There was a time when MC Eiht was one of the leading voices of California hip-hop, back when he and his Compton’s Most Wanted crew were dropping one banging album after another, releasing anthemic singles like “Growin’ Up in the Hood” and “Streiht Up Menace” in the process. Eiht (real name Aaron Tyler) always walked that fine line between portraying the lifestyle of a G as glamorous and dangerous. He always seemed to sound a cautionary note about the risks involved — one time (the cops) could harass you on trumped up charges, rival crews could shoot you down in the street, your girl could stab you in the back, and you never knew who you could really trust. Paranoid? Maybe. Realistic? Definitely. Given his CMW homeboy and co-founder Tha Chill wound up behind bars for three years, he had every right to be that wary of “the life.” Fans respected that authenticity from Eiht along with his smooth mellow West coast drawl and signature “geah” that punctuated his bars. Eiht repped Compton before Jayceon Taylor was even a teenager, setting the table for many peers to come along. It wasn’t just Dr. Dre and friends putting Compton on the map.
A few years ago Eiht dropped a new album called “Keep It Hood” in an attempt to revive that legacy. That’s not to say that Eiht ever retired or went anywhere, it’s just that he became the O.G. on the block while the younger turks like The Game came up on the scene. Even now the wheel turns and Game is himself the O.G. while Kendrick Lamar and his friends are new generation giving a voice to Compton and turning an eye to what many would rather not see. The one thing I can say about our review from 2013 is that Emmanuel Wallace deserves an award for “understatement of the year” when he wrote “Eiht’s voice sounds a bit more grizzly than in years past.” Gone is that smooth and silky voice of the early 1990’s, replaced now by an elder vet with a couple dozen years of drinkin’ and smokin’ completely changing his vocal tone. If it weren’t for that signature “geah” you might actually have trouble recognizing Tyler as the same man. The irony is apparent when you listen to Eiht and WC together on the DJ Premier laced “Represent Like This.” William Calhoun seems virtually unchanged from his MAAD Circle days, whereas Aaron Tyler sounds nothing like his CMW ones.
“Three two one, then the gats blast
One time swopped through kinda fast
Fast lane life so a nigga chase
All for the snaps, can I get a taste?
Break yo’self, geah, kill or be killed
in a land where it’s f–k yo’ side…”
If Eiht was “grizzly” in 2013, he’s a straight up kodiak bear now. To be clear this is not a bad vocal progression in any way. It’s not as though the change in vocal tone has made Eiht suddenly become a terrible emcee, and if you got that impression you need to shake it right now, but you also shouldn’t be blinded by nostalgia and think that because you heard DJ Premier and MC Eiht were working together that they’d bring back that classic “Hood Took Me Under” sound you’re completely mistaken. Primo’s track still has the kind of bang and swang you’d want him to lace Eiht and Dub C with, complete with the signature sampling and scratching on the chorus, but for all intents and purposes this is a brand new Eiht. I’m half-kidding and half serious when I say we ought to call him Eiht Point Five. This is a brand new version.
The disconnect takes a while to get used to on “Which Way Iz West,” and rather than giving us time to settle into the 2010 version, the album unintentionally reinforces the differences by pairing him with all-stars of the West coast scene. The Lady of Rage makes a welcome appearance on the thumping bass of “Heart Cold.” Mr. X to the Z himself Xzibit comes bouncing through on “Medicate” and almost makes it feel like Eiht is dropping the cameo instead of vice versa. East and West combine more than just musically on the slow dripping vibe of “4 Tha OGz” featuring Bumpy Knuckles. At least on this track we have a comparable vocal progression because Knux too has changed a lot since his early Freddie Foxxx days. I’d love to offer you sample clips to hear it for yourself but unfortunately the album is embargoed until the June 9th release date, and “Represent Like This” is the only single to drop so far. I can quote you a few of Eiht’s bars though. Geah.
“Niggaz still in the struggle, couple homies is losin
Broke niggaz is lost, simple hoes be choosin
Flashlights in my face, young niggaz be shootin
Pay attention to the flag, any side you’re rootin
One first in the air, one hand on the strap
We just bust a couple of shots, they just do it for rap
Tryin to double up the bread ’til tomorrow is better
I get deeper and deeper, I express in my letter
Couple tales and inhales to pass the time…”
Normally a punchline like “Slick Rick on these muh’fu#$az, ‘Lick the Balls'” would draw a chuckle, but Eiht delivers it in such a war weary way that it’s not even funny – it’s an admonition not to mess with him in any way. That’s one thing that I do miss about the young Eiht and I just can’t help it. Even when he was beefing with DJ Quik for all those years, there seemed to be a certain tongue in cheek humor to how deadly serious the rivalry was, as though he meant every word but still had to laugh because he thought Quik wasn’t on his level. That beef died a long time ago but so too did Eiht’s joie de vivre. Sometimes he can’t help but be a little more enthusiastic on a track where he reminisces about the past, such as the Eazy-E sampling “Gangsta Gangsta” with Kurupt, but Eiht really is the elder statesman of the scene now and rather than running from the “grizzly” stamp he embraces it for all that it’s worth. That makes tracks like “Pass Me By” with B-Real and the aptly named “Last Ones Left” reuniting with his CMW comrades worth your time to listen to. I’d really like to hear more of Eiht holding down tracks on his own, but if he had to do a bunch of collaborations instead, he picked the ones you’d want to listen to and the right production to lace them up.