N.W.A is credited with popularizing gangsta rap. What was their first track?
“Panic Zone” is the debut single by N.W.A. The single was released in 1987 and was also included as the second single on the compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse.
Keep reading to learn more about the influential rap group’s first song, and how they shaped the gangsta rap genre.
The track “Panic Zone,” sounds quite unlike the gangsta rap genre most have come to expect from N.W.A. The song has an electro hip-hop feel to it, a genre that was already established on the West Coast, where N.W.A originated.
Mexican rapper Krazy-Dee helped to write the song, and the title was originally “Hispanic Zone,” but was changed as it was thought this would hinder sales to a more general audience.
The single was first released independently, and considering this, sold well—1000 copies. The track introduced artists Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Krazy Dee, and Arabian Prince.
After producing a mix of electro hop and gangsta rap tracks, and getting a better reception with the former, N.W.A placed more emphasis on gangsta rap, which had started to become somewhat popular in New York City.
Listen to the debut single—“Panic Zone” below.
The History of N.W.A
After the single “Panic Zone,” N.W.A released the compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse. The group was still developing and so was only credited with three out of the eleven tracks on the album—” Panic Zone,” “8-Ball,” and “Dopeman.”
The track’s explicit violent lyrics directed towards law enforcement caused some problems for the group. Some of the more objectionable lyrics include, “I’m a sniper with a hell of a scope / Takin’ out a cop or two, they can’t cope with me.”
Assistant Director of the FBI, Milt Ahlerich, wrote a letter to Ruthless Records that advised N.W.A that “advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action.”
The letter can be viewed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Police refused to act as security personnel for N.W.A’s tour, which affected their plans. However, public knowledge of the letter worked to bring the group more publicity.
Listen to the track below.
The group became notorious among young people for its anti-establishment lyrics, and described itself as “the world’s most dangerous group.”
Straight Outta Compton reached number 4 on the US Billboard chart. The album was gangsta rap’s first platinum certification, selling one million copies by July of 1989.
Ice Cube can’t take the heat?
Ice Cube left the N.W.A. in late 1989. He argued that because he had written almost half of the lyrical content Straight Outta Compton, he should be entitled to more royalties.
Without Ice Cube, the group released their EP 100 Miles and Runnin’, in 1990.
On the EP, the group directed some disdainful lyrics towards the ex-member, such as on the title track—“We started with five, but yo / One couldn’t take it—So now it’s four / Cuz the fifth couldn’t make it.”
The EP performed well, reaching platinum status, number 27 on the mainstream chart, and number 10 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
The group released their second studio album— Efil4zaggin (“Niggaz4Life” spelled backward)—in 1991. The album peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The album was the last to be released from the group since they disbanded after further beef between members.
Eventually, in the late ‘90s, all disagreements seemed to have been resolved and a reunion was planned for the surviving members (Easy-E died in 1995). Two tracks were released from the reunited group—“Chin Check” and “Hello.”