Number One With A Bullet

The members of the rap group N.W.A call themselves, among other things, ghetto realists. They also call themselves niggers with attitude, real niggaz and the world's most dangerous group. Hinting at gang roots, and selling themselves on those hints, they project a gangster mystique that pays no attention to where criminality begins and marketing lets off. Their 1989 "Straight Outta Compton" album introduced some of the most grotesquely exciting music ever made. The new "NIGGAZ4LIFE," built of titles like "To Kill a Hooker" and "One Less Bitch," gets even uglier. A sample verse: "I got a .38 hidden up the sleeve and it's ready to go to war /. I took down a million niggers and shoot one more." Within two weeks of release, with no commercial radio play, it was the fastest-selling album in the country. "People respect [us] for being real," says rapper M.C. Ren (Lorenzo Patterson).

Last Jan. 27 the realness stretched beyond rhetoric. At the Speak Easy club in West Hollywood, N.W.A's Dr. Dre (Andre Young) allegedly accosted Denise (Dee) Barnes, host of Fox TV's rap program "Pump It Up!", over a segment her show ran about the group. "He picks me up and proceeds to slam my face and the right side of my body up against the wall," says Barnes, who stands 5 feet 3 inches and weighs 105 pounds. "He has me off the ground by my ear and my hair." He kicked her in the ribs, she says, then chased her into the women's room before being pulled off her. She claims she suffered bruised ribs and a black eye and has now hired bodyguards. Barnes plans to file a multimillion-dollar civil suit this week (earlier, her lawyer had offered not to bring suit if Dre would help Barnes's rap group with some music) and to seek a temporary restraining order against Dre. Dre did not return repeated phone calls, but Ren told NEWSWEEK that Dre did beat Barnes. The rap fanzine The Source quoted N.W.A founder Eazy-E (Eric Wright, who recently contributed $1,000 to join the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle) as saying, "The bitch deserved it."

Such remarks, says Barnes, are "putting me in more danger because everyone who follows them and believes in them is going to think I deserve it. This is the kind of messages they've been putting out: that it's OK to hit on women. Bitch this, bitch that. This is what happens when they start believing their press."

If they're taking themselves too seriously, they're not the first. In a 1989 letter to Priority Records, N.W.A's label, the FBI took an unprecedented position against the song "---- tha Police." The Fraternal Order of Police voted not to provide security at N.W.A concerts. The group was arrested on obscenity charges in Cincinnati (they were acquitted) and had albums seized in England on the same ground.

Ren argues that the records, at least, are harmless. "A record can't make nobody do anything," he says. "Sometimes doing a record is just my way of getting back, 'cause when [police] got you jacked up on a car, and they got a gun to your head, you can't say s---. Doing records I can speak out. When people listen to the record, that's their way of speaking back. They put it in their car and bump it as loud as they can."

"NIGGAZ4LIFE," by N.W.A standards, is a mediocre work, a retreat from cinematic storytelling into simple punk bluster. Beneath the misogyny and carnage, the rappers' toughguy posturing seems more corny than scary. And shooting niggers and killing bitches - well, that's not quaint enough to work as corn.