Unless you’re buried under a rock somewhere, you should be fully aware that it’s currently N.W.A. season. With Straight Outta Compton bombarding theaters this Friday (August 14), the living members of the L.A. supergroup Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella (Eazy-E died in 1995) and the characters that played them—Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr. and Jason Mitchell, respectively—have been hitting the magazine circuit.
READ: Throwback Jams: Straight Outta N.W.A.
For Billboard‘s coverage, the mag tapped Kendrick Lamar to play interviewer for the story. Lamar, noticeably humbled and happy to be there, talked to the film’s rap royalty about how they functioned as a unit in their prime, how they feel about his generation of artists, being a fan of Pusha T, the studio being addictive and how they remained authentic so many years later. Not before letting them know how honored he was to talk to the people that influenced his career so heavily. “I’m tripping right now,” he told them. “Man, I’m bugging.”
Take a look at some of the conversation before checking out the full cover story and spread here:
Kendrick Lamar: How do you think your music changed the way the world viewed our culture and our community?
Ice Cube: Unless you come from Compton, it’s not a world you’re privy to. Our music let you visit Compton from a safe distance.
Dr. Dre: We gave the suburban kids an opportunity to get up close.
Ice Cube: Now you care. You heard what’s going on in the hood, and you’re interested. Now Compton means something to you. Now you pay attention. We were able to shed light on some of the bullshit that was going down. We presented it in a way that you could digest, comprehend and sympathize with what we were going through.
Dr. Dre: If we had done it softer, it wouldn’t have gotten the attention. It wouldn’t have worked.
DJ Yella: The truth is that there wasn’t much competition. There was the East and the West, but there was really no West before us. We came in so different, so real, that we were immediately heard.
Did you have any doubts that you would be accepted?
MC Ren: I don’t think we really cared.
Dr. Dre: We had no idea we’d blow up this major. You see, every time we went into the studio we were only trying to make tracks that would rock our neighborhood. Our goal was to be local stars.
Ice Cube: We didn’t think the world cared about gang-banging and dope-dealing in L.A., Compton, South Central, Long Beach and Watts. The hub of hip-hop was the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. We were on the fringes. And that was OK with us.
Dr. Dre: Imagine this: We made Straight Outta Compton in six weeks, and that’s without working weekends. Twenty-five years later, and here’s a big-ass Hollywood movie carrying the same name. It’s unbelievable.
READ: Meanwhile Oprah Saw “Straight Outta Compton” And Thought It Was ‘Powerful’
As one of your offspring, anything I do comes from what y’all have done before me. I’m curious to know how you feel about my generation of artists.
MC Ren: I like a few. I like you.
Dr. Dre: You’re No. 1 on my list because of the care and attention you bring to your tracks and the precision you bring to your sound. There are a few people out there I listen to and respect.
MC Ren: Pusha T.
Dr. Dre: Definitely Pusha T.
MC Ren: I’m not saying this because you’re here, Kendrick, but I like your song “Cut You Off.” I’ve been listening to you for a minute.
Thank you. Now I’m wondering, is there anything my generation should build on and bring back to the game?
Ice Cube: That’s tricky, man. An artist has to do it like he feels it — not because he should, or someone else says he should. Hip-hop got too focused on results and record sales. Sales have nothing to do with the art you create in the studio.
Dr. Dre: When we started out, it wasn’t for money. It was for the love of music. You treat her right, and she’ll treat you right. If your only aim is money, your time will be limited.
DJ Yella: We just went in there and did what we wanted.