Straight Outta Compton, the box office-breaking August release, is proving to be as controversial in 2015 as N.W.A was in the ‘90s. First, the hip-hop chronicle sparked a renewed outrage over music industry heavyweight Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women. Now, the aftereffects of the film's impact are reigniting conspiracy theories over founding member Eazy-E’s tragic death in 1995. Any self-respecting hip-hop head knows that the Compton legend supposedly succumbed to AIDS-related complications just one month after he was diagnosed with the disease. Straight Outta Compton sticks to those facts, offering up an emotional rendering of Eazy-E’s untimely demise. But by repeating the established narrative, the film stirred up dissent from a certain contingent of the hip-hop community who ascribe to the belief that Eazy-E’s death was actually foul play.
Like all good conspiracies, this theory stems from various logical jumps and inconsistencies that can’t be easily explained away. In a 2015 interview with VLADTV, the Eazy-E signed hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony cited the various questions that fans have lingered over decades after Eazy-E’s death. For one, none of Eazy-E’s romantic partners or children has tested positive for the disease. Rapper Wish Bone said that the death was “real sudden”; Krayzie Bone added, “I know people can live with HIV for years and look normal and look healthy, but when you’re about to die from AIDS, full-blown AIDS, you’re gonna look like you’re gonna die from AIDS.” The insinuation, which has been made by many who knew Eazy-E in his final days, was that the disease came on too suddenly to fit a natural timeline—rather, a deadly injection could explain everything, from the unidentified source of Eazy-E’s infection to the severity and rapidity of his decline.
Unlike most conspiracies, this theory isn't as crazy as it sounds. In a recently unearthed Jimmy Kimmel Live! interview, Suge Knight casually discussed the possibility of taking someone down with a contaminated blood injection: “If you shoot somebody you go to jail forever … So they got this new thing out … they get blood from somebody with AIDs and then they shoot you with it. So that’s a slow death, an Eazy-E thing, ya know what I’m saying?” It's far from a confession, but Eazy-E's daughter E.B. Wright attests to the volatility of her father's relationship with Knight, which she claims Straight Outta Compton downplayed; while the film features a scene in which Suge Knight beats up Eazy-E, Wright says that “he actually pulled a gun on him.” Eazy-E’s son Yung Eazy went a step further, implicating Knight by name on an Instagram post insisting that his father’s death “never added up to what people have always said,” and sharing the clip of Knight’s Jimmy Kimmel “If I Did It” moment.
In 2011, former Eazy-E gangsta rap protégé B.G. Knocc Out released a single “N My Prime,” rapping that “The way my big homie went out, he didn't deserve it / Try to say he died of AIDS, but Eazy was cold murdered.” In an interview, the rapper elaborated, “I believe in my heart somebody did something to Eric. Whether it was Jerry [Heller, Eazy’s partner at Ruthless Records], whether it was [his widow] Tomica [Woods-Wright], I have yet to really know the truth about it …My little brother, his father died from full-blown AIDS ... from sharing a needle [‘cause] he was [an addict]. Now, I seen this man go through these stages, from HIV to full-blown AIDS. And, when you get a cold, any little thing like that, your whole immune system shut down...Now, to be around Eric for the last three years of his life and he never had an episode like this — never ever — something is strange."
Rapper Frost, a labelmate on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records, is similarly unconvinced. In an upcoming documentary, Frost shares, “I’m-a tell you what happened with Eazy getting AIDS and I believe this to this day...And I don’t care if you guys got it on film. You can tell the world. They gave him tainted needles with acupuncture. Needles that tainted him, they gave it to him.” Frost goes on to hint at the alleged murderer's identity, explaining, “I don’t wanna say that name ‘cause it’s the devil’s name—but another person in rap, if you know your history of rap, calls him the devil” before concluding that “how else could somebody die that fast of AIDS? Have you even heard of somebody dying in two weeks of AIDS, bro? Come on, man, it’s just unheard of, bro.”
Former N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller shared his own frustrations with the Suge Knight lethal injection conspiracy, bemoaning, “I can’t believe that the F.B.I. or somebody—I mean that show is all over YouTube. He said ‘Ya kill ‘em. You inject ‘em. Eazy-E style.’ I mean, come on. Do they not care when an African American kills another African American? Do they not care? I don’t know, man. I mean, why haven’t they solved Biggie’s murder? Why haven’t they solved Tupac’s murder? If Eazy was murdered, if he was injected, why haven’t they solved it?"
On the one hand, this conspiracy reads like a life raft for Eazy-E admirers and loved ones, who are perhaps still not ready to admit that a young, strong, gangster rapper could succumb to HIV/AIDs. In light of the persistent stigma that still surrounds the disease to this day, cold-blooded murder might feel like a more acceptable way to go for a hardcore hip-hop fan. Comments about Eazy-E’s healthy appearance and impossibly fast decline reinforce medical myths that plague the deadly disease; there is more than one HIV/AIDs narrative, and looks can certainly be deceiving. That being said, allegations of wrongdoing can’t be completely dismissed. Suge Knight’s musings on intentional injections in the ‘90s are alarmingly substantive; according to The Boom Box, a person would “get a vial of blood from someone with the AIDS virus and inject a person in good health,” leading to an inevitably fatal outcome. A 2010 report in the British Medical Journal offers further insight, claiming that, “Although no clear evidence exists to support a link between acupuncture and HIV infection, there are reports of patients with HIV who had no risk factors other than acupuncture.”
Deadly acupuncture and tainted blood vials aside, this conspiracy theory seems rooted in a lack of closure surrounding Eazy-E’s sudden demise, and the difficult legacy of his death at the hands of a widely stigmatized national epidemic. While we might never know what truly went down in 1995, it’s safe to say that Straight Outta Compton’s release will continue to inspire rappers, family members, and Eazy-E associates to share their theories on one of rap’s greatest unsolved mysteries.