You are probably the least profiled member of the group NWA, and it's typical of Hip Hop to have their DJ's play the back, so tell us about yourself.
DJ Yella: I'm not married, ain't got no kids. I was born and raised in Compton. I'm an original member of NWA and I was here until the end. I'm a producer. I don't play any music instruments except for drums. I used to DJ in a club in LA as a teenager. Then Dre came along and we hit it off from the beginning. We deejayed together for years before we even got into the music industry. Hip Hop was like Grandmaster Flash back then. Rap was something from the east coast. We almost originally started west coast Hip Hop when we were in the World Class Wrecking Cru. We were broke but we stuck together. We'd seen a show with Run DMC for the first time. It was their first time in California. We sat back and looked at the show and it wasn't nothin'! It was two people rapping and a DJ! We said, 'That's it! We can do that!' That's when we started trying to make records. That's when we put out Surgery. It did okay and we sold a few but me and Dre were getting tired of the Wrecking Cru cuz the money situation wasn't right and we were always broke. Dre knew Eazy from his old neighborhood.As you know, the first song from NWA was Boyz In The Hood but it was originally written for two other guys from New York who were rappers. They felt they couldn't rap that way so Dre convinced Eazy into rapping it. It wasn't meant for him because Eazy wasn't a rapper! That's when I met Eazy. Right then, we all clicked and then Ren came into the picture. Of course, Cube was around because he was in another group which was a subsidary of the Wrecking Cru called CIA.
If Eazy was around at this time and he accepted his friend Dre when he wore flashy clothes and cosmetics for the World Class Wrecking Cru, why did he use it as a point to dis Dre on the 'It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa' album?
DJ Yella: He only did it because Dre came at him first. But deep down, he was kinda hurt when Dre first left and the true animosity had worn off by the time that record came out. Dre put out Nuttin' But A G Thang so Eazy had to come back. That was just for show. I think deep down, they didn't really want to do it but he just had to do it. They did have real beef, but over the years, it just wore out.
What it was like to be in the group during it's heyday?
DJ Yella: On the first maxi-single, before the Straight Outta Compton album, Cube was in school in Arizona for a year. So me, Ren, Dre, and Eric worked the whole single promotion-wise for a whole year. Cube had a scholarship or something so he was gone. The four of us put in a lot of free hours before we made the actual album. Cube was writing a lot of Eazy's stuff that Eazy didn't like because it wasn't him, he wasn't a rapper! We liked Eazy because originally, he had the money, but also because the sound of his voice sold. He sounded and looked like a little kid. That's why we pushed him out front; he was the image. When you thought of NWA, you thought of Eazy-E first. It was just a look. I was always in the background through all the production and everything. But the real problems came when we started making money.
What about what Ice-T said about starting gangsta rap?
DJ Yella: Ice-T was rapping but some people didn't know where he was from. Some people thought he was from New York. He had a different style from us. We were almost the first ones to cuss on a rap record, because that's how we talk so I think we started 'street music' first. We were just different from him. NWA started a legend and that legend has now opened the doors for all these gangsta rappers or whatever you want to call them. We didn't think of it as gangsta rap. To us, it was just street music. We rapped about what we knew. We couldn't rap about New York because we didn't know nothing about it.
When Cube and Dre left claiming that they were not being compensated properly by Eazy, what really happened?
DJ Yella: Everybody was getting paid. It was really about more personal stuff. Cube, for example, wanted to do a solo album but we told him 'Not now, we're going to work on Eazy's album '. He wanted to do his first. Plus, somebody was in his ear at the time telling him this and that. That was his major problem. As for Dre, it was the same thing. He was getting paid, he was living in a million-dollar house so money was coming from somewhere! We weren't being ripped off. I think the reason they left is because they were listening to other people. That's the real issue. Me, I just stayed neutral. I was down with Eazy, but I wasn't in any of his videos when he was dissing Dre.
How did you get the name 'Yella'?
