A Brief History of N.W.A. Collaborations Post-N.W.A.

If rediscovering 'Straight Outta Compton' this year left you wishing for more N.W.A., there’s good news: More is out there, if you put the mixtape together yourself.

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06 January 2016, 3:13pm

2015 was a banner year for N.W.A., the iconic rap group who thunderclapped their way out of Compton and into history with groundbreaking lyrics and a perilous sound during the late 80s. Over the summer, the story of group members Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren dominated the box office with the surprise success of the biopic Straight Outta Compton (out now in digital HD and on DVD January 19). And the recent announcement that N.W.A. will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016 further secures the group’s place in the annals of music history.

That place wasn’t guaranteed, given N.W.A.’s rocky history as a group full of falling outs and setbacks, which last August’s movie outlined: Ice Cube famously departs over financial disagreements towards the end of 1989, while Dr. Dre enlists Suge Knight to engineer his own exit two years later. The film concludes with Eazy-E’s death, and, despite years of rumors promising an official reunion, the world’s most dangerous group never recorded another album together.

Yet as we look forward to the group’s induction in Cleveland, it's important to remember that N.W.A. didn't entirely fade away once the movie credits rolled. The group has actually had a limited history in the years not covered in the big screen adaptation, including nearly an album's worth of collaborations that feature at least two former members, beginning with Dre and Cube’s “Natural Born Killaz” in 1994. If rediscovering Straight Outta Compton this year left you wishing for more, there’s good news: More is out there, if you put the mixtape together yourself.

Whether they are features, or actual tracks from an N.W.A member’s solo project, these cuts form a kind of mythical lost album, a rap equivalent to Ethan Hawke’s solo Beatles compilation in Boyhood. As they aren’t explored in Straight Outta Compton, here’s a brief history of the post-N.W.A. group member collaborations:

“Natural Born Killaz” (1994)

N.W.A. Members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube
Dre and Cube double down on the macabre in this contribution to the Murder Was the Case soundtrack. Originally intended for their aborted collaborative album, Heltah Skeltah, "Natural Born Killaz" finds the reunited N.W.A members unleashing a torrent of cartoonish lyrical violence. As their first collaboration since their late 80s split, the 1994 horrorcore reunion is a verbal one-up, nearly pushing both artists outside their respective comfort zones. Deep down, it’s a bonding exercise with Cube—moments before threatening Charles Manson—claiming “I’m down with Dre like AC is down with OJ!” Dated, but sweet.

“Tha Muthaphukkin Real” (1995)

N.W.A. Members: Eazy-E, MC Ren; produced by DJ Yella
“Tha Muthaphukkin Real” is bound by its throwback sound, with its references to N.W.A’s heyday, capturing Eazy just before the fall. MC Ren kicks things off with a reference to Niggaz4Life, later tipping a hat to Eazy Duz It. Of course, this song represents the last track Eazy-E worked on, the closest he ever came to an N.W.A. reunion. He would not live to see the group he formed grow to its now-mythic heights. He’s a legend, Joe Pesci at the end of Goodfellas. And yet, “Tha Muthaphukkin Real” absolutely fits as an extension of N.W.A’s legacy and nostalgia. Eazy boasts casually about his past, referencing the signature song “Gangsta, Gangsta.” He then describes poignantly what he wants on his tombstone (“he put Compton on that map”) and a sadly still-resonant comment on police brutality (“them the main muthafuckas that break the peace”). “Tha Muthaphukkin Real” is peak Eazy, a perfect encapsulation of why his scrappy persona made him so compelling.

“Game Over” (1997)

N.W.A. Members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube
“Game Over” limits to Cube to the chorus, instead handing the baton over to Dre in one of his most underrated verses. Released between Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath and 2001, the song’s quivering sound provides Dre with a strong platform, including a riveting back-and-forth with Scarface. “Game Over” is one of the most menacing post-N.W.A. tracks to feature multiple members of the group, a snapshot of Cube and Dre before they’d cemented their status as icons.

