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Favorite Things: N.W.A. Performance Contract (1988)

Favorite Things, Houston Hip Hop

Whether it’s a rare book printing found at long last or piece of ephemera found in an archival collection by chance, those who visit the University of Houston Special Collections almost always find something they cannot wait to share with others.  Here we celebrate what makes the University of Houston Special Collections so special–our Favorite Things.

This past weekend’s opening of the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton has me feeling nostalgic and fawning over an artist engagement contract from the DJ Steve Fournier Papers.

Performance contract for Eazy-E and N.W.A., from the DJ Steve Fournier Papers

Performance contract for Eazy-E and N.W.A., from the DJ Steve Fournier Papers

DJ Steve Fournier was partly responsible for hip hop’s popular emergence in the Houston club scene during the 1980s, hosting rap contests and peppering his sets with more and more rap at Struts Disco, the Boneshaker, and the Rhinestone Wrangler.  His papers include photographs, memorabilia, as well as performance contracts from emerging acts like Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, and Ice-T.  In this particular instance, I’m fascinated by a contract drafted for a performance by “EAZY E/NWA” that maps out the terms for payment ($1,900 now, $1,900 at the show), equipment to be provided by Fournier (“2 1200 turntables, mixer and mics”), locale (“ULTIMATE RHINESTONE WRANGLER… 478 Parker,” Houston’s Northside?!), and the hour and date of the engagement (“12Midnight” on “Thursday – June 16, 1988,” over two months prior to the release of N.W.A.’s first studio album).

The incendiary Straight Outta Compton was released August 9, 1988 on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records.  It enjoyed the commercial appeal of the recently-instituted “Parental Advisory” stickers, along with the unfiltered imagery of glorified criminal violence and hedonistic misogyny that more than delivered on the promise of something truly illicit.  Against a backdrop of moral conservatism and prosperity gospel of the Reagan-Bush presidential arc, that forbidden nature translated into surprising and enduring commercial success.  It was a party record for our victory in the Cold War, echoing from the edge of Manifest Destiny–Compton, California.  A thunderous shot from the ghetto, it was brash, boisterous, aggressive, and is now universally acknowledged as one of the most important records in the history of hip hop (see #144).

But, in 1988, I’d yet to hear those three little letters and be jolted awake by their meaning and music.  So, I still can’t help but wonder if the show ever came to pass.  The old Ultimate Rhinestone Wrangler (a cavernous venue for a club that easily held over 1,000, it has since been converted into a storage facility) was just a stone’s throw from where I grew up and the idea that N.W.A. might have slipped in and out without me even knowing, makes them feel both so close and yet out of reach–the one that got away, the shows one never sees.  Fitting I suppose, for a group that frightened and thrilled us, both then and now.  With no signature at the bottom representing “EAZY-E/NWA,” I’ll remain curious to hear from anyone who attended and got a rare, early look at “The World’s Most Dangerous Group.”

Whether you have just been introduced via F. Gary Gray’s film or you are an O.G., who has always down for the C.P.T., you’ll enjoy seeing this contract in person along with all the other trips down memory lane waiting in the DJ Steve Fournier Papers.

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