Santa Monica Boulevard is one of the most well known thoroughfares in Los Angeles, running from Sunset Boulevard and ending on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. Such a road holds many tidbits and trivia about the culture of Los Angeles, but one piece of information often overlooked is the role of Santa Monica Blvd. and the rise of N.W.A.
N.W,A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) was a super group from Compton, California containing the hip hop icons Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and several other members. Formed in the mid 1980s, their debut album Straight Outta Compton shook the music industry, and the general public, with their politically charged messages and explicit lyrics. Before they exploded in popularity across the United States they released several earlier projects, one of them titled Panic Zone. The cover, as pictured above, is what I will be discussing.
One might think that this cover was taken in their home of Compton, but in fact this cover was taken on 6226 Santa Monica Boulevard. One may ask why would one of the most ruthless acts in hip hop take a photo for Panic Zone in Hollywood? This is where things become interesting. Across the street from the alleyway where this photo was taken is Macola Records, a vinyl and CD pressing company that had an employee by a man named Jerry Heller. For those that know their hip hop history, Heller would become the manager of N.W.A, contributing to their massive success. Macola Records would become one of the first places to press and release the records of N.W.A.
Interestingly enough, Macola Records was not the only music company on the 6200 block. Only a few building down from where N.W.A. took their cover photo, was Gold Star Studios. This studio was by far one of the most significant and important studios in the 20th century, as it was where Phil Spector developed what became known as the “wall of sound”, a ground-breaking recording technique that produced hits such as “La Bamba”, “Good Vibrations”, and where Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would produce “Pet Sounds.” As once can see, this location for N.W.A’s Panic Zone was already a location of musical importance.
To examine the actual location, 6226 Santa Monica Boulevard, the photo was shot in the alleyway behind a store known as Roy Harte’s Drum City, one of Los Angeles’ premiere locations for percussion purposes, a rather fitting place for a hip hop group, heavily focused on percussion, to shoot this photo. Drum City is no longer there and neither is the graffiti. All that is left is this picture:
To have N.W.A take one of their first covers in a section on Santa Monica Boulevard that is iconic for the amount of music that was created there truly ties the rough neighborhood of Compton to shining streets of Hollywood. It could be seen as foreshadowing of the massive success that was to fall upon N.W.A as well as hip hop as whole moving into the 1990’s up to now, where hip hop is ingrained into the culture of Los Angeles as much as any other genre of music.