“Comin’ After You” (1998)

N.W.A. Members: MC Ren, Ice Cube
This song was the first post-N.W.A. collaboration between Ren and Cube, featured on Ren’s 1998 solo album Ruthless for Life. It’s also produced by DJ Bobcat, the only producer besides Dre to work with all of the group members, with credits on the likes of Death Certificate, and Str8 Off Tha Streetz Of Muthaphukkin Compton.

“Comin’ After You” shows Cube basking in the group’s influence, teasing fans’ hopes for a third album (“Motherfuckers wait they whole fuckin life and day / Hopin' that we can reunite N.W.A.”). He finishes: “We the largest, we the biggest, we the niggas with the attitudes / We longitude you latitude, have some gratitude / To the niggas that started this shit.”

“Chin Check” (1999)

N.W.A. Members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren
A gunshot proclaims the return of the long dormant rap act. It’s an apt beginning, particularly as the first song Dre, Cube and Ren recorded together since Straight Outta Compton. (It’s also Cube’s first effort as a member of N.W.A. since his fallout with Jerry Heller.) Branding-wise, “Chin Check” is right down the freeway: “N N, dup dup, dup double u, a a, a a” removes any doubt who we’re listening to, followed by an awkward exchange between the original members and special guest Snoop Dogg. According to author Ronin Ro in Dr. Dre: The Biography, Snoop was selected at Dre’s behest as Eazy-E’s replacement, both for his commercial appeal in addition to thinking he’d add “that extra spice that needs to be there.” But Cube commands the stage with his reflexive first verse, remarking on his time with N.W.A. and the group’s legacy. He also honors the deceased Eazy while, less flatteringly, name-checking Jerry Heller. Co-produced by Mel-Man, “Chin Check” keeps with the then-popular 2001 sound, one reason why Dre eventually grew disenchanted with the track. Labelling “Chin Check” as a “test run,” Dre distanced himself from an official N.W.A. reunion, leaving fans with only fragments of what might have been.

These lines sum it up:
[Ice Cube] Let's get together, make a record, why the fuck not?
[MC Ren] Why the fuck not?
[Dr Dre] Why the fuck not?
“...The saga continues, with the world’s most dangerous group”

“Some LA Niggaz” (1999)

N.W.A Members: Dr. Dre, MC Ren
This is a borderline omission, given Dre doesn’t actually rap on the track. Instead, we travel with MC Ren to a crowded room featuring a host of Dre acolytes: Defari, Xzibit, Knoc-turn'al, Time Bomb, King T, and Kokane (who, it should be noted, was signed to Ruthless Records, co-writing "Appetite for Destruction" on N.W.A's Niggaz4life). And then Ren only does the intro. This 2001 track represents the sole appearance by an N.W.A. vet on Dre’s first two albums. It’s a tidy encapsulation of Dre associates (Likwit Crew) and his evolving sound, touching on three distinct periods: “Some LA Niggaz” bridges the gap between his N.W.A. days and the Chronic jam session, fused through his late 90s Aftermath sensibility.

“Hello” (2000)

N.W.A. Members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren
The last track during the brief recording reunion, “Hello” found an audience as the first single from Cube’s sixth studio album War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) before its inclusion alongside “Chin Check” as an N.W.A. Greatest Hits bonus track. Besides references to “Chin Check” and Niggaz4Life, “Hello” is notable for its fierce, revealing verse from Dre, who barks “I don’t need to make another album… I do it because I want to.” Now—15 years later, months removed from the release of Compton: A Soundtrack—it’s clear he meant it. Interestingly, the video for “Hello” recalls the N.W.A. video for “Alwayz Into Somethin’,” which (in addition to being the final Eazy-E-era single for the group) refers to Ice Cube as a “bitch” in the lyrics.

