Compton’s Most Wanted have long been unsung heroes of West Coast hip-hop. The group, led by Aaron “MC Eiht” Tyler enjoyed a strong run from 1990 to 1992, releasing three superb albums of hard-hitting, dark and serious gangsta shit in It’s a Compton Thang (1990), Straight Checkn ‘Em (1991) and Music to Driveby (1992). After the success of “Streiht Up Menace” from the Menace II Society film soundtrack released in 1993, Eiht largely struck out on his own, releasing We Come Strapped (1994) and Death Threatz (1996) as “MC Eiht featuring CMW.” Eiht went “solo” soon from that point forward, releasing over a dozen albums of varying quality throughout the late ’90s and ’00s, with most going largely unnoticed.
Then, a few years ago, word leaked that Eiht would be teaming with DJ Premier to fashion a new album. The East Coast-based super producer and longtime friend of Eiht’s would executive produce the album, working occasionally behind the boards, but mostly overseeing the project to ensure its cohesion and quality. After a long wait, Which Way Iz West is here, and demonstrates that the gangsta rap pioneer and the soundsmith extraordinaire still know how to put together a good album.
Though Premier may have overseen the project, Austrian producer Brenk Sinatra handles most of the production on Which Way Iz West. Brenk and Eiht previously collaborated on a pair of 2015 mixtapes, Compton to Vienna parts 1 & 2, and the two definitely have chemistry. The beats throughout Which Way Iz West definitely have a darker tone, which is consistent with the soundscapes of the CMW records of the early ’90s. However, Brenk also utilizes the updated g-funk sensibilities of the mid-’90s, allowing Eiht to get loose over mellowed keys. For his part, Eiht hasn’t sounded this engaged on the mic in years. He utilizes his trademark slow drawl of a flow, and even throws in a quite a few “geahs” for old time’s sake.
One nice touch with Which Way Iz West is the guest appearances. Rather than trying to shoehorn in “hot new rappers” to create artificial buzz, Eiht brings in many of his contemporaries from his ’90s heyday, including Outlawz, B-Real, Xzibit, and former Geto Boy associate (and one-time group member) Big Mike. Eiht teams up with WC on “Represent Like This,” a hearty, keyboard and hard-pulsing drum driven track, punctuated by scratches from DJ Premier. Eiht kicks a solid verse, rapping, “Two hard motherfuckas – West up / Bandana, wife-beater, and a paper cup / Four deep, two hats to the back / One shooter on deck, when the beat gonna crack?”
Eiht also collaborates with a few emcees who haven’t been heard from in years, unearthing the Lady of Rage herself for “Heart Cold.” On the robust dirge of a track, she takes to the mic like she never left, unleashing her complex flow with lines like: “Step to Rage without your weapon and gauge / Is like catching a fade with Kimbo / I slice up any one of these bimbos / And all their kinfolks and never scuff up my Timbos / His heart is cold, and mine been froze.”
DJ Premier’s presence is felt throughout the album. Usually, it’s from behind the turntables, as he lays down scratches on numerous tracks. He also produces three songs on the album, including two of the best. The first is the “Runn the Blocc” remix, an up-tempo jam built with that unmistakable DJ Premier chopping technique and bounce, bolstered by shimmering keys on the chorus. The song features a thorough verse from Maylay, the former King Tee and Lench Mob affiliate, best known these days as the voice of C.J. Jackson from the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game.
It’s Premier who gets to provide the beat for the CMW reunion track, “Last Ones Left,” featuring appearances by original group members Tha Chill and Boom Bam. The track, built around a sinister piano-loop, does justice to the type of beats that Eiht rhymed over during his CMW days. And though Chill and Boom Bam’s voices have aged a bit over the past 25 years, they haven’t lost their lyrical skills.
The few bumps on the album are the result of presentation rather than execution. The quality of mixing on some tracks is poor, with the vocals and music sounding muffled at times. This is especially apparent on “4 Tha OGz,” featuring an appearance from frequent collaborator/hip-hop legend Bumpy Knuckles/Freddie Foxx, where the music and vocals are mixed at such a low volume that it hampers the track. What makes this odd is that the song is also produced by Primo, who is renowned for making sure his tracks are exquisitely mastered. It also doesn’t help that as Premier beats go, this one is a bit on the dull side.
Occasionally a guest verse falls flat. Evocative of mid-’90s G-Funk, “Gangsta Gangsta” is a solid song overall. However, Kurupt delivers a lackluster guest verse, rapping like he can barely bother to be there. In all fairness, Kurupt has been phoning in his guest verses for close to a decade.
It always puts a smile on my face when the rappers I grew up listening to demonstrate that they can make quality work decades after they experienced their initial success. For Eiht, the secret to this newfound success was knowing to stay true to the sound that brought him here, which by extension positions Which Way Iz West as another win for the veterans.
Notable Tracks: “Heart Cold” | “Last Ones Left” | “Represent Like This” | “Runn the Blocc”