tyrone Davis’ “In The Mood” kicks off the classic Compton cut, it’s nothing but smile-inducing for any fan of early ‘90s Gangsta rap and ‘70s Funk.
“Jeah,” Eiht utters in one of the smoothest renditions of his infamous ad-lib. “Now that’s some of that real gangsta shit / Comin’ from an original n***a from the Compton streets,” he subsequently raps.
Nearly 25 years and a myriad of albums later, not much has changed for the emcee also known as Tony Smallz. He’s still got that rugged CPT street hustler’s voice, the smooth stuttering flow, and rhymes that’ll make you think you’re the victim of a stick-up in ‘91, yet don’t sound a day dated.
MC Eiht released his latest album Which Way Iz West in early June and on it, fans get a taste of that classic West Coast vibe with a little bit of a twist. The legendary emcee enlisted the production services of DJ Premier, which at first glance may make some scratch their heads. Has Eiht gone New York on us?
Nah, B. Premo went full G-Funk. You can hear it on the project’s first two singles, handled by the Brooklyn deejay and SP1200 master. It’s particularly poignant on “Represent Like This,” where at around the 50-second mark you can hear that classic synthesizer begin to peek its head out. There’s also a video for it, where one can match the refreshing tough guy beat with scenes of Eiht and Westside Connection’s WC C-walking in some fresh Chuck Taylors (of course).
It all fits perfectly into what MC Eiht is trying to do. UGHH recently spoke with the Compton rap pioneer and conversed about his latest work, his beginnings in hip-hop, and even his friendships with other West Coast legends like Spice 1, Tupac, and The Outlawz.
Which Way Iz West will be your 13th solo-ish studio album release. How did this one all come together, and what were you trying to accomplish on it?
Basically, I was just doing tracks trying to get back into the state of hip-hop at the time. The state of hip-hop, in my opinion, wasn’t doing so well as far as the West Coast was concerned. I know we had people like The Game and Kendrick [Lamar] who was representing Compton and all, but I just felt like we weren’t being represented like we usually were as far as the music is concerned or people wasn’t interested or the fans or whatever.
I just basically went back to the drawing table and started listening to raps from my days and what sustained us and created the foundation of West Coast music. That kind of gave me the title too.
DJ Premier handled some of the production on this. Ironically, I saw the both of you perform together at SXSW back in 2013, which was a really ill show. What’s your working and personal relationships like with him, and why did you enlist him on this LP?
I’ve been knowing Premier since my career started, so we’ve always kept in touch and been good friends. He worked on a few of my things when I worked at Sony. I did a couple of remixes with a couple of his artists. He had called me to do the Blaq Poet remix, and from there we just reconnected. He asked me what I had been doing lately. I told him I was just in the studio messing around and wasn’t really geared up for anything, so he told me to just start sending him music so he could hear what I was doing. I started sending him tracks and he liked it so he was like, “Let’s just do a project.”
I saw the video for “Represent Like This,” and it definitely took me back to some older gangsta shit. Do you hope younger fans and emcees listen to this and do you feel it’s a good representation of that ‘90s gangsta shit?
With trying to create that sound and meeting with my producer Brenk Sinatra, he came to me with music geared toward what we used to do in the yesterdays. My focus was to try to bring his sound, mix it with Premier—and then since the younger generation were just figuring out MC Eiht because of the Kendrick Lamar success with “M.A.A.D. City” and Menace II Society being broadcast every other day on cable channels, I felt that was a good way to reconnect with the younger audience.
This is your first project since Keep It Hood, which was released four years ago. How have you and your music changed since then?
I just think being able to construct a project on my own time and on my own pace I would need to dive into the project and make it as good as possible without just dropping material just to be relevant. I think that I really sat down and concentrated on what the subject matter was, what I wanted to speak on, and I had time to choose particular music I wanted to fit the project. I think just having the time to grow over the years wrapped in hip-hop…it enabled me to concentrate on making a better project and discipline myself on subjects I wanted to talk about and just not be too simple.
You mentioned Kendrick. Do you feel that guys like him, YG and Nipsey Hussle are bringing back more pride to the Compton/L.A. hip-hop scene in coordination with guys like yourself?
It gives us a better look to try to keep hip-hop and music going as far as Compton is concerned. The stable of artists we’ve had have always been able to be relevant. I think guys like Kendrick coming along, The Game, YG—they’re able to keep the foundation of what we started back in the days and then [to be] able to reach out to cats like myself to get on projects…it just shows the respect of them wanting to keep the Compton foundation of hip-hop going.
I feel great about young cats that represent Compton—who can represent Compton—in the sense of what we were doing.
The first track “Shut Em Down” on this album features The Outlawz. I know you did a lot of touring with Tupac and them back in the days. What has your relationship been like since meeting them back then and have you remained close over the years?
I try to stay close and sustain lifelong friendships with cats in the music business because it was something [that] people didn’t think it would last this long. Anybody I got down with or toured with or whatever back in the days, I just tried to keep all relationships cemented. It’s just a respect I have for them as artists and vice verse. You never know when you might need a favor or a beat or a verse whatever. Just having that relationship with cats like that over the years while on the road with them enables you to have that connection with dudes.
Did you meet them before meeting Tupac or was it the other way around?
