N.W.A (the initialism for: "Niggaz With Attitude") was a Compton, California-based hip hop group widely considered one of the seminal acts of the gangsta rap sub-genre. Active from 1986 to 1991, the group endured controversy due to the explicit nature of their lyrics. They were subsequently banned from many mainstream U.S. radio stations and even at times prevented from touring - yet the group has still sold over 9 million units in the U.S. alone. Their second album, Straight Outta Compton, marked the beginning of the new gangsta rap era as the production and the social commentary in their lyrics were revolutionary within the genre. Rolling Stone ranked N.W.A 83rd on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". Although largely unknown at the group's inception, rappers Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren would all go on to be platinum-selling stars as solo artists.
N.W.A released Straight Outta Compton in 1988. With its famous opening salvo of three songs, the group reflected the rising anger of the urban youth. "Straight Outta Compton" introduced the group; "Fuck tha Police" protested police brutality and racial profiling, and "Gangsta Gangsta" painted the worldview of the inner-city youth. While the group was later credited with pioneering the burgeoning sub genre of gangsta rap, N.W.A in fact referred to their music as "reality rap".
Jason Raspanti and DJ Yella, as HighPowered Productions, composed the beats for each song, with Dre making occasional rapping appearances. Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote the lyrics. "Fuck tha Police", perhaps the group's most notorious song, brought them into conflict with various law enforcement agencies. Under pressure from Focus on the Family, Milt Ahlerich, an assistant director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless and its parent company Priority Records advising the rappers that "advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action". This letter can still be seen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Policemen refused to provide security for the group's concerts, hurting their plans to tour. Nonetheless, the FBI's letter only served to draw more publicity to the group. Straight Outta Compton was also one of the first albums to adhere to the new Parental Advisory label scheme, then in its early stages: the now-iconic label then only consisted of "WARNING: Moderate impact coarse language and/or themes". However, the taboo nature of N.W.A's music was the greatest part of its mass appeal. The media coverage compensated for N.W.A's virtual lack of airplay and their album eventually went double platinum.
One month after Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E's solo debut was released. Eazy-Duz-It was dominated by Eazy's persona - MC Ren, appearing on two songs, was the only guest rapper - but behind the scenes it was a group effort. Music was handled by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and the lyrics were largely written by Ren, with contributions from Ice Cube and The D.O.C. The album was another platinum success for Ruthless (in addition to girl group J.J. Fad in 1988 and singer Michel'le in 1989), also going double. 1989 saw the re-issue of Straight Outta Compton on compact disc, and the release of The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better. The album was essentially a collaboration between "The D.O.C. and The Doctor" and notably free of "gangsta rap content", but culminated in the N.W.A posse cut "The Grand Finalé". It would be another number one album for the group.