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The 100 Greatest West Coast Hip-Hop Songs of All Time

From N.W.A to Tyler, the Creator, from mobb music to hyphy

100 greatest west coast hip-hop songs all time


HIP-HOP WAS BORN in the Bronx in the summer of 1973. To celebrate the music’s 50th anniversary, “Rolling Stone” will be publishing a series of features, historical pieces, op-eds, and lists throughout this year.

Our story of West Coast hip-hop music begins in 1981. That’s when producer, songwriter, and industry veteran Duffy Hooks III formed Rappers Rapp Disco Co. in Los Angeles. The label’s first release was “The Gigolo Rapp,” a nine-minute party platter that featured Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp rocking over an interpolation of Rick James’ “Give It to Me.” That same year, Oakland entrepreneur and soul singer Mickey “Mo” Moore released “Super Rat,” by Motorcycle Mike and the Rat Trap Band on Hodisk Records. However, the tale could start much earlier. There’s plenty of evidence that rap developed long before the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” brought New York hip-hop to the world. “From the nasty tales of Stagolee to H. Rap Brown in the Sixties, most of rap is nothing more than straight-up Black bravado,” wrote Ice-T in his book The Ice Opinion. “Rapping is just something you pick up in the ghetto.”

In four-plus decades, the West Coast scene has blossomed with musical variety, not only in Los Angeles and the Bay Area but also Sacramento, Phoenix, Seattle, and other cities across the region. From the electro era to mobb music, turntablism, hyphy, and more, it has produced so many standout artists, micro-scenes, one-hit wonders, and multi-genre fusions that it proved impossible to fit them all into a single, 100-song list. We could dedicate half of the list to the N.W.A family tree alone, a lineage that stretches from the World Class Wreckin’ Cru to Kendrick Lamar. We could have stuffed it with 2Pac, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg hits. Instead, we chose to go broad, sticking to one main artist’s song apiece, with few exceptions. Even then, we struggled to include everyone who matters. Inevitably, some did not make the cut.

The list was compiled by our editors and a team of critics headed up by Bay Area writer and longtime RS contributor Mosi Reeves. After compiling the initial list, we thought it would be nice to get an insider’s opinion. Our expert eyeballer for the 100 Greatest West Coast Hip-Hop Songs is Mike Cox of the L.A. production duo Mike & Keys. They have worked with many of the artists who appear here, including Dr. Dre, Nipsey Hustle, Dom Kennedy, Xzibit, and Saweetie. “West Coast hip-hop is the inspiration that me and my partner Keys used to make Nipsey’s album Victory Lap, because we were inspired by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, N.W.A,” says Mike. “We were inspired by them using funk samples with hip-hop drums.”

Mike says that when Nipsey Hussle began work on the Grammy-nominated Victory Lap, he connected with numerous OG producers, including the late Digital Underground figurehead Shock G, Dr. Dre, and DJ Quik as well as engineers who worked on those sessions. “It’s like going and sitting with your senseis that did it before you and getting the blessing. We did that with all the West Coast legends,” he says.

However, Mike wonders what West Coast hip-hop means now in the age of the internet. “The internet made it possible for anybody to put their music up and think they’re a professional,” he says. “It’s made music more of a gumbo effect.… When you have everything accessible to you, you’re kinda all over the place.” Yet that’s part of the history, too. As the region evolves and acclimates to changing tastes in the music industry, our 100 Greatest West Coast Hip-Hop Songs stands as a snapshot of the scene’s important landmarks. It’s made with the knowledge that the future may well uncover a different portrait.

Hear this playlist on Spotify.

From Rolling Stone US


Problem feat. Bad Luc

Compton rapper Jason “Problem” Martin, who caught his first break as a songwriter for Snoop Dogg and others, is typical of an era where West Coast artists seem to make more noise in the streets and the internet than on the pop charts. He’s scored plenty of breakout tracks, chief among them “Like Whaaat,” a song remembered for a chorus that sounds exactly like its title. Produced by League of Starz, it’s also a throwback that opens with a noodle-y, funky worm melody reminiscent of the region’s G-funk heyday, and samples heavily from New Orleans rapper Young Bleed’s 1998 hit “How Ya Do Dat.” “Keep a pistol grip pump on his lap at all times/Wherever, however, cause young niggas stay trying,” he raps, quoting from Volume 10’s 1993 hit “Pistol Grip Pump.” “Hah? Nigga whut? Hah? Give a fuck, nigga whaaaaat???” —M.R.


