The challenge of co-producing the first album in more than nine years by seminal gangsta-rap group N.W.A is one Mel-Man seems to welcome.
After working with them last month, Mel-Man (born Melvin Bradford) said reunited members Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, M.C. Ren and DJ Yella still have the goods.
"The chemistry is just incredible," Mel-Man said last week of the sessions that seem to have been a test run for the planned reunion album, Not These N***as Again. "We did one song ["Chin Check"] that was just the sh-- in ... basically three days."
Dr. Dre protégé Snoop Dogg is filling in for the late Eazy-E, a charter member of the group who died of complications from AIDS in 1995. Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Broadus) appears on "Chin Check," a track that he, M.C. Ren, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and DJ Yella recorded last month.
"Chin Check" is featured on the soundtrack to the Ice Cube comedy "Next Friday." The soundtrack comes out Dec. 14. The movie will be released Jan. 12.
Not These N***s Again, which would be the first N.W.A studio album since 1991's Efil4zaggin, might be ready for release by next fall, Mel-Man said. He added that he was unsure which label would release the album. Dr. Dre is signed to Interscope Records, Ice Cube to Priority Records and Snoop Dogg to No Limit Records. All are established solo stars.
Mel-Man, 30, co-produced Dr. Dre's new Dr. Dre 2001. He's been collaborating in the studio with Dr. Dre since 1996, when Dr. Dre heard 30 seconds of a Mel-Man demo tape and hired him.
Roberta Magrini, Ice Cube's publicist for Priority Records, said the group has not yet recorded tracks for the new album but is serious about making it. She said it was tough enough just managing the members' schedules to record "Chin Check."
"It was an intense thing to get done, but they made it," she said.
Dr. Dre (born Andre Young) released Dr. Dre 2001 last month. Ice Cube (born O'Shea Jackson) has been recording War and Peace, Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc), which will be released early next year. Magrini said those were the two major stumbling blocks the group had to overcome to record "Chin Check."
"Chin Check" is done in the over-the-top style that made the group famous a decade ago. It begins with a skit that finds a desperate-sounding woman calling 911, only to be shot seconds later by an intruder. One of Dr. Dre's trademark "G-Funk" beats then erupts; a shuffling drumbeat is pummeled by a funk-guitar lick that vamps above the mix.
Ice Cube kicks off the reunion in the first verse "If it wasn't for me/ Where'd the fuck you be/ Rappin' like the Treacherous Three/ Fuckin' cowards," he rhymes at one point.
N.W.A was co-founded by Eazy-E (born Eric Wright), Dr. Dre and Ice Cube in 1986. The group, driven by blunt lyrics and Dr. Dre and Yella's ferocious beats, essentially provided a template for gangsta-rap in 1989 with Straight Outta Compton. The album raised the ire of cops with the number "Fuck tha Police" (RealAudio excerpt). "Gangsta Gangsta" (RealAudio excerpt) described the archetypal inner-city thug "Cuz I'm the type of nigga that's built to last/ Fuck with me, I'll stick my foot up your ass."
Efil4zaggin (Niggaz4life spelled backward) followed two years later. With titles such as "One Less Bitch," "Swallow It" and "To Kill a Hooker," it reached #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in its third week of release. Ice Cube left the group prior to the recording. Dr. Dre left shortly after the album's release. Both feuded openly with Eazy-E and group manager Jerry Heller upon leaving the group, claiming they had been cheated out of money owed to them. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube also bickered for a short time after Ice Cube left N.W.A.
That, said Mel-Man, is a thing of the past. He likened Dr. Dre and Ice Cube to "two field generals" in the studio.
"It's the best sh-- in the world," he said. "This was my first time working with Ice Cube, and him and Dre ... they both lead: Dre as far as music, Cube as far as lyrically."
Rapper Hittman, who rhymes over several tracks on Dr. Dre 2001, said N.W.A opened up creative doors for him and other aspiring rappers as a kid.
"I told [Dr. Dre], 'You guys are the reason I curse and feel comfortable
with it.' It helped me express myself more," Hittman (born Brian Bailey)
N.W.A released Greatest Hits in 1996. A collection of young rappers, including Snoop Dogg and Kurupt, remade Straight Outta Compton as a tribute to the original album last year.
The group also released N.W.A Legacy: Volume 1, 19881998, a two-CD retrospective, earlier this year.