Happy 25th Anniversary to MC Eiht’s debut solo album We Come Strapped featuring Compton’s Most Wanted, originally released July 19, 1994.
As a young teenager just getting into rap music in 1993, I was naturally drawn to the inner-city themed films that major studios had started backing after the success of 1991’s Boyz N The Hood. The best by far was Menace II Society, a devastating and heartbreaking story about the violent and broken streets of Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. One scene in particular always stood out to me. Protagonists O-Dog (played by Larenz Tate) and Caine (Tyrin Turner) get revenge on a rival by shooting him outside of a food joint. The injured victim stumbles in pain to the parking lot where O-Dog and Caine’s partner, A-Wax (Aaron “MC Eiht” Tyler), is waiting. At first asking the victim if he needs help, A-Wax proceeds to pull out his gun and stick it into the man’s chest, brutally unloading at point blank to finish him off. This was my proper introduction to west coast O.G. MC Eiht, who played the role of A-Wax with a touch of reality that only someone who had lived a lot of this stuff in real life could bring.
MC Eiht was already a gangster rap veteran by the time he appeared in Menace II Society. As a founding member of the group Compton’s Most Wanted, he had been making music since the ‘80s and hit his stride on their excellent 1993 album Music To Driveby. The acting gig in Menace II Society included a spot on the soundtrack and the resulting “Streiht Up Menace” was the perfect companion piece to the movie. It nicely set up MC Eiht’s solo career and his debut We Come Strapped arrived in 1994. The album has a lot of input from Compton’s Most Wanted, and the entire project is in fact credited as being by MC Eiht featuring CMW. But make no mistake: this was Eiht going for dolo.
Before I talk about how good this album is, I want to start with one thing that isn’t so great: the production. Handled by MC Eiht himself and CMW member DJ Slip, the beats rely way too heavily on keyboards that sound repetitive and start to grate by “Compton Cyco.” The producers were understandably going for something in the same vein as The Chronic which by 1994 had set the gold standard for how west coast gangster rap should sound. But Dr. Dre is a master orchestrator and was doing things with keyboard synth lines like no other during this period.
Thankfully the production gets better as the album progresses and reaches a peak on the title track “We Come Strapped.” It’s still Dre-like, but this time, it taps into his more dense and sinister style. Like with Dre’s “Deep Cover,” “We Come Strapped” sounded like what was coming out of New York City. This in part was down to the song sampling the drums from “Papa Was Too” by Joe Tex, a source track sampled by many east coast producers in the ‘90s.
The harder, darker sound of “We Come Strapped” also complements MC Eiht’s greatest skill as an emcee: his voice. Unique in its tone and cadence, it is instantly recognizable and thoroughly menacing in its delivery. It is a major component of what makes “Hood Took Me Under” from Music To Driveby Compton’s Most Wanted’s greatest song, and “We Come Strapped” comes close to matching it. The voice makes the narrative of each We Come Strapped song sound that extra bit harder, giving it the same authenticity that MC Eiht brought to his appearance in Menace II Society. He also spits his now famous catchphrase “Geah” a lot on this album. In less capable hands, this would get annoying fast, but again it packs a punch when it’s said with a voice as rough as MC Eiht’s.
MC Eiht does try a different, less aggressive vocal style on “All For The Money,” delivering a standard tale of the evils of the dollar in a half spoken-word, half singing voice. It jars a bit with the rest of the album, but the track is actually one of the smoothest on the record, using another popular sample at the time—“In The Mood” by Tyrone Davis—to good effect.
“Def Wish III” continued one of gangster rap’s best beefs: MC Eiht versus fellow Compton icon DJ Quik. The war of words had already been going on for several years at this point, and continued for several years after We Come Strapped. As scathing as MC Eiht is on a track like “Def Wish III,” DJ Quik won the battle in my personal opinion the moment he dropped this line when dissing the name MC Eiht on 1994’s “Dollaz + Sense": “Yeah you left out the “G” cuz the “G” ain’t in you.”
Another major We Come Strapped highlight is “Nuthin' But the Gangsta.” It features guest vocals from west coast veteran Spice 1, plus another emcee hailing from the opposite coast. New Jersey’s finest rapper, Redman, shows up for an appearance and steals the show, proving his versatility and ability to tear up any kind of rap joint. At a time when the east and west coasts were about to start a war that would eventually see two of hip-hop’s biggest stars end up dead, it was good to see Redman doing his thing for inter-coastal relations.
MC Eiht has released a ton of albums since We Come Strapped. Proving he still has a lot to offer, one of his best albums was released in 2017, the DJ Premier-backed Which Way Iz West. MC Eiht also delivered one of only a handful of features on Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 classic Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. If that isn’t an indicator of the respect MC Eiht holds among every generation of west coast rapper, I don’t know what is.