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On This Day in Music... March 26, 1995: Eazy-E Dies of AIDS Complications at Age 30

The rapper's death served as a tragic wake-up call for many in the hip-hop community.

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Eazy-E was neither the first nor the last major music star to die from AIDS complications. But his death, on March 26, 1995, may have been one of the most shocking.

The Compton-bred rapper, born Eric Wright, hadn’t even known he had the then-deadly disease when he checked himself into a hospital a month prior. After an up-and-down solo career since the acrimonious breakup of N.W.A, the group that had made him famous, Eazy was finally beginning to get his affairs back in order. He'd signed the Cleveland group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to his Ruthless Records imprint; thanks to Eazy's mentorship, the group's breakout single had done decent numbers, and its first LP would soon top the Billboard album chart for two weeks straight. He had a daughter on the way with the woman who would soon become his wife, Tomica Woods.

It was amidst these positive headwinds that Eazy checked himself into L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai hospital to finally check up on a persistent cough that he hadn't been able to shake. It was there that he got the diagnosis -- and he never did check out.

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Source: MEGA

Eazy and MC Ren onstage with N.W.A in 1991.

Eazy was always one of hip-hop's most unlikely icons. An aspiring record label owner, he barely even considered himself a rapper until he found himself in a studio cutting his first track. Featuring production from Dr. Dre and lyrics written by Ice Cube, Eazy essentially recorded “Boyz-n-the-Hood” in order to salvage the studio time he'd rented, after a group he'd recruited to record the song for him stormed out. Though purists in New York may have scoffed at his casual line readings and amateurish flow, Eazy's charisma, authenticity and offbeat delivery immediately endeared him to listeners, and the single became a word-of-mouth sensation at Southland swap meets and on the influential low-wattage LA station KDAY. Eazy would soon join forces with Dre, Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren in the group N.W.A, and before long the five were making history.

Over the next several years, N.W.A would become arguably the most notorious pop music act of the decade, all but defining gangsta rap as a genre for most of the country. And though Cube and Dre would become much bigger figures in the years that followed, at the beginning, Eazy was unquestionably N.W.A’s marquee star.

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The group didn't last long, and its later days were awash in feuds and recriminations: first between Cube and the rest of the crew, and later between Eazy and Dre. The lead-off track on Dre’s massive-selling solo debut, The Chronic, was a vicious attack on Eazy, complete with a clownish lookalike in the song’s video. Eazy responded in kind, and though his response track, “Real Muthaph--kin G’s," didn’t sell nearly as many copies, if was actually even more brutal. (His description of Dre's then-protege, Snoop Dogg, as "the anorexic rapper...only 60 lbs. when you're wet and wearing boots" remains perhaps the most memorable imagery to emerge from that beef.) Nonetheless, Dre and Cube's solo careers had clearly begun to eclipse his own.

But even when his commercial fortunes were looking less than robust, Eazy always managed to make news. He attended the trial of the four police officers charged with the beating of Rodney King, and drew fierce criticism when he advocated for one of them, Theodore Briseno, whom Eazy claimed had "tried to stop" the beating. He also left fans dumbfounded when he showed up to an exclusive benefit luncheon for then-President George H.W. Bush. According to Eazy, he was not an actual Bush supporter -- he had essentially been invited thanks to a fundraising mailing error, and donated the money that got him into the event just for the hell of it. “I’m not a registered Republican or Democrat," he said. "I don’t even vote. I sent them the money because I was curious." Somehow this was all just part of his puckish charm. "Basically, what I did was pay $1200 for a million dollars worth of press," he said later.

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Eazy-E's death brought the reality of the AIDS crisis home to millions of hip-hop fans.

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When Eazy finally learned of his AIDS diagnosis in spring of 1995, he wrote a letter to the hip-hop community at large, which was read aloud by his lawyer at a press conference. "I would like to turn my own problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin because I want to save (them) before it's too late," he wrote. "I've learned in the last week that this thing is real and it doesn't discriminate. It affects everyone."

The announcement sent shockwaves through the rap world. Though NBA star Earvin "Magic" Johnson had gone public with his HIV diagnosis back in 1991, the same year Freddie Mercury succumbed to the disease, Eazy was the first rapper to publicly acknowledge he had contracted it. News of his degenerating condition was all the more stunning considering the aura of casual invincibility Eazy had always managed to convey on record. Both Cube and Dre made pilgrimages to Eazy's bedside to bury the hatchet with their former bandmate, and he married Tomica while in the hospital. On March 26, he passed away.

“It’s a real shame,” Dre said immediately after Eazy’s death. “I went to the hospital and saw him, but he was unconscious. He didn’t even know I was in the room. It wasn’t a pretty sight, man. It was sad. . . . I think it’s terrible that this happened. But you know it was cool that he wrote that letter (about having AIDS) because it was like a wake-up call, not just for his fans and people who don’t know him, but even for me. This is a serious wake-up call.”

In the following decades, Eazy's legacy would calcify into myth. Bone Thugs' tribute to their old mentor, "Tha Crossroads," would top the singles chart for eight weeks and win a Grammy. Eazy would posthumously be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A hagiographic blockbuster biopic, Straight Outta Compton, would immortalize him for a whole new generation. In 2020, Megan Thee Stallion, who was born just a month before Eazy's death, remade his debut single as "Girls in the Hood." And just last year, a street in his hometown was renamed Eazy Street in his honor.


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