Words by Paul Meara (@PaulMeara)
In the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton there’s a scene toward the end where Eazy-E walks into a nightclub. Upon entry, everyone’s vibing to Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear,” a clear sign the Ruthless Records headman was on the opposite side of the country in a place just beginning to accept what he had started nearly a half decade prior.
When the then estranged member of Niggas With Attitude gets to the back of the club he confronts Ice Cube and a moment of tension ensues. The two–surrounded by security–eye each other down waiting for the other to give in and admit their wrongdoing. Both E and Cube contributed to the break up of the group that made them famous so as each let their guard down they began to reconcile and talk about the future.
Biopics have the tough task of walking the line between piquing the interest of a general audience and portraying what actually happened. They also have to cast characters who look and sound like the real deal as those with either inside or outside knowledge of the real life plot will be the first to dismiss anything they’ve heard or experienced to the contrary.
Just weeks after Straight Outta Compton’s release those who’ve had a chance to watch and re-watch the movie in theaters (and on bootleg) have come to the general consensus that–for what was shown–was mostly accurate. Some have come out, including Eazy-E’s son and daughter, and criticized certain elements of the movie, particularly the likeness of their father during the last weeks of his life and subsequent death.
It is true that Eazy and Ice Cube made up that night but the story, told by some of those who were there, is a little deeper than that. According to Krayzie Bone, who along with other members of B.O.N.E. and longtime manager Steve Lobel were at The Tunnel with Eazy, the story of that night in 1995 began before they got to the legendary New York nightclub.
“Before we went out Eazy had gone and bought us all leather jackets,” Krayzie recalled. “Eazy had one but when he came out the hotel room and went out to the club he ain’t have nothing on but a sweatshirt. We told him like, ‘Man, you going to freeze to death out here.’ Plus his jerry curl was wet. We were like, ‘Man you’re going to catch pneumonia.’ We’re from Cleveland. We know about having jerry curls in the wintertime. You got to cover your shit up.”
“It was cold I remember, it was freezing and Eazy wanted to walk back to the hotel,” Steve Lobel said when asked about that night. “He had two Samoan bodyguards, which were called The Twins and all he had on was a flannel Pendleton jacket.”
The lack of clothing is both strange and significant. It’s always brought up by those who were around Eazy E that night and it’s odd given the fact that E is a California native and always used to warm weather. Once Eazy-E and his recently signed Cleveland quintet entered The Tunnel’s doors, nostalgia of the ‘90s began to show itself.
“We walked inside and once we got into the crowd I noticed that someone was tugging on my hood and I turned around and it was LL Cool J and he was like, ‘Yeah, I see y’all. I love your music. Keep doing what y’all doing.’” Krayzie Bone described and then continued remembering the Straight Outta Compton scene and contemplating its accuracy.
“Walking to the back of the club, we spotted [Ice] Cube,” he said. “The thing that I didn’t really see and I don’t know if I turned my head or not but when they saw each other it wasn’t like how it was portrayed in the movie of how they stood up for a minute and it was like a standoff. As soon as they saw each other it was all smiles and love. They sat down and actually chopped it up the entire time. [B.O.N.E.] sat at another table but they chopped it up the entire time.”
— Ice Cube (@icecube) October 24, 2013
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who saw little representation in Straight Outta Compton, were in New York at the time for their first ever press run in the city. They had seen success from Creepin On Ah Comeup and were working on their debut LP under Ruthless. It was perhaps that night though that future collaborations and a general warming to the New York gatekeepers that helped B.O.N.E. the most. It was also the night that members of the quartet met Notorious B.I.G. and laid the foundation for their landmark collaboration, “Notorious Thugs.”
“The first time I met B.O.N.E. was when [Eazy] brought them to New York to meet the label and to do press and to get to know everybody at the company and so that night they wanted to go out,” Steve Lobel recalled. “We ran into Biggie, we ran into LL Cool J, we ran into Ice Cube.” Reflecting on Ice Cube’s appearance that night Lobel continued, “I didn’t know what was going to happen because Eazy had beef with Cube back then so everything at the end of the day was cool.”
“I remember Eazy saying that he hadn’t seen them since everything happened,” Krayzie remembered. “That was our first time seeing Ice Cube. We were hype and couldn’t believe it. We were in the big leagues now. We were rubbing elbows with celebrities and they know us.”
B.O.N.E. would then leave New York and head back to Cleveland to finish up their album. They would have limited interaction with Eazy-E after that and according to Krayzie they believe it’s unlikely Eazy ever listened to their debut LP. It is confirmed that he received the demo of the project while in the hospital as depicted in Straight Outta Compton.
