The steady stream of cars, some of them blasting the booming bass guitar and screeching adolescent voice that made him famous, kept rolling slowly down Harvard Boulevard near the First African Methodist Episcopal Church during a funeral Friday for rapper and AIDS casualtyEazy-E.
A mix of more than 3,000 fans, mothers with their children, longtime friends, casual associates, gang members sporting their colors and record industry insiders watched as church officials and family members wheeled in a gold coffin layered with white roses and lilacs. The entrance line swirled nearly around the corner as security officials pushed back more than a thousand onlookers.
Many of the people who showed up at the service were teen-agers skipping school, hoping to catch a piece of history or get a glimpse of the celebrity spectacle as "gangsta" rap's 31-year-old godfather, whose real name was Eric Wright, was remembered.
Wright, a co-founder of the influential Compton rap group N.W.A., died of AIDS on March 26. In the late 1980s, N.W.A. won acclaim for painting rap's most evocative and fierce portraits of life in Los Angeles at street level.
Fans Brandy Hernandez and Danny Zaragoza, 17-year-old seniors at Santa Ana High School, drove for an hour Friday morning to watch the service.
"His death really scared me," said Hernandez, uneasily shifting her feet from side to side. "But I hope it will make more young people think about what they are doing out there."
In eulogizing Wright, the Rev. Cecil Murray waxed poignant and frank, urging the jammed church to rejoice in Wright's life but learn lessons from the way he died. While praising Wright's contributions to anti-gang efforts in Compton and throughout Los Angeles, Murray sent a message to those young people who feel invulnerable to AIDS.
"I know a little blackbird that sings," Murray said, pointing his finger at the coffin. "And his lyrics are, 'I want you to live. I want you to be careful. I want you to slow down.' "
In the audience, rapper Hutch (Gregory Hutchinson) of Above The Law, one of the best-known rap groups on Wright's Ruthless Records label, placed his head in his hands as the choir sang "Rough Side of the Mountain." Later in the service, Hutchinson's manager, Greg Cross, spoke of Wright's contributions.
"People will talk and say evil and vicious things," Cross told the crowd. "But your (Wright's) legacy will survive in a type of music that promoted reality and awareness and also by how you paved the way for brothers in the 'hood with your creative aspirations."
Charise Henry, who was Wright's personal assistant for four years, expressed her sadness through poetry.
"We ought to recognize our own fragility no matter how hard-core we are," said Henry, standing above photos of Wright, including a life-sized image.
Calling Wright "Compton's favorite son," Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, who two years ago berated Wright and his associates for portraying black life and Compton in a derogatory manner, declared Friday to be "Eazy-E Day" in the city.
"Eric made Compton famous not just in California, but all over the world," Bradley said while reading the proclamation from the Compton City Council. "I recognize Eazy as a young man who grew up in the streets of Compton--and brothers and sisters, we know it's not 'easy' growing up in Compton."
Of the five former members of the once-world-famous N.W.A., only DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby) was present as a pallbearer in the services. Organizers did not know if two others--Dr. Dre (Andre Young) and Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson)--were in attendance. Cross said the fifth member, MC Ren (Lorenzo Patterson), did not want to attend.
"Ren just didn't want to see Eazy like this," Cross said.
The fate of Wright's record company is up in the air. Since his death, squabbles have erupted between his new wife, Tomica Wood, and the former director of business affairs at Ruthless, Mike Klein. Klein filed a lawsuit last week claiming that he owns 50% of the company. Wood maintains that she is the sole owner.
Industry insiders said the company is worth around $10 million, including its assets and a double CD compilation finished by Wright before his death. An April 14 Superior Court hearing is expected to send the once profitable company into a conservatorship until a judge can decide its fate.
After the service, as some mourners headed to the cemetery for Wright's burial, Rosa Allen, 23, stood on the curb amid the TV cameras and groupies taking in the scene. Allen, who had walked to the service from her house nearby, said the death of Wright--who fathered seven children by six women--was an urgent message to everyone, but especially young girls.
"A lot of these girls are not thinking about what they are doing," Allen said, running her hands through her long braids. "Their heads aren't on straight when they try and sleep with these celebrities. There's more to life than a one-night stand. They have their whole lives ahead of them."
Outside the church, as the crowd began to disperse, 19-year-old Michel'le Thompson held a small circle of other young black women captive with words of caution.
"I'm 19 years old and HIV-positive and I don't know if I will ever make it to 21," said Thompson, who had flown from her home in Houston to attend the funeral. "It feels like somebody reached down inside my chest and grabbed my heart out. But I tell people all the time: Don't have sympathy for me, because that makes me feel sorry for myself. Just pray for me. Just pray for me."