Eazy-E was one of the biggest rappers of the 90s, helping popularize the subgenre of gangsta rap. Sadly, his career was cut short by his death at just 30 years old. His death shocked his fans, particularly with the announcement that it was due to complications of the AIDS virus.
This rapper’s real name was Eric Lynn Wright. He came to prominence in the late 80s and early 90s as a member of the group N.W.A., which included other major hip hop artists of the time, including Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, and MC Ren. Among their biggest hits were Fuck Tha Police and Straight Outta Compton, which would define the direction of gangsta rap in its earliest days.
After the breakup of N.W.A., Eazy-E enjoyed a successful solo career. In fact, he was one of the biggest players in hip hop through the mid-90s. So, it came as a shock when he passed away suddenly in March 1995, when he was only 30 years old.
How Did Eazy-E Die?
In late February 1995, he checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He had a severe cough, so the diagnosis was not what he expected: he had HIV, and it had developed into AIDS.
The rapper’s condition deteriorated at a shocking speed. On March 16, he released a public statement to his fans, which asked them to practice caution and understand that AIDS could attack anyone. The statement was read by his friend and attorney, Ron Sweeney; by that time, the rap artist was in critical condition in Cedars-Sinai’s ICU.
“Now, I’m in the biggest fight of my life and it ain’t easy,” the statement read, after sharing details of his diagnosis and outlook. “But I want to say much love to those who have been down with me and thanks for all your support. Just remember: It’s your real time and your real life.”
Two days before his public announcement, he married his long-time girlfriend Tomika Woods in a private ceremony at the hospital. They had been in a relationship for four years, and she was pregnant with their second child.
On March 26, 1995, just a month after his diagnosis, the rap artist succumbed to the virus. His official cause of death was listed as pneumonia caused by AIDS.
How Did The Rapper Contract AIDS?
With shock and fear circulating during the AIDS epidemic, fans everywhere wondered how the rap artist had contracted the disease. Though he himself said he believed he had caught it from a sexual partner, rumors of more nefarious reasons circulated.
One of the biggest conspiracies was that he had been deliberately infected with AIDS, administered through a tainted injection.
His name was even used in new slang referring to killing someone with this method, at least as used by Death Row Records producer Suge Knight several years later. Whether it ever actually happened is another matter. For one thing, the rapper was well-known for avoiding illicit drugs—tainted heroin needles are a leading cause of AIDS transmission.
The rumors were largely based on beliefs that the rap artist was being targeted for his work with N.W.A.—either by white supremacist groups or by the FBI. This was thought to be because of the rise of black-dominated musical genres, especially gangsta rap, which criticized the police and other authority figures.
Though these conspiracies were never substantiated, they were explored in a documentary released 26 years after the rapper’s death and crowdfunded by his oldest daughter, Ebie Wright.
The most likely explanation, however, is that the rap artist contracted the disease through a sexual partner. Though he married his long-time girlfriend just two weeks before his death, he was open about his many other past relationships. All in all, he fathered 11 children with eight women and likely had other intimate partners.
Both Woods and her son Dominick tested negative for HIV. She gave birth to a daughter, Daijah, six months after her husband died.
Why Were There Conspiracies Around Eazy-E’s Death?
In the decades since his death, several of his friends and associates have expressed that they believe he was murdered. Most of their suspicions came down to how quickly the rapper deteriorated.
Two weeks after he was diagnosed with the virus, he was in critical care in the hospital. Only a month later, he was dead. Some people also pointed out that he did not seem to have the typical symptoms that most AIDS patients experience, such as weakness and severe weight loss.
Eight years after his death, Knight appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! expressing his opinion that the rapped had been murdered via tainted injection.
The rapper B.G. Knocc Out, who had collaborated with Eazy-E in the early 90s, also expressed suspicion about his death. He compared the latter’s decline to that of other AIDS victims, saying that he had worked closely with the rap artist for the last three years of his life and had never known him to be sick. Meanwhile, most AIDS victims are frequently sick due to their immune systems being suppressed.
However, medical professionals have pointed out that HIV can remain in its latency stage for many years before becoming symptomatic. Though a rapid decline isn’t typical, it certainly isn’t impossible. His official cause of death was pneumonia, a common side effect of AIDS infection.
In the decades since his death, conspiracy theories have continued to air, with many of his friends and associates calling for an investigation to be reopened. However, there has been no further criminal investigation or findings to indicate that he was murdered.
Eazy-E’s oldest daughter has also questioned the circumstances of her father’s death. In a docuseries released in 2021, The Mysterious Death Of Eazy-E, she set out to paint a clearer picture of her father. The docuseries included questions about his death as well as exclusive interviews with his children, friends, co-workers, and the mothers of his children.
She said that the explanation of his death had never satisfied her or her mother, Tracy Jernagin. They, like many other people, were baffled by the lightning speed of his decline. They were also suspicious of the idea that he could have contracted HIV when he was widely known for never using drugs.
However, he was known for having one weakness: women. Though he had 11 children that he acknowledged, some of his friends have said that they don’t know how many babies he fathered—but the number could have been much higher. He himself admitted that he may have been less cautious than he should have been when it came to the number of sexual partners he had, often seeing several women simultaneously.
While his known partners all tested negative for HIV, he may have contracted the disease from an unknown partner and carried it without symptoms for years before his death.
Eazy-E was buried at a funeral on April 7, 1995. He was laid to rest at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California. Roughly 3,000 people attended the service. The rapper was buried in a gold casket, wearing his preferred outfit: a flannel shirt, jeans, and a Compton hat.
During the eulogy, the Reverend Cecil Murray told mourners to learn from his life and death, saying: “I know a little blackbird that sings, and his lyrics are: ‘I want you to live. I want you to be careful. I want you to slow down.”
There was a minor scandal when only one member of his former group N.W.A., DJ Yella, made an appearance at his funeral. However, he later gave an interview where he explained that Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren had all been at Eazy-E’s side in the hospital. He said the other former members of N.W.A. had found it too difficult to attend the funeral and preferred to remember him during life rather than in death.
To commemorate what would have been the rapper’s 55th birthday, his family placed a new headstone on his grave. This corrected his birthdate from 1963 to 1964 and included the line “We Loved Him, But God Loved Him More,” which had also been on his original headstone. The new stone added two more lines: “The Godfather of Gangsta Rap… He Put Compton on The Map.” His son Eric Wright Jr. also shared photos and videos from his father’s funeral.
Eazy-E’s final album, St8 Off Tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton, was released in January 1996, about 10 months after his death. It received good reviews and spawned the hit single, Just tah Let U Know.
He has been called the Godfather of Gangsta Rap. His rap music, both with N.W.A. and as a solo artist, was instrumental in establishing the subgenre, as well as related ones such as gangsta funk and progressive rap. These musical genres have played an important role in centering black voices in the music industry.
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