DNA Project: Straight Outta OC

How the sons of Eazy-E and Dr. Dre plan to write the next chapter of NWA's legacy in . . . Lake Forest?!

"There wouldn't be a Tupac or the success that he had if it weren't for Ruthless Records, created by Eric Wright, Eazy-E," says the 29-year-old Wright with the same sly, smooth tone his dad might've used. "You can't take that page out of the history book."

*    *    *

It's just after 12:30 a.m. in downtown LA. The hip-hop crowd that's roaming and twerking on the dance floor at 333 Live, a large, multipurpose club that could pass for a school gymnasium with a bar, is suddenly interrupted by a blustering hype man in a black ballcap and T-shirt, calling Young to the stage. A thunderous growl reminiscent of Fatman Scoop erupts from the microphone as he rolls out the rapper's introduction; the crowd below is lit by a few laser lights and a disco ball. Opening for DJ Quik and his anticipated throwback set, Young hits the stage in a beige blazer, a gold chain bouncing on his paint-spattered graphic tee. Though it's obvious the crowd isn't that familiar with his party-anthem track "The Night Is Young," people are cheering by the time he drops the mic after two songs and walks offstage.

Lil Eazy-E
Timothy Norris
Lil Eazy-E
E3
Timothy Norris
E3

Aside from working on the DNA Project and joining Serious Pimp Records, seeing how much of an impact his songs have over his reputation as Dre's son is a valuable gauge to see how far he's come as an artist. "It's an ongoing challenge, but it's a good challenge," Young says. "But for the most part, people respect it. I want people to know Curtis Young for who Curtis Young is, not just as the son of Dr. Dre. I have my own story."

Since he started putting his rhymes out to the public, Young has founded his own label, So Hood Records. Adopting the moniker Hood Surgeon, he released a slew of mixtapes hinting at his ties to Dre, with titles such as The Autopsy Mixtape, Family Tree Vols. 1 and 2, Son of a Doctor and Billionaire Dreams. Outgrowing the Hood Surgeon schtick in recent years, he has opted to use his real name and switched the name of his label to Young Entertainment. Along the way, Young has stuck his hand in production and talent scouting for his label, even taking a stab at a clothing line, Signature Young. If nothing else, the mogul in him is working overtime.

Same goes for Wright. With the help of Bigg A, Wright's path to success, while not the smoothest, has its share of highlights. Around the age of 16, Bigg A piqued Wright's interest in starting a record label as a way to earn extra cash and gave him a crash course in how to be more than just a disposable piece of talent in the record industry.

"At the beginning, I never, ever perceived Lil E to be a rapper," says Bigg A. "I groomed him for the administration and business side as a producer, an executive producer of a label to take over where his dad left off." Having been friends before all the N.W.A glory, during his days as a drug dealer and gangbanger, Eazy-E felt it right to keep Bigg A in his inner circle. He schooled Bigg A in the music industry and advised him to open his own record shop—Underworld Records and Tapes—after Bigg A was discharged from the military in the late '80s. Eazy had even allowed him to videotape impromptu interviews and backstage happenings, which would become fodder for a documentary Bigg A would put together with Wright after he helped the then-teenager to start Lil E records and Lil E films.

"As a kid, you gotta be able to spread your own wings and learn to fly," says Wright. "So I allowed myself to do that. I wanted to take a step back to handle the family business. Now, I'm polished enough to where I'm ready to handle business and keep business, to have a handle on your own individual thing and have ownership of it."

But Wright's plans to play record exec took a backseat when he caught the rapping bug. Almost immediately, the industry's interest in his skills was getting him attention. A planned collaboration with Daz Dillinger, another West Coast rap producer and a member of Tha Dogg Pound, garnered a five-page spread in XXL Magazine before Wright ever signed a contract—which he later did with Virign Records. No record ever resulted, sparking a brief feud between the rappers before Wright left Virgin in 2006. Apparently, it's all water under the bridge now, considering Bigg A tapped Dillinger and his Dogg Pound Gangstaz mate Kurupt—two new signees to Serious Pimp, as well—to participate in the DNA Project.

"I support Bigg A—I'm going to contribute my beats and throw a verse or two on a track," Dillinger says. "I'm just waiting to hear more of the music, plus with DJ Battlecat producing, I'm all in wit' that."

After his Virgin deal ended, Wright took a step back from the microphone to work for Ruthless Records. He left his late father's company in 2011 to become CEO of his own production firm, NWA Entertainment; CEO of his own management agency, High Powered Productions; producer for various top artists; and involved in other media projects. At the same time, Bigg A had struck up a partnership with Kutzner and his brand Serious Pimp, which started as an OC-based clothing line designed for mixed-martial-arts fighters.

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