Ahead of Hong Kong show, NWA’s DJ Yella talks about life with ‘the world’s most dangerous group’
Founding member of the gangsta rap crew kept a low profile after his NWA years as he pursued a second career making hundreds of adult films
From the outside looking in, DJ Yella always seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle that was NWA.
After the seminal Los Angeles gangsta-rap crew disbanded in 1991, founding members Dr Dre and Ice Cube went on to enjoy successful solo careers, while Eazy-E died from an Aids-related illness in 1995.
But DJ Yella (born Antoine Carraby), who was a founding member of NWA and produced all three of the outfit’s albums, pretty much vanished from sight – except for those who scour inner sleeves to see just who is working the controls in the recording studio.
There was work with the likes of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (Foe tha Love of $) but it turns out much of the now 47-year-old Carraby’s time over the past two decades has been working behind the cameras – thankfully – as a director of adult films.
Turns out Carraby – who appears live at Central nightclub Ce La Vi on Saturday, December 5 – has been loving it, too. “I made adult films for over 12 years,” he reveals. “Apart from the directing aspect, I did all of it – the filming, the editing and the stills. I shot about 300 movies, which was great fun.”
The rise and ultimate demise of NWA was a story that has long promised perfect screenplay fodder, given the culture-shaking impact of the band and the characters involved.
Sure enough, when the F. Gary Gray-directed Straight Outta Compton appeared this summer it proved a box-office smash in the North American market, refocusing attention on the widespread influence the collective still have and also sparking debate on what the film revealed and what it omitted.
Granted, given it was produced by Ice Cube, Dr Dre, and Eazy-E ’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, expectations about what it would reveal should have been controlled. MC Ren and DJ Yella get “creative consultant” credits, but their characters in the film are mostly pushed to the sidelines, or not featured at all in major scenes. Much of the set-piece drama highlights the friction that both inspired the musicians and ultimately drove them apart.
It’s a shame, but the major reason offered by the filmmakers was that to include everyone would have been to cast the narrative arc too wide. MC Ren has voiced his disappointment with the end result, but Carraby has gone on record to say he has no beef with being portrayed as a bit player.
“It’s a good movie … Excellent, to tell you the truth,” Carraby told XXL magazine on the film’s release.
The DJ was the one member of NWA who apparently never fell out with anybody, and seemed to escape the controversies that shadowed the band over lyrical content, and their often public spats over royalties and just who was responsible for what. He says the reasons are simple.
“I just stayed the same. Me and Dre go back so far – a long 30 years – even before NWA,” he told Billboard magazine. “The way we talk to each other now is the same way we talked when we first met. No big heads, no ego stuff.”
What’s more, Carraby has leapt on the attention and the opportunities the film has sparked, touring, getting behind the decks again and rekindling plans for his recording career.
“I got lured back into the music industry because I’m the last NWA member to come out solo,” he says. “I have dedicated my [upcoming] album to Eazy, because we supported each other from the beginning of my career. Eventually, I want to start a big production facility and get a production deal. I’ve always loved the recording studio. I’ve realised it’s just what I want to do.”
Carraby is also more than happy to reflect on how things all began.
“I was the only musician in the group. I taught myself to play the drums,” he says. “One of my older brothers was a drummer too. When I graduated from high school, I became a DJ in a club, a local hang-out called Eve After Dark. I started first for about a year, and that’s when Dre came around. I had no idea NWA would blow up as big as we did. We never expected us to go gold, platinum and double platinum.”
And he remains fiercely proud of what he says he has always brought to the party, too.
“Back in 1998 when Dre and I were sitting in his house, he told me something which I have never forgotten – ‘If it wasn’t for me and you, none of this would be happening’,” says DJ Yella. “We started from the beginning, and we had to dig the whole ditch. We had to do everything.”
DJ Yella, December 5, 10pm, Ce La Vi, 25/F California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Central, HK$300, HK$400. Inquiries: 3700 2300