DJ Yella: When I was just deejayin', there was a song by the Tom Tom Club called Mr. Yellow. The Unknown DJ heard it and said 'that's what your name should be!' and from that day on, that was my name! You'd be amazed at how much West Coast Hip Hop today has been derived from us in that era. Just from that time, 61 million records have been sold as a result. There was a core group of people including Ice-T, MC Eiht, who all started at the same time as us. From that era, a lot of the west coast acts have been derived.
Why did you name your new album 'One Mo Nigga To Go'?
DJ Yella: It means IÌm the last NWA member to come out solo. I'm the last of the real niggaz. I'm dedicating my album to Eazy because I was down with him from day one and I never turned my back on him, even when times weren't so good, I was always there. I was there for friendship, not money. Even when things were slow, I was still there.
I think a lot of people may compare you to Quincy Jones and the way he's done his last two albums. How do you feel about that?
DJ Yella: Good, 'cuz if you really think about it, thatÌs how Quincy Jones has always been. I used to think Quincy was a singer, but he's a producer and that's what I am. I'm not going to embarrass myself trying to rap because that would be wack. I don't rap. I put things together, like the last Eazy album. On the album, I'm working with BG Knocc Out, Dresta, Tracy Nelson, Dirty Red, Kokane, and Leicy Loc. I wanted to have people that IÌve worked with before who are down and these people have been down since Eazy was around.
Who are the people who speak about Eazy on the interludes of your album?
DJ Yella: A buddy of mine named Big Man, his wife, and his kids. They knew Eric pretty well so I wanted them to talk for real. It wasn't rehearsed or nothing. I had a little camera and asked them questions and captured what they said. People say so much about Eazy that I wanted them to hear about the good side of him, the normal side of Eric Wright. They knew him before NWA started.
One of the ladies talking on an interlude said that Eazy-E was originally known as Casual! Tell us about that.
DJ Yella: That was a shock to me! He probably had a little name in the neighborhood and he was called Casual. I didn't know it until I heard that interview myself.
So much of your album is about Eazy-E. Would your album exist at all if not for Eazy's passing?
DJ Yella: Eazy and I were going to put a record out together, but he got so caught up in other stuff that he never got around to it. I put this out because other people have said a lot of things about Eazy-E, but nobody really did anything nice for him. The first video out, For Tha E shows the way he should have went out, not the way it was with court and the crazy stuff. Some of the money I'll make, I'll give to his kids because they're not getting taken care of.
Tell us what went on behind the scenes after Eazy passed away in terms of the legal battles.
DJ Yella:A lot of it is still in court. By the time they finish, I think the company will be broke. The only people who will be making money will be the lawyers. That's why the last thing I did over there at Ruthless was his album. I didn't want nobody else to put it together.
When was Eazy's album, 'Straight Off The Streets of Muthaphukkin' Compton' actually completed?
DJ Yella: The last song he made was with me, him, and Ren. That was The Muthaphukkin' Real done in December of 1994, just three months before he died. Was it was eerie to hear him say 'when I die, niggaz bury me, make sure my shit reads Eazy Îmuthaphukkin' E. And it's a fact, to be exact, my tombstone should read 'he put Compton on that map'...' in that song? When we did the song, I never paid attention to his words. I didn't hear the actual words until months after he had died. Ain't that crazy? I remember, though, that he just came up with the words right then off the top of his head. I don't know if those words were significant at the time.
Did you leave Ruthless because you don't think they'll survive the legal battles?
DJ Yella: My contract ran out in early 1994, but I was still around him because we were down, not because of the money. I didn't care. That contract was signed way back in 1989. But when he died, to me, Ruthless died. All Ruthless Records is now is just a name. The real ruthless person is not here so I'd rather not be stuck up with a bunch of court-appointed people, I'd rather be on my own and do my own thing.
When did you first learn that Eazy had aids and what was your reaction?
