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Review: MC Eiht, 'Which Way Iz West'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

MC Eiht, <em>Which Way Iz West</em>.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
MC Eiht, Which Way Iz West.

Before the first bicoastal dart was ever fired in the much-hyped East/West rivalry of the late-90s, two of hip-hop's finest had already bridged that proverbial gap. MC Eiht of Compton's Most Wanted and DJ Premier were still cementing their respective status as legends when they collaborated on wax back in 1992. The resulting remix of "Def Wish II," from CMW's classic Music To Driveby manifesto, paired the best of both coasts: gangsta rap's reigning menace and boom-bap's principal architect.

Twenty-five years later, the cross-country homies have finally made good on their promise to expand that collaboration into a full-length album. The long-awaited Which Way Iz West — out June 30 and jointly released by Eiht's Blue Stamp label and Preemo's Year Round Records — reunites the emcee who put the "GEAH" in Cali gangsta-ism and the producer synonymous with New York's sonic boom.

Executive produced by DJ Premier, the 15-track release finds Eiht back in the driver's seat after a decade-long break since his last solo LP. Far from sacrificing West Coast riding music for the East's boom-bap, Premier oversees a solid mashup by sharing the bulk of production duties with Eiht's longtime collaborator Brenk Sinatra.

In an era defined by bluster, Eiht always steeped his stories in something more akin to the blues — literally and figuratively. The narratives told by the Tragniew Park Compton Crip reflected a cold-hearted reality where the anti-hero always met a tragic end. That's what made his Menace II Society theme song ("Streiht Up Menace") a perfect synopsis of the 1993 hood classic in which he co-starred.

On Which Way Iz West, the plot is driven, in part, by his own survival as an OG. The sinister sneer that defined Eiht's voice once upon a rhyme has aged into a throaty groan, the better to hear his world-weary observations. On standout track "Last Ones Left," he reunites with Compton's Most Wanted cronies Chill and Boom Bam for an ill eulogy: "And rest in peace to the dearly departed / shots rang through, my homeboys caught it (damn) / That's why I stick to the format / it's killers right here cuz, you know where the war's at."

The hood ain't the only thing bound to take him under. Album closer "You Nia'z" finds Eiht lamenting how the game has changed since the era when emcees paid the cost to be the boss: "And these Internet sites, with their forums and fights / another day, another new n**** that they like."

As the title suggests, Which Way Iz West stars a cast of left-coast heavies from Eiht's era: Kurupt, WC, Lady of Rage, B-Real, Xzibit, MayLAy and The Outlawz. Even New York underground legend Bumpy Knuckles makes a guest appearance, as does New Orleans' own Big Mike.

But this is Eiht's murder show, with Preemo executive producing, all the way down to the very last GEAHHH.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.