The Story of N.W.A.'s "Boyz-n-the-Hood" and The First Time It Ever Earned Radio Airplay
Today marks the 20th anniversary of John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, the film that, in many ways, put the tragic world of Los Angeles street culture into our nation's collective consciousness. Really, it's a point relative to nothing other than the fact that it might make a few of us feel old. And that it serves an excuse to bring up another story -- one that features the NWA song "Boyz-n-the-Hood" and its interesting ties to Dallas.
The year was 1987, and Jeff Liles -- now the artistic director at the Kessler Theater, then an up-and-coming hip-hop artist in the Dallas-based Decadent Dub Team -- had a weekly Wednesday night radio show on KNON-89.3 FM called "Life is Hard."
On the show, Liles played everything and anything he saw fit to describe as aggressive, hard or unique -- an option afforded him thanks to his inglorious 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. timeslot. It was a chance for him to keep up on all that was new in the world of music -- something Liles himself was quite involved with at the time, along with a number of other Dallas bands that were performing in Deep Ellum in those days, to the point where, that year, Island Records put out a compilation album called The Sound of Deep Ellum in an effort to brand the neighborhood as a music-centric area to be marketed around the country.
The bit worked, helping break big would-be area heroes such as Reverend Horton Heat and The New Bohemians. It also introduced Liles to Kim Buie, the Island rep behind the compilation, who began attempting to court Decadent Dub Team to her label's roster.
In the process, she started flying Liles and bandmate Paul Quigg to California for recording sessions. There, eventually, she introduced DDT to another hip-hop upstart -- a group called NWA that she'd discovered performing in a roller rink in Compton, California. DDT and NWA's first encounter? Dinner at a Thai restaurant -- something no one at the meeting other than Buie had tried before.
Still, a friendship formed.
Eazy-E and Bill Wisener, at Winsener's Bill's Records shop, just before NWA's first-ever Dallas gig in 1988.
Liles and Eric Wright, who performed as Eazy-E, particularly hit it off. After Liles returned to Dallas, the two continued to speak on a near-daily basis.
"He would just call me up," Liles say now, remembering those early interactions. "He was the first person I ever knew who had a cell phone. And he was so excited about it. He'd just call me up and say, 'Yo, Jeff! Guess where I'm at?'"
Thought neither act ever signed to Island, their relationship continued, namely with the two exchanging demos and other recordings in the mail, and often ending up with Liles playing various early NWA demos -- songs recorded prior to any formal NWA release -- on his radio show.
One Wednesday, Liles received a new tape from the man he still refers to this day as "Eric." The song on this particular tape would turn out to be slightly different. Unlike previous NWA tracks, this was the first to ever feature Eazy-E rapping. It was called "Boyz-n-the-Hood." Liles didn't know that, though. In fact, he didn't even listen to it -- not until it came time for him to host his show again. Based off everything that the group had previously sent him, he just assumed it would be worth playing.
"It was recorded in their bedrooms," Liles says now with a laugh. "But everything they'd sent me up until that point was great. So I knew it was going to be good."
So he played it. Just around midnight, in fact -- a concession, of sorts, to the fact he knew that it would feature curse words that he wouldn't be able censor, mostly because he only had the song on cassette tape.
It was the first time the song ever aired on the radio anywhere.
And, turns out, it was the last time Liles would host his show, too. The very next day, he was fired. A rival DJ who'd wanted his slot, Liles says, recorded his show, played it for the station's program director, and had Liles fired over potential FCC violations.
Liles' relationship with NWA would continue, though. In 1988, he helped bring the group to Dallas for their first-ever area performance at a venue called City Lights (later the Black Forest Theater). That same year, Dr. Dre -- for just the small fee of $500 -- remixed a Decadent Dub Team song called "Six Gun" for use on the soundtrack for a film about L.A. gang culture called Colors -- a film that, despite its L.A. setting, only featured one L.A.-based artist, Ice T, on its soundtrack.
"That aspect of the really otherwise accurate film was odd," Liles says. "People out in L.A. at that time weren't listening to East Coast rappers. But, three years later, the Boyz n the Hood soundtrack got it right."
And with some thanks to a song that got its first airplay in Dallas, oddly enough.