DJ Yella: It was actually the night before the press conference. Everybody just about knew on that night. I never even knew. And by the time the press conference happened in the morning, he was already in a coma. He just kept it to himself. He was only in the hospital for two or three weeks before that press conference and that's when he found out. I had talked to him while he was in the hospital, but we weren't talking about that, we were just talking normally about business and joking around. He didn't sound down or nothin'. He was talking like he was gonna be out next week and that's what we thought. We knew he had bronchitis, but we didn't think nothin' about it. Then, our buddy Big Man called me and told me that it was true that he got it. That night, my whole night was messed up. When he told me, I knew he wasn't playin'. I knew it was true. I was shocked because I had already been hearing rumors for the past two weeks.What originally happened was that somebody who worked in the hospital told somebody else that Eazy was in there with AIDS. They weren't supposed to tell, but once they told one person, it got around. That's why they had to come out with a press conference because the rumors were already in the streets. When they read that famous letter at the press conference, Eazy was already in a coma the day before. I don't know who actually wrote the letter. Those aren't his words because he would've cussed in his regular way. Once I heard the first couple of lines I knew that it wasn't him. He was in a coma. When I finally saw him, it was right after the press conference. He already had tubes in his mouth and everything. He couldn't talk no more but he could see me and he knew I was there. He wasn't in a coma and but he was on a machine with tubes in his mouth so he couldn't talk. I didn't know at the time that they had paralyzed him from the neck down with medicine so he wouldn't move. When he first got on the machine, he didn't like it so he was moving around. After that, a day later, everybody was cut off and nobody could get to see him. He knew I was there when I talked to him and that was about the last time anybody got to see him. Cube didn't get to see him. I think Dre went in, but I think he was sleeping at the time.
I heard reports at the time that Cube and Dre were at his bedside, but nobody mentioned Yella and Ren.
DJ Yella: I was there! For the next few days I was there, but I wasnÌt allowed to see him. I was the only one from the group who was there. The others weren't. I don't know why. I asked Cube and he said he was out of town and couldn't get back. As for Dre, I don't have the slightest idea. I talked to Dre for about two minutes on the phone not long ago but we didn't talk about that. I haven't seen Dre in years. There's nothing between us, I just haven't seen them. I haven't seen Cube since '89. I haven't seen Dre since '92. And Ren, he lives around the corner from me and I still don't see him. He lives around the corner and he can't stop by or call?
Not to be disrespectful in any way, but a comment was made to me a few months back from someone who claimed to have been down with the NWA in the eighties that there were orgies with all kinds of women back in tha day. His point was that if Eazy caught it because he wasnÌt using protection, could his crew be far behind?
DJ Yella: We had two parties. Two pool parties. One party was for a video. There wasn't no orgies going on. We don't know where or when Eric caught it. That was the thing about Eazy-E. He was a very private person. You would never see him in public with a girl, that wasn't his style. He went behind the doors, that's how he was. We ain't never sat in a room and just passed a girl around or nothing like that, or if it happened, I missed it!
From what I gather, you're the only member of NWA that has never taken a shot a Eazy. Can you tell me about your friendship?
DJ Yella: We were always together. Like me and Dre were buddies since '81. I'd rather see Dre on a normal level, not in a club with bodyguards, just the two of us. Me and Eazy were always together. I never turned my back on him. Anything I wanted, he gave me. If I said 'I want more money on this project'.. it wasn't a problem. That was just him. He was one of the nicest people if you knew him personally. We just stuck together. I was with him until the end so I can sleep at night and say I was there with no regrets.
What about Ren's off-and-on beef with Eazy?
DJ Yella: That I don't know about and never understood. He was down and he swerved off for awhile. I was really surprised and shocked that he rapped on Eazy's last song together.
Is there a possibility of a reunion now that Eazy's gone?
DJ Yella: Yes and no. The No is the question 'why wait until now?' Why didn't they talk about this two years ago? The Yes is that I would do it, but nobody has approached me. If I did do it, I'd only do it on a neutral label. Dre won't do it if it's on Ruthless and neither will Cube. I won't do it if itÌs on Death Row. It's got to be a neutral label with five shares owning the label (EazyÌs share too) because I want his kids to get money. Nobody's thinking about Eazy's kids, but I'm always thinking about them. One of his sons, my godson Derek, who was always in his videos is in my video too. People have been talking about a reunion, but nobody has talked to me about it. If they leave me out, no problem. But if I did it, I'd be doing it for real, not for the money.
How about the possibility of making a song with the remaining members of NWA rapping around unreleased Eazy material like the Beatles did with Lennon?
DJ Yella:I'm the only one with a master copy of some still-unreleased Eazy material. One of the songs that is not released is a song called Still Fuckin'. I didn't really finish the song and that song could be set up for other rappers. It's like a Fuck The Police-type song. Ren and Eazy's vocals are on it but it's still got room for the other two guys. I have another song that's not released that nobody else has. I've been down so long I feel I deserve to keep it.
What's in the future for you?
DJ Yella: I want a big production facility and get a production deal with the label. On the back of this album, I'm the executive producer. ThatÌs how Eric used to be. I wanna be in control. Who knows, in the future it might be another Ruthless or Death Row!
I gotta give you props for two tracks in particular, the first one was the last cut of Eazy's album, 'Eternal E' and the other is your last cut 'Not Long Ago' where you really share yourself with the audience. Tell me about those songs.
DJ Yella: That last song, the way I say it is just like how I would talk to him. The last time we talked was on the plane to Vegas just talking business. If I had known, we would have been talking much more differently. I would have said 'get your company in order' so it wouldn't be in the shape it's in now. I miss hanging out, doing shows, and his entire presence. To me, it's like he's still around. He'll be missing for weeks or I won't hear from him for a month, then he'll call and say 'Whatcha all doin'?' It's like he'll call me in the studio or something. To me it's like he's not really gone until I walk out to the cemetery.
Is that photo of you beside Eazy's tombstone an actual photo of his burial site?
DJ Yella: No. His actual tombstone wasn't made when we took the shot. His actual one is flat. I was gonna used the actual gravesite but it was sacred and I didn't want to touch it.
Any last thoughts about Eazy-E?
DJ Yella: He was one of those people who did so much for others and started so much, if he wasn't around, a lot of this west coast Hip Hop would be so different now. There wouldn't have been NWA as we know it and it might have died out by now
YELLA IS THE NIGGA I RESPECT MORE THAN ANYONE FROM NWA. THE REASONS ARE SIMPLE, YELLA WAS DOWN TILL THE VERY END. HE NEVER SOLD OUT, AND HE NEVER BETRAYED HIS GOOD FRIEND(EAZY-E). NWA DID IN A SENSE, SELLOUT TO MONEY, BUT YELLA APPEARED TO BE THE ONLY ONE WHO DIDN'T. WITHOUT A CONTRACT, YELLA HELPED EAZY-E PUT OUT "STR8 OFF THE STREETZ...." IF I COULD GET ONE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO, OR MEET AN NWA MEMBER, I WOULD CHOOSE YELLA. THERE IS SO MUCH STUFF NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT HIM. YELLA IS THE MAN WHO CREATED MANY OF THE DOPE BEATS ALONG WITH Dr. DRE AND NEVER REALLY GOT CREDITED FOR IT. WITHOUT YELLA, WE WOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO ENJOY RAP CLASSICS LIKE BOYZ IN THA HOOD! YELLA WAS ONE OF THE MOST LOYAL NWA MEMBERS AND STAYED WITH EAZY-E AND RUTHLESS RECORDS UNTIL THE END OF EAZY-E'S CAREER. HOWEVER AFTER EAZY-E PASSED AWAY, YELLA ALSO DISAPPEARED FROM THE RAP SCENCES. NOBODY HAS BEEN ABLE TO TRACK HIM DOWN, QUESTION IS, WHERE DID HE GO?