A lot of people can't accept the truth,'' Eric Wright (a.k.a. Eazy-E) declared on a December 1993 broadcast of Larry King Live. ''(They) try to hide it or candy-coat it, but you know, you can't hide it.'' *With the March 16 announcement that he is suffering from AIDS and, at press time, is hooked to a respirator at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Wright, 31, tragically confirmed the truth of his own words. The rapper-whose group, N.W.A, revolutionized hip-hop with 1988's Straight Outta Compton- learned of his condition in February, after attributing recurrent illness over the past several months to chronic asthma. (A statement from Wright, who has seven children by six different mothers, implies he contracted the disease through unprotected heterosexual sex.) Wright's revelation-the first by any major hip-hop artist-has rocked the tight-knit rap world. ''The most important thing this means for hip-hop,'' says Josh Levine, of the rap-dance magazine Urb, ''is that the same (group) who hang out in this L.A. club scene who were screwing Magic (Johnson) were also screwing Eazy and all the rest, because that's how it works. These other guys gotta be sweating now.''
''If you're a rapper, and you go to a particular city, you (encounter) the same groupies,'' agrees 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell. ''I took an AIDS test about six months ago, and I'm about ready to go (to the clinic) again.'' Many observers feel that this increased vigilance lends a silver lining to Wright's situation. Unfortunately, in the days following Wright's announcement, most major artists-including Dr. Dre, Warren G, Salt 'N' Pepa, and Ice Cube-maintained a studious silence on the still-stigmatized issue, while many newspapers ignored the rapper's plight. According to a source at The New York Times, the paper of record initially ran no Eazy-E stories because editors ''didn't feel it was important enough.'' A small item did appear, however, on March 20. ''I don't think the media has been particularly clued in to what a seminal figure he is in the history of rap,'' says MTV News assignment editor Farai Chideya. Supposedly working on a double album, Wright had, in the past two years, stepped back from a successful solo career (his 1988 album, Eazy Duz It, sold more than 2 million copies) and devoted himself to his label, Ruthless Records (where he groomed multiplatinum debut act Bone Thugs N Harmony). And Eazy has earned ambivalence in more than one way. A public feud with former N.W.A members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube in 1992 damaged his street cred, as did his bizarre decision to donate $2,490 to a Republican fund-raiser so he could dine with George Bush; not to mention his public support of LAPD officer Theodore Briseno in the Rodney King case. But Wright's role in founding both Ruthless-though it was allegedly done with money earned through drug dealing, which he denies-and N.W.A permanently marked him as ''a watershed artist,'' says Barry Weiss, president of Jive Records. If N.W.A didn't invent gangsta rap-hip-hop's dominant genre-the triple-platinum Compton certainly introduced the form to what would become its largest audience-white suburban teenagers. ''(And) in N.W.A, the marketing and imaging ideas were all Eazy's,'' says Priority Records president Bryan Turner. ''He was the personality of the group.'' That legacy remains. Cedars- Sinai received 7,000 phone calls regarding Wright in four days-''more than for any other celebrity ever,'' says hospital spokeswoman Paula Correia (six guards now protect the ICU). What action those fans take in their own lives, however, remains to be seen. ''It opened my eyes,'' says Arthur Roberts, 18, of L.A. ''It's not like I haven't used safe sex in the past, but now that's all I'm gonna do.'' On the other hand, New Yorker James Emery, 16, says, ''What goes around comes around. People are going to ignore this because of the way he's dissed girls.'' In fact, a random sampling of health clinics in L.A. revealed no increase in AIDS tests the weekend after Wright's declaration. ''Unfortunately, most Americans have a really short memory for equating individual tragedies with their own lives,'' points out Chideya. ''A lot of people who didn't wear condoms last weekend will wear them this weekend. But the weekend after that? I'm not sure.'' For Wright, though, perhaps revealing the truth holds its own solace. ''At least he had the courage to come out and give this statement,'' says MTV News editorial supervisor Michael Shore. ''A lot of guys might just die and never even say anything. Better late than never-that much I can say for him.''