Most of them can be found in new book Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap – which offers an impressive and exhaustive look inside the real world of the pioneering group that brought gangsta rap to the masses.
Here, author Ben Westhoff discusses five pieces of the band’s history that you didn’t see in the film.
N.W.A. were really into Prince
They’re known to millions as the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous Group” but in Original Gangstas, Westhoff reveals that before they defined the genre of gangsta rap with their blockbuster album Straight Outta Compton in 1988, the band members were big fans of Prince. “In the mid-80s Prince was the biggest thing, and some of the members dressed up like him,” Westhoff says. “Dr Dre wore these sequined outfits, make-up even.”
Dre and DJ Yella of N.W.A were originally in a rap and electro group called World Class Wreckin’ Cru, which was only briefly depicted in the movie. In the book, Westhoff also reveals Ice Cube’s first rap name was Purple Ice, paying homage to both Ice-T and Prince.
Their manager Jerry Heller may not have been as bad as you think
The movie certainly portrayed N.W.A.’s music manager Jerry Heller in a less than favorable light. Heller – who died of a heart attack on Sept. 2 – had initiated a defamation lawsuit against producers of the film. Played as the bad guy by Paul Giamatti in the movie, a Los Angeles Judge said in June that there was nothing on record to suggest that Heller was an “exploitative record label manager who attempted to take advantage of an unsophisticated artist by discouraging him from retaining an attorney during contract negotiations,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Westhoff agrees: “There’s no evidence that he really cheated anyone. There’s a lot of people I talk to in the book that say without Jerry Heller, N.W.A. might never have gotten popular. You do have to give him credit as well.”
The truth behind the Detroit “arrest”
The movie depicts the band standing up to cops during their infamous 1989 concert in Detroit and later getting arrested after they finally performed “F— tha Police” live – but Original Gangstas describes a different scene.
Westhoff writes that N.W.A’s camp had promised Detroit police they would not perform the song, but after getting encouragement from the crowd who were chanting the lyrics, the band relented. Undercover police then began trying to shut down the show but according to Ice Cube, authorities only talked to the band back at their hotel. While the band didn’t get taken away by police like they do in the movie, 18 concertgoers were arrested outside the venue and charged with misdemeanors, according to the book.
The pop acts that helped boost N.W.A.
There were female pop acts signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records label that helped propel N.W.A., but that aspect of their trajectory to fame did not feature in the film. Particularly girl group J.J. Fad (their name, an acronym of original group members’ given names Juana, Juanita, Fatima, Anna, and Dania) whose track “Supersonic” was one of the label’s biggest hits before N.W.A. found success.
Dr. Dre’s former girlfriend Michel’le – who was recently the subject of a Lifetime movie Surviving Compton, and gets barely a mention in the movie – was also a big star in her own right and enjoyed a number of Billboard hits.
Westhoff says: “Both of those female acts helped launch the label and without them, N.W.A. might not have been able to get much traction. That was completely left out of the movie.”
Tairrie B. – the first white female rapper signed to a major label
Another significant artist signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records label was rapper Tairrie B. who was not portrayed in the band’s biopic. Tairrie was the first white female rapper signed to a major record deal. In Westhoff’s book he reveals how a then 24-year-old Tairrie met Jerry Heller backstage at a N.W.A show in Anaheim in 1989 and invited her to audition for Eazy-E, who signed her on the spot.
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After clashing with Dr. Dre, who was slated to produce her first record, Tairrie eventually collaborated with a variety of different producers including Schoolly D, Bilal Bashir and Quincy Jones III.
The book also details how Dre allegedly punched Tairrie twice in the face at a Grammys after-party in 1990 after she recorded a track that insulted him. In a statement to The New York Times Dre later apologized “to the women I’ve hurt” after they interviewed Tairrie and two other women who recalled stories of being physically abused by him. All of which did not feature in the movie.
After a 25 year hiatus from rap – during which time Tairrie fronted several heavy metal bands including her most famous, My Ruin, with husband Mick Murphy – she released a new rap record last year, titled Vintage Curses.
Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap by Ben Westhoff is available to buy now.