Making their initial mark in 1989 with the singles “Rhymes Too Funky” and “This Is Compton,” Comptons Most Wanted was one of the first crews to take advantage of N.W.A’s gangsta breakthrough. Originally made up of Unknown DJ, DJ Mike T, DJ Slip, the Chill MC and MC Eiht, the group boiled down to a trio and made its debut with It’s a Compton Thang!, issued in two versions: full-on (featuring “Rhymes Too Funky”and “Give It Up”) and censored (replacing those cuts with “We Made It”). Although not an especially gripping hardcore record, the inclusion of “One Time Gaffled Em Up,” a CMW variation on “(Fuck) tha Police,” brought the group some street credibility. On CMW’s subsequent single, “Growin’ Up in the Hood,” a moody Cleopatra Jones loop and a stark drum break serve as the backdrop for Eiht and Chill as they capture the hopeless desperation of the downbeat Boyz n the Hood, the film for which it was commissioned.
Straight Checkn ‘Em is an overlooked classic of the gangsta genre, important primarily for the music selected by DJ Slip and Unknown. Chill MC was incarcerated halfway through the recording, and lyricist/rapper Eiht began to find his cool-and-deadly voice on “Def Wish” (the first entry in the DJ Quik/MC Eiht diss war) and “Compton’s Lynchin.”
The provocatively titled Music to Driveby is actually less involving than that. Eiht goes after females in “Hoodrat” and does an unconvincing blues on “Niggaz Strugglin.” But “Hood Took Me Under” picks up where “Growin’ Up in the Hood” left off, proving Eiht to be a storyteller with a keen eye. Besides making a star-turn appearance in the movie Menace II Society, Eiht provided the stunning single “Streiht Up Menace” for the soundtrack, which substantially raised his profile.
With the group reduced to a duo, the sound is dramatically different on We Come Strapped, an album on which MC Eiht gets top billing. DJ Slip experiments with a more spacious, largely sample-free sound dominated by synth hooks and enormous bass, while Eiht slows his delivery and ups his dramatics. The best tracks — “Take 2 With Me,” “Compton Cyco” and “All for the Money” — achieve a nearly cinematic scope, an apex of reality in music.
Likewise, Death Threatz keeps Eiht on his distinctive sonic path, working grooves unrelated to any contemporary hip-hop clichés. Although nothing more than a couple of keyboardists are credited, Slip’s slow-rolling ’70s-styling beats have a live feel that sets off Eiht’s tough, incisive staccato-accented rhymes. The criminal-minded (and Cypress Hill-quoting) “Run 4 Your Life” and the hostile “Fuc Em All” are especially potent; although the subject matter is similar, the lush “Late Nite Hype Part 2” tones down the delivery for a nearly seductive expression of violence.