As one-fifth of the group that “started this gangsta shit,” Compton’s own Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby never was the most vocal on record. Until now.
Some 26 years following the release of Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A legacy seems to be on track to become more relevant than ever before, continuing to laugh in the face of conservative mainstream commercialism similarly to way back then.
Recently nominated for entry into the class of 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and with a huge N.W.A biopic in the works courtesy of director F. Gary Gray, responsible for the commercial successes that were Friday, The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen, it would seem as though a whole new generation are about to be introduced to the men behind the attitude and Raiders caps—a force that hit the music industry with such velocity that it broke down doors for many Hip Hop artists today.
Take us back to the beginning pre-N.W.A. Did you always have a taste for music from an early age?
I played drums. I was the only musician in the group. I started playing…it had to be around elementary maybe. No one taught me anything. I just got on the drums and played them. One of my oldest brothers was a drummer too. I don’t know where it came from.I loved Parliament Funkadelic and Bootsy [Collins], so when I graduated from high school, I became a DJ in a club. I was actually a DJ before anybody. It was [a local hangout named] Eve After Dark, and it changed its name to Penthouse. I started first for about a year, and that’s when Dre came around.
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.
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. When I was growing up, there was no Hip Hop, just funk like George Clinton. 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.
So how did N.W.A come about?
Well, “Boyz ‘N Tha Hood” was meant for another group—a New York group. It wasn’t meant for Eazy to do the song. But the other guys didn’t wanna do the song, because they were from the East Coast, so they didn’t think it was their style or whatever their reasons were. And that’s how Dre convinced E to do the song, because E wasn’t a rapper…he wasn’t a rapper at all. It’d take him all day to do lyrics. That was the hardest thing: to get him into the studio to do them. And when he finally got there it would take all day.
I’m sure a lot of readers would be interested in the process behind making an N.W.A record. Can you explain that?
Somebody came up with the name…you know, people would come up with the titles. We were probably coming up with titles first, and then the tracks and then the lyrics. It only took a month to do Straight Outta Compton. We didn’t make demos back then. When we went to the studio, we recorded something. We never did demos, and that’s why there’s no extra tracks lying around.
How did you get the name ‘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.
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?
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.
So much of your album is about Eazy-E. Would your album exist at all if not for Eazyís passing?
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 Eshows 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.
Any last thoughts about Eazy-E?
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.>
You and Dre were producers on the N.W.A stuff. How was it working together as a team?
We knew each other, and since the Wreckin’ Cru, we were doing the same thing. I’d be on the board, and he’d be on the drum machine. So I’d go over there and program all the stuff on the machine. We were just like a team. We didn’t have to be like, “I do this, and you do that.” It was like Batman and Robin. That’s just how it was. Me and him would be in the studio most of the time until they come and put their lyrics down. Usually it was me and him, or we had a bass player there, or a guitar player or whoever. We couldn’t play instruments.
What about the drums you mentioned earlier?
I only played the drums a few times—once on each album. Eazy-Duz-It, Straight Outta Compton, and I played on the D.O.C.’s album, on “The Grande Finale.”
Did you think N.W.A would blow up as big as it did?
Never! If we’d thought that, we wouldn’t be talking today. We had no idea. We thought it wasn’t going past the trunk of a car: sell a couple of thousand, make a couple of bucks and that’s it. We never expected it to go gold, platinum, double platinum…never. That was not in the works. We never thought that.
Then you toured after Straight Outta Compton. How was that?
Well, we did the one tour. We did plenty of smaller cities before the tour, but we did the one tour in ‘89.
Any funny stories from the tour?
I would have to really sit back and think about that [laughs]. It was more like work to us, because we did four cities in a row, and then we’d take a couple of days off. We’d do the show, get on the bus and go to the next city. But it was fun though. Everybody that was on that tour said it was the best fun they ever had—Too Short, Public Enemy… We met up with Public Enemy when we did D.C. or somewhere for one or two shows. Our tour hooked up with LL Cool J’s tour when we were in the Mid-south or somewhere. It was fun though. The funny thing is, me and Dre felt more like stars when we was deejaying. It’s crazy. Once we got into the records and our shows, it felt like work.
Whatís in the future for you?
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. Thatís how Eric used to be. I wanna be in control. Who knows, in the future it might be another Ruthless or Death Row!
DJ YELLA STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON TOUR 2015
Wednesday, 2nd December 2015
S.K.A.I. Beach Club Padma Resort Legian
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