“Set It Off” (2000)

N.W.A. Members: Ice Cube, MC Ren
An ode to the West Coast with Cube once again carrying the chorus. Ren shines in the first verse with a diss to both Will Smith and Eazy-E’s widow, who’d been blamed for allowing Ruthless Records to collapse. “Set It Off” sees the first wave of Dre collaborators (Snoop Dogg, The Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg, Kurupt) meeting his initial partners-in-crime. Although Timbaland produced “Set It Off,” Dre’s fingerprints are all over Snoop’s The Last Meal, where the track appears. At one point, Snoop—evidently then still on the roster for N.W.A. 2.0’s never-made Not These Niggaz Again—raps “Snoop and Dre give a fuck about what y'all say / From the World's Most Dangerous Group, N.W.A.”

“Wanna Ride” (2002)

N.W.A. Members: Ice Cube, MC Ren
After a promise from WC that this shit is “coming together like sweaty ass cheeks,” “Wanna Ride” makes its first of three N.W.A references. The first sees Cube again relegated to the chorus again with a sampled “I keep it gangsta y’all” off “Chin Check” in the intro. MC Ren then shouts out the second 2000 collaboration “Hello” before referencing “If It Ain’t Ruff” off Straight Outta Compton during his verse.

“The Shit” (2003)

N.W.A. Members: MC Ren, Ice Cube
The only single released from 2003’s Deuce, the third studio album by former N.W.A. peer The D.O.C., and the second following the car accident that severely damaged his larynx. It’s also his first since Helter Skelter, spitefully released after Dr. Dre developed the concept for himself and Ice Cube. Dre is nevertheless called out in the closing moments of “The Shit,” produced elsewhere on Deuce, and planned to distribute the album through Aftermath before another disagreement with D.O.C.

“Rebel Music” (Remix) (2014)

N.W.A. Members: MC Ren, Ice Cube
Produced by E-A-Ski in early 2014, “Rebel Music” (Remix) is the first time Cube and Ren worked together since the brief N.W.A. reunion in 2000. Cube’s references are contemporary (Donald Sterling, Richard Sherman, “Niggas in Paris”), while also shouting out N.W.A’s origins (“Straight Outta Compton, now here’s a sermon /…cuz I’m in a benz with MC Ren”). Moreover, Cube’s social commentary echos some of his early political work, with chilling lyrics about Paris burning and critiquing the TSA. In a return to rap, Ren shows he’s as sharp as ever. He may never have the same household name legacy as Dre, Cube, or Eazy, but the Villain demonstrates his formidable chops here.

“Issues” (2015)

N.W.A. Members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube
The aggressive rock-influenced sound is a curious direction for this one, until you remember Cube’s 90s-era flirtations with Korn and Lollapalozza. On a whole, “Issues” camouflages its artists’ middle-aged instincts as they reflect on the neighborhood they escaped. With contributions from Anderson.Paak and Dem Jointz, it’s also a nod to the future. Many of the non-N.W.A. guest features here function as rough surrogates for Eazy (most notably Snoop). With “Issues,” there’s a recognition an entire generation has come of age with N.W.A. as their soundtrack. While most post-breakup N.W.A. collaborations have an eye on the past, in “Issues” Dre and Cube embrace their legacy—with a glance toward the horizon.

“Don’t Trip” (2015)

N.W.A. Members: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube
Flash forward to a recently released song with an old school feel, “Don’t Trip” sees former Eazy-E associate will.i.am joining ultimate fan The Game (“Yeah, I grew up to N.W.A., nigga”) alongside Cube and Dre. Cube follows Game here, summarizing his upbringing around Crips, and how he parlayed that experience into success. Dre follows a similar tack with call outs to his recent album Compton: A Soundtrack, then concludes by imploring the next generation: “I want you to come and be this shit / Ren, Cube, Yella, Dre and Eazy-E this shit.”

Andy Hoglund is riding through the hood on a hoverboard, like Eazy would if it were 2015. Follow him on Twitter.