Mack 10 & Tha Dogg Pound

Originally released as part of the rap documentary Rhyme & Reason, this collaboration among Mack 10, Kurupt, and Daz is an effortless barbecue jam. Fresh off his work for Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food, underrated Long Beach rapper-producer Daz crafts a banger full of funky worm melodies and keyboard piano for himself, Inglewood rapper Mack 10, and Philly émigré to groove on. “It ain’t about the set trip, it’s all about the paper,” advises Mack 10 as the trio bob and weave on a classic single from the G-funk era. —M.R.



In 2011, fledgling Bay Area rapper and videographer Kreayshawn uploaded a viral clip for “Gucci Gucci,” leading to a deal with Columbia Records. Now, 12 years after all the controversies and debate surrounding her and her White Girl Mob have subsided, it’s possible to appreciate the single on its own merits. Co-produced by DJ Two Stacks and Adeptus, “Gucci Gucci” is a product of the brief New Bay movement — other participants included HBK Gang and LoveRance — and finds her chirping about smoking swisher blunts and slanging Adderall pills while mocking “basic bitches” who wear Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Prada luxury. The beat has a Tumblr sensibility, with slowed-and-chopped effects, scratches, bounce music rhythms, and sludgy EDM bass. It’s a time capsule, for sure, but Kreayshawn’s homegrown charisma still shines through. —M.R.


Young MC

An unimpeachable pop-rap classic, “Bust a Move” broke the Top 10 and won the second Best Rap Grammy thanks to the squeaky clean and dazzlingly clever rhymes of Los Angeles-via-New York-via London wordsmith Young MC. The USC student already had two hits under his belt thanks to his co-writing credits on Tone Lōc’s “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina,” and his hilarious storytelling proved irresistible on his solo turn, matched with a production from the Delicious Vinyl team and hard-popping bass from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “I don’t want to give a radio station a reason not to play it,” Young told Rolling Stone about its G-rated rhymes. “Crossing over wasn’t a bad thing, because nobody had crossed over yet.” —C.W.


Doja Cat

Every so often, heated online debates emerge over whether Doja Cat is truly a rapper, a conversation made fraught by her emergence in an era when melodic sounds by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples, not traditional spoken words, are the dominant mainstream form. However, The L.A. artist spent time in underground hip-hop circles before developing the polyglot of electronic pop and R&B styles that made her a controversial, sometimes-trolling global superstar, and “Rules” is arguably her most straightforward and convincing rap to date. Even her toughest skeptics must admit that she exhibits a commanding flow as she slips and slides over a beat co-produced by Ben Billion$, Salaam Remi, and Dr. Luke, and warns, “Play with my pussy, but don’t play with my emotions.” Last month, Doja Cat tweeted “no more pop.” Is “Rules” a sign of what’s to come? —M.R.



On the finest moment from Mozzy’s epic 2015 run of mixtapes, the Sacramento MC delivered high-octane street rap with a screenwriter’s eye for detail. In bar after furious, hyper-descriptive bar, Mozzy unfolds a violent existence with both brashness and vulnerability, exploring the consequences of street life with passion: “It’s deeper than the punchline and tryna sound lyrical/You don’t wanna live like this, my life difficult.” “I’m not giving you just the glamorous side. I’m letting you know it gets ugly. My n*****s, they’ve been in that cold-ass holding tank, curled up, with a murder rap on your paper,” Mozzy told Noisey. “I’m letting you know, like, everything ain’t glamorous.” —C.W.



For a brief, heady moment, SOB x RBE seemed like they would break the Bay Area’s decades-long curse of failing to launch street-rap acts beyond regional infamy and one-hit status. After building buzz among local teens with a handful of YouTube songs, the Vallejo quartet blossomed with “Anti,” a viral anthem that dazzles with brash, youthful swagger. Produced by Maczmuzik, it consists of a grizzled, slang-rich boast from Slimmy B and a creamy melodic hook from Yhung T.O. full of references to “shooters” he keeps “on standby.” A gold-certified cornerstone of Bay Area radio to this day, “Anti” earned T.O. a deal with Interscope and led to the group being featured on Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther: The Album and “Paramedic!” Unfortunately, SOB x RBE subsequently fell apart; one troubled former member, Lul G, was arrested and convicted of murder. —M.R.


