Old school gangsta
An interview with N.W.A’s DJ Yella
A founding member of groundbreaking gangsta rap group N.W.A, Antoine Carraby, aka DJ Yella, has lived through history and played a pivotal role in hip hop’s evolution. With Dr. Dre, he co-produced all of N.W.A’s albums as well as the late Eazy E’s solo debut, and he’s worked with a slew of Ruthless Records artists including J.J. Fad, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Kokane. This past year saw N.W.A canonized with the release of F. Gary Gray’s acclaimed biopic, “Straight Outta Compton,” and the group’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On Friday, April 29, Yella will perform in Tulsa along with Lil Eazy E (Eazy’s son) at Venue Shrine (tickets can be purchased at TulsaShrine.com).
The Tulsa Voice: Congratulations on the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How does it feel to receive that honor?
Yella: It’s different because we never even thought about a hall of fame. When we started doin’ it there wasn’t even a hall of fame. So, it feels pretty good.
TTV: Can you tell me a little about your upcoming tour?
Yella: I done been everywhere, almost everywhere, mostly out of the country. I rarely DJ inside of the country. Out the country they want that old school music. I just came back from Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Japan, all over London, Dubai, Scotland, and Ireland.
TTV: I understand Lil Eazy-E is a guest at some of your shows? How did the two of you come together?
Yella: Yeah, I mostly do it by myself, but we hook up on some shows. It started from VH1 when he gave his daddy an award in ’07. That’s the first time I met him, actually, and we’ve just been doin’ a few shows here and there. It’s different. I had to get used to lookin’ at him because he looks like his daddy so much and he sounds like his daddy.
TTV: How would you say your life changed since the release of the movie?
Yella: [I’ve been] on a rollercoaster ride—a fast 100-mile-an-hour rollercoaster. I probably done did about sixty shows since the premiere. And that’s across the world—none in the states except for a few where me, Ren, and Cube hooked up on a few of them at The Staples Center, Chicago, and Denver. We’re also doing the Coachellas here in California this week and next week.
TTV: “Straight Outta Compton” was released at a time when incidents of police brutality had gained the attention of the nation. What role do you think the film plays in addressing this problem?
Yella: It just shows that the problem never was fixed. Whatever the problem is, it’s still there. I’ve been tellin’ people in interviews, until they start giving the cops long stretches in prison for their crimes, it’s goin’ to keep on goin’ on because they not getting punished. Until they get punished, it won’t slow down.
TTV: What is your favorite music to spin?
Yella: All I spin is the late 80s early 90s rap. That’s it. I don’t play the new music, that’s all I play. That’s all the people want to hear is our old school rap.
TTV: You played a major role in crafting the early sound of hip hop, do you believe you get the credit you deserve?
Yella: Mmm, I guess I don’t know (laughs). We just did what we wanted to do. We didn’t think about gold records, platinum records. If we went in like “we’re gonna be big,” we would’ve never went nowhere. We knew Compton and Compton is everywhere, ghetto is everywhere. We only talked about what we knew, what we’d seen, what we’d heard. I guess that’s what made us sound so real. If people didn’t like it, oh well.
TTV: How “Straight Outta Compton” didn’t win any Academy Awards is beyond me.
Yella: Well, you know that’s all political. It is what it is. But it’s won a lot of awards. Universal put up a lot of money for the movie, it wasn’t no cheaply-made afternoon special. It was a great storyline that was as close to reality as it can get. We squished ten years into two hours and twenty-five minutes.
TTV: You were involved quite a bit in the movie weren’t you?
Yella: Oh yeah, I was telling them down to the details what the studio looked like. The equipment that was in the movie was exactly what we used. There was a couple mistakes, like the black Chicago hat that was before it’s time, but it looked good all the same.
TTV: Have you ever been to Tulsa?
Yella: I don’t know what’s in Tulsa, I don’t even know people in Tulsa. It should be fun. I like going to smaller places because they appreciate it more than the big cities like New York, LA. The smaller places just appreciate it more, they’re more hungry for it. That’s what I like, it’s like being out of the country.
For more from Mary, read her interview with Black Milk.