I met Tupac first ‘cause I was doing the Menace II Society movie and also I had done a couple of shows with Pac. I knew Pac before I knew them but we had grew close, too.
With Pac, what was one of the most profound things he ever told you?
He used to tell me back when he was in jail that he used to listen to my records and that I was always one cat that never tried to switch up to conform to what was going on. It was just a thing for him to tell me to just stay true to who you are as far as MC Eiht and where you come from. You represent music. If you can do that, you’ll always have longevity and be able to sustain that. One of my main goals was just to try to stay humble and do what I do and not try to get out of pocket into nobody else’s lane just to
Taking you back even further than that—from the beginning—how did Compton’s Most Wanted come together and how did you all meet?
Well basically, me and [Tha Chill] knew each other since junior high school, so with that, Chill used to beatbox and I used to rap. We kind of created Compton’s Most Wanted with each other because we also used to bang from the same neighborhood. We was already connected like that, so we just started off like that and so Chill used to live across the street from [MC] Ren.
Ren’s people were dating this dude who was trying to be a singer, so from there [he] had us meeting with Lonzo [Williams] and DJ Slip. That’s how we ran across DJ Slip. That’s how we basically founded Compton’s Most Wanted. [We knew] each other from childhood. Then in the early days working in the studio day and night, not knowing what hit records was. We was just making tapes: me, Chill and Slip and [DJ Mike T] and Boom [Bam]. That’s how we formed.
This might be a weird question, but when you all started to rap, was it always going to have that gangsta element? You guys were from before the N.W.A.-era, where it was more electronic-based so you could really go any way musically at the time.
Yeah [L.A.’s] music was, like you said, technotronic, electric—Uncle Jamm’s Army, Egyptian Lover—that type of stuff. That’s what we were on and [Eazy-E] basically opened that door. We were banging and we were seeing the crack sales and shootouts and all that was going on in the neighborhood everyday, but we never even envisioned doing records and talking about it.
We used to have a homie that would make TDK tapes and sell them throughout the neighborhood. They would be rapping over Whodini beats or whoever beat and they would be talking about the neighborhood—“Lil Loc got jacked last night when a battering ram came through and pushed down the dope house” or “The homies got shot at.” From there, that’s where the street music started forming for Compton. Dudes like Toddy Tee, Mixmaster Ken, Mixmaster Spade—those type of dudes were selling tapes out they trunk like Too $hort did. That’s basically how Compton rap started forming.
How big was it for you to see Eazy go from being a semi-big time drug dealer to someone who turned those experiences into music and eventually getting paid for it?
Yeah, just to be able to see him get on and see all the success he had basically made us go, “Maybe this can work for us, too. Maybe our music and what we’re talking about, too can get out there.” Eazy had opened the door for cats like us to be able to put our music out there. We never envisioned being as big or trying to outdo. We just kind of figured that if Eazy and N.W.A. could do it then we should be able to do it too, especially since we were coming to it from a different side, different angle as far as Compton’s Most Wanted is concerned. Just because of the success of Eazy and N.W.A., it just opened up a lot of channels for other rappers to be able to succeed also.
“The Murda Show” is one of my favorite collaboration tracks you’ve ever done. How did you and Spice 1 come together, because in that era a lot of people considered your content and sonic lane pretty inseparable?
[We met] from doing Menace II Society. Jive had the soundtrack rights, so when it was time to do the song—they were putting together the soundtrack—I did [“Streiht Up Menace”], he did [“N***a Gots No Heart”]. From there—and producing the song and being in the movie—Jive just came to me and asked me to produce a song. I said “Okay,” and from there I flew to Oakland, and that’s where we created “The Murda Show.” That was the first time I met Spice when I flew out up to Oakland. Everything was cool and copacetic, so from there we’ve been cool for all this time and we’ve had a relationship in the music business.
I’m an Ohio native and usually when I interview West Coast legends I ask about G-Funk influence. A lot of what Dre and DJ Quik, etc. sampled was a lot of Ohio Funk and Soul—whether that be the Isley Brothers, Bootsy Collins, Roger Troutman, The Ohio Players… Samples from those artists appear on your first couple of albums, and I just want to know if they were personally big influences for you even before getting into rap.
Basically it was the music [that] cats played. My parents played Isaac Hayes, The O’Jays, and all the stuff like that, so I was just growing up in the household listening to that music. I was able to go outside and see the cats on the block with their low-riders and cars. That was the music they played—stuff like The Dramatics, The Isley Brothers, The Meters, that type of stuff.
That’s where the direction of music came for us, and when it was time for me to start doing records. I would always suggest those type of records because those were the records I grew up on.
You’ve always had this flow that was way different than what has come out and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been a fan of your catalog. What made you want to do that kind of smooth and beat-following flow, especially early on in your career?
I just wanted people to be able to understand my delivery. That was one of my points when I starting in music: I wanted people to understand every point and where my raps were directed or designed to be slow, stutter-stepped so people could be able to focus on the lyrics instead of the music. That was my main thing because I wanted people to know what I was talking about for those who didn’t know where we was coming from as far as Compton, and didn’t know what the slang was. It was so they could figure out what we was talking about. Everything had to be slow and slow-grooved and melodic.