The Coup

By the time of their second album, Genocide & Juice, Oakland trio The Coup drew increasing national acclaim for their socialist-minded satire. On “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish,” group leader and producer Boots Riley — now best known as a film director of indie hits like Sorry to Bother You — tells the story of a broke hustler doing dirt to survive. He manages to finesse his way into a cocktail party full of rich swells, and he intends to pick their pockets, only to get schooled when he overhears a conversation between an unnamed Coca-Cola executive and the mayor. “Don’t worry about the Urban League or Jesse Jackson/My man that owns Marlboro donated a fat sum,” says the former. The track spotlights Boots’ ability to summarize complex ideas about gentrification and wealth capture into a funky and memorable five-minute track while epitomizing the Black activist tradition that fuels hip-hop culture. “Ain’t no one player that can compete with this lunacy,” he raps, unsettled. —M.R.


People Under the Stairs

People Under the Stairs were an L.A. duo that could rap and produce with equal skill, and this highlight from their third album, 2002’s O.S.T., succinctly displayed their uncomplicated everyman approach. Boom-bap drums and beaming samples back an earnest ode to the ways music and Mary Jane can take away the stress of life. “Just let the music take over my soul, body and mind/To kick back relax one time,” they rap. The result is a sunny, relatable weed anthem. —D.M. 


Westside Connection

As tensions ran high in the music industry around the incredibly absurd but undeniably real East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry, Ice Cube threw proverbial gasoline on the fire with Westside Connection, a supergroup featuring himself, Mack 10, and W.C. “Bow down when you come to our town,” they growled over producer Stephen “Bud’da” Anderson’s ominously stark G-funk beat. The trio’s vocal performance is all hard stares and big-bodied flexes, evoking toughness and resolve in the face of what they contend is regional bias from the New York rap intelligentsia. It’s a great battle record, which is why it still holds classic status among golden era rap fans even as the ridiculous circumstances that led to its creation have long since disappeared. —M.R.


DJ Shadow

He didn’t rap, he didn’t sing, he didn’t produce records by big artists, but DJ Shadow became a minor Nineties star all the same thanks to the sampledelic grandeur of his 1996 debut, Entroducing… Shadow was a monkish master builder of trip-hop symphonies, studiously collaging ultra-obscure samples into spacious tracks that could be hard hitting or surreally funny or surprisingly poignant. His impact on the rap world was admittedly pretty limited, but Entroducing… touched a nerve; Radiohead mentioned it as an influence on their 1997 pous OK Computer. “Midnight in a Perfect World,” the first single off Entroducing…, remains a beautiful statement of introspective beathead bliss rendered with the care and detail of a visionary happily drifting in his own endless inner space. —J.D.


Kendrick Lamar

Most artists would be exhausted after the one-two punch of good kid, m.A.A.d City and To Pimp a Butterfly, but Kung-Fu Kenny returned roaring, more trunk-rattling than ever. “DNA,” the first proper track off DAMN., sports some of Lamar’s grizzliest bars this side of the “Control” remix, feeling his own greatness at a molecular level. The video presents the antisocial extrovert’s flow as something larger than him, viral and possessive, mirroring the galactic scope of his fury (“My DNA not for imitation/Your DNA an abomination”). Mike Will Made-It wanted the late-track beat-switch to sound like Kendrick was “battling the beat,” reverse-engineering it from an a cappella Kendrick verse. Sounds like war, all right. —C.P.


JT the Bigga Figga

“Game recognize game in the Bay, mayne,” goes the chorus to JT the Bigga Figga’s best-known track. Issued as part of his 1993 album, Playaz N the Game, the track rumbles with omnipresent funky-worm melodies and hydraulics-sized bass as JT floats alongside Vallejo rapper Mac Mall. The 1994 remix and video version, which hit the national charts and features JT’s Get Low Playaz crew, is even smoother as Mac Mall boasts, “A mac like myself got to keep my game crispy.” “Game Recognize Game” earned JT’s Get Low Recordz a distribution deal with Priority Records, but he never equaled the success of this Bay Area anthem. However, he achieved a second wave of notoriety by issuing The Game’s first tracks in 2003, only to fall into a long-running business dispute when the Compton rapper bolted for Dr. Dre’s Aftermath imprint. —M.R.


