Late N.W.A frontman and Ruthless Records head Eric “Eazy-E” Wright may be known as a godfather of gangsta rap, but he was also a compassionate man, as depicted in the biopic Straight Outta Compton that opens in theaters this weekend.
The film, which features actor Jason Mitchell portraying Eazy, captures the controversial rapper’s softer side. We see Eazy saddened after N.W.A’s demise and sulking when gazing at a billboard for Dr. Dre’s solo debut album, The Chronic. He approaches Ice Cube in a nightclub to make amends and explore the possibility of a reunion. He is more hurt than angry when he fires his manager, Jerry Heller, for alleged mishandling of funds. And he weeps when he receives the news that he has contracted AIDS and has just months left to live.
Screenwriter Jonathan Herman has described Eazy-E as the “soul of the movie.” Eazy’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, gave him the context for the script. “The fact that Eazy is not around, Tomica told a lot of stories and she was like, ‘Look, I’m going to tell you a lot of stories. This is the real honest truth and just be respectful about it and tell it,’” he said on the red carpet at the film’s world premiere. “The story is so sad.”
Eazy’s eldest child, Eric Wright Jr., who raps under the alias Lil Eazy-E, helped Mitchell prepare for the role. “I reached out to him to give him the support and any advice he needs,” Lil Eazy told Rolling Stone. “Jason has come to my grandmother’s house where I was born and raised, where my father was born and raised and where N.W.A started.”
Lil Eazy, who turned 11 two weeks after his father died, said his father was a well-rounded person. “My fondest memories [are] of him being a father,” he told Rolling Stone. “I know him outside of the rap, outside of the hustle, outside of the hardcore. I know the nice individual, the humorous individual, the family man, the one that loved all of his children.”
Founding N.W.A member MC Ren, who never quit N.W.A and remained on Ruthless Records until Eazy passed, says he did not have to protect the telling of Eazy’s story.
“I knew he was going to be portrayed right because Dre and Cube, they involved, they are the producers of it,” he explained at the premiere. “I knew they wouldn’t just put him out there looking crazy. It’s only one way to put him out there, and that’s to put him out there right.”
Ren, who spent some time on the set talking with the actor who played him, Aldis Hodge, says the cast members impressed him with their performances.
“W.C. did a good job ‘cause he coached all the actors, and they performing,” he said about the veteran MC, who is also a member of the Westside Connection. “He had them sit down and watch everything. So first day I went down there on the set, they were doing a Skateland scene and it was crazy looking at them up there, ‘cause each individual was acting like they had the mannerisms down like everybody. And I ain’t seen that since we been onstage.”
MC Ren recently released a new single, “Rebel Music,” featuring Ice Cube.