“Honestly, if I was in his situation and going through what he was going through, I would’ve been like, ‘Fuck this goddamn album,” he explained. “This is the last thing I’m thinking about in my life. I’m about to die right now.’ If it was up to me I wouldn’t be listening to that shit because I would have so much other shit on my mind. I have to do all this rushed legal shit, leave stuff to people you really don’t want to leave it to. I really doubt he got a chance to listen to that album. If I would’ve listened to it and I was him it would’ve made me even more down in the dumps.
“He actually heard some of the songs that was on there because he was in some of the studio sessions with us recording the album so he heard songs like ‘Mr. Bill Collector’ and ‘East 1999.’ I think he heard the original ‘Crossroads.’ He was actually supposed to get on a song that we released later on the greatest hits of BTNH called ‘Sleepwalker’ and that song was actually supposed to be on our album featuring him.”
B.O.N.E. were also first hand witnesses to Eazy-E’s separation from longtime business partner Jerry Heller. They not only witnessed Eazy’s distress when learning about what Heller had reportedly done to his business but also saw the behind-the-scenes Ruthless operator during the aftermath of his departure.
“It’s crazy because we were there when Jerry Heller was fired,” Krayzie claims. “Eazy met us up at the hotel and we couldn’t get in contact with him for like weeks. We didn’t have no money, we were like starving and nobody would call us back and tell us anything so we finally got a hold of him and were like, ‘Yo bro, we need to meet. Can you get us out here? We’re literally starving with no food. Is it going to be like this?’ He was like, ‘I’m about to pick y’all up in a minute. I need to talk to y’all, it’s really important.’ He came and scooped us all up, took us back to his office and I remember we were standing in the parking lot. That same folder that had the proof that Jerry Heller had been fucking up the company, the same one in the movie. He pulled that folder out to us and showed us everything that Jerry had been doing. He was like, ‘Look, these motherfuckers have been robbing me. I should’ve listened to what my niggas were trying to tell me but I trusted this dude. This nigga fucked me, made me lose my group. All I’m asking y’all niggas to do is stay down and ride with me because I’m changing the face of Ruthless Records and I want y’all to be a major part of it.’ We was like, ‘That’s all you had to say! You don’t have to say nothing else, we ridin.’’
“A couple days after that, we went up to the office and Keisha Anderson–the one who got Eazy to call us back–she told us to wait there,” he continued. “We went to pick up some money ‘cause Eazy told us to come up the next day to get the money so we’d be cool. We go up there, she’s like, ‘Jerry just got fired and he’s pissed off.’ We can hear him in the office throwing shit around the office just breaking shit. He was saying, ‘I don’t know how he thinks he can do this to me. I started this!’ [He was] just flipping. We just got the money and then we bounced. After getting that last little bit of money, we didn’t hear nothing else from E again. Next thing you know. We’re done with the album and we get a call from Ruthless Records to come up to the office. We go up to the office thinking we’re going to see Eazy-E but it’s some dude named Ron Queen up in the fucking office. They showed him in the movie too. He up in the office like, ‘I got these advance checks for the album for y’all.’ They were $75,000 a piece. I noticed that’s the same thing they tried to give Ice Cube in the movie. I guess that was the standard amount for advances at the time. After that that’s when we headed back home. We wasn’t home even a month before we heard [Eazy-E had AIDS]. It was crazy.”
Even Bone Thugs-N-Harmony had little forewarning to Eazy-E’s death. They found out about Eazy’s dire medical situation when everyone else did, on television.
“My ex-wife is from L.A. and we had moved back to Cleveland at that time, she had gotten a call from one of her friends asking her, ‘Have you heard something about Eazy E having AIDS?’ And she asked me and I was like, ‘Hell naw. People always be saying shit.’ My wife was like, ‘Yeah, it’s probably just a rumor,’ but then a couple days later we saw that shit on T.V. I’m like, ‘Damn, that shit’s true?’ And then a week after that, he was dead.’”
It’s been 20 years since Eazy-E passed away. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony went on to sell 10 million copies of E. 1999 Eternal worldwide. They also received a Grammy Award for “Crossroads,” a song fittingly created as a tribute to those who had passed recently. Had Ruthless not fizzled out, B.O.N.E.’s career may have turned out differently for better or worse.
“Everybody in the group probably has a different opinion of Eazy but, he put them on, gave them a shot,” Lobel explained. “He believed in them when nobody else did ‘cause a lot of people they were reaching out to didn’t take them seriously. I don’t know what was in his mind. I’m sure he’s happy. I’m sure he’s looking down right now like, ‘I told you motherfuckers that B.O.N.E. was going to blow up.’”
Photos via Chi Modu, screen grabs from Straight Outta Compton