Spice 1

The 1993 film Menace II Society shook America with its unflinching portrayals of street violence, and the nihilism that often goes hand in hand with it. The platinum soundtrack leads with Spice-1’s equally ice-cold, equally cinematic song, a tune that revels in ultraviolent storytelling but not without root (“The prez, he can’t give me no love/’Cause I’m stuck on the corner in the ghetto slangin’ dub sacks”), and not without consequence (it seems unlikely that the narrator survives by song’s end). —C.W.


San Quinn & Andre Nickatina

“Ayo” is the kind of track that went viral before there was such a thing. Originally released as part of the Andre Nickatina & Nick Peace Present Hells Kitchen compilation, it quickly became a favorite on message boards and P2P clients like Limewire as well as a go-to track for underground DJs. Over an acoustic guitar-flecked beat from San Francisco rapper-producer Andre Nickatina, fellow S.F. rapper San Quinn weaves a profane yet cautionary tale of how drugs affect the community, from a young woman who falls into the wrong crowd and gets addicted to the drug dealer that’s got “Whitney and Bob” hooked. But it’s Andre’s infectiously deep-voiced, sing-song chorus that makes the track so unforgettable: “I’d go a yo for yeyyo/Walk around with yeyyo/All in my nasal/I must have been craze, yo.” —M.R.



Not only was this the star vehicle that kickstarted a decade of Tyga pop domination, “Rack City” also broke the rubbery, “ratchet” production of DJ Mustard, a sound that helped give mainstream rap its bounce for years. The production was originally intended for YG (who would eventually have his own Mustard-helmed hits like “My N****” and “Big Bank”), but the rapper was kind enough to let Mustard pass it along when Tyga was on the prowl for beats. “I sent it to him on like a Tuesday or a Wednesday and like on Thursday it was out,” Mustard told XXL. “It just blew up.” —C.W.


MC Hammer

Made during an era when rappers shouted and boasted like men on a mountaintop — the height of Run-DMC and LL Cool J’s influence — East Oakland rapper MC Hammer set dance floors ablaze with “Let’s Get It Started.” (Ironically, Hammer deemed himself better than the two aforementioned superstars, and LL dissed him on “Jack the Ripper.”) Produced by former Con Funk Shun songwriter-keyboardist Felton Pilate, the song was a loud clarion call full of chants, emphatic keyboards, and Hammer’s boast about how “my beat is ever boomin’.” Released on his Bust-It Records, “Let’s Get It Started” was a huge regional hit, earning Hammer a major-label deal that led to “U Can’t Touch This,” the Hammerman cartoon, and everything else. —M.R.


Kid Frost

“La Raza” is not only an essential Chicano rap anthem, it’s a signpost for two veterans with deep connections in the L.A. hip-hop scene. Kid Frost began his career as a dancer with Uncle Jamm’s Army, collaborating with the likes of Ice-T and releasing 12-inches like 1985’s underrated “Terminator.” By 1990, he had a deal with Virgin, leading to the debut album, Hispanic Causing Panic. Produced by Tony G of the KDAY Mixmasters crew, “La Raza” cruises at a simmering Latin-soul pace, and Frost peppers the track with Spanglish phrases and cholo street knowledge. “Your own barrio doesn’t back you up/They just look at your ass and call you a poo butt,” he boasts. After Panic, Frost worked with funk veterans War and formed the supergroup Latin Alliance with A Lighter Shade of Brown, Proper Dos, Hi-C, and Hispanic MCs. Frost’s son, Scoop Deville, is a noted producer who worked on Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice.” —M.R.


The Conscious Daughters

Mentored by San Francisco rapper-producer Paris, East Oakland rappers the Conscious Daughters were an anomaly in the Bay Area’s mobb music scene of the mid-Nineties. As two hardcore women amidst a macho landscape bedazzled by dreams of being macks of the year, CMG and the late Special One more than held their own, earning respect for deep, bass-ridden tracks like their debut single, “Something to Ride To (Fonky Expedition).” Produced by Paris, with