1994 might be described as the calm before the storm for the West Coast Gangsta rap scene. Ruthless Records and Death Row Records both enjoyed success with important records, but by the following year, the tide had begun to turn.
The most important release from Ruthless Records in 1994 was the debut release from Cleveland, OH rappers, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. While technically not west coast artists, the heavy involvement on their EP Creepin’ on ah Come Up from Eazy E, and the obvious “g funk” influences on their sound, allowed the group to enjoy success with much of the same audience as that which had embraced Ruthless’ earlier records. Especially noteworthy was their track “”Foe tha Love of $”, which featured a rap from Eazy E, and it’s corresponding video, which would become the last music video he appeared in before his death. In early 1995, Eazy E checked himself in to the hospital, complaining of what he thought was severe asthma. In less than a month, he was dead from complications related to AIDS. Eazy’s prolific fornication was legendary, even in the sexually promiscuous culture that he helped start, and from his death-bed he released a well publicized statement hoping that others could learn from his mistakes. It’s important to note that although Eazy’s final, posthumous record continued the attacks against Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, it’s claimed that the rappers and former friends made peace prior to Eazy’s death. Although Eazy was only 31 at the time of his death, the repercussions of what he helped start with NWA would continue to be felt for many years after his death.
On the other side of town. at Dr. Dre’s Death Row Records, two important records were released in 1994. The first was a soundtrack to the movie Above the Rim, which featured several noteworthy cuts. The most celebrated would probably be “Regulate”, a collaboration between Dre’s half-brother, Warren G, and Snoop Dogg’s Cousin Nate Dogg. Both of these artists has been in the amateur group 213 with Snoop Dogg prior to his being signed to Death Row, and both had also made appearances on Dr. Dre’s seminal The Chronic album. The song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is still fondly remembered today. Above the Rim also contained the first solo track from The Lady of Rage, another The Chronic alumnus, as well as several new songs recorded by one of the film’s stars, Tupac “2Pac” Shakur, a rapper who’d already enjoyed significant success.
The second important album from Death Row in 1994 was another soundtrack, this time to a short film by Dr. Dre, titled Murder Was the Case, after a song by Snoop Dogg loosely based on his ongoing legal troubles. Of the two releases, this was more rooted in the traditional “Death Row sound”, featuring production from label mainstays Dr. Dre and Daz Dillinger. The most important track on this record was “Natural Born Killaz”, the first collaboration between former NWA members since the dissolution of that group, as Ice Cube and Dre joined forces for the ultra-violent, menacing sounding hit. Interestingly enough, the video for this song also featured an appearance from 2Pac.
Despite the successes that Death Row had enjoyed, or maybe even because of them, the atmosphere around the label’s offices was becoming increasingly dangerous as owner Suge Knight’s criminal compatriots began to spend more and more time there. Dr. Dre began to appear less and less on the label’s releases, and trouble was obviously brewing. Only time, and next week’s article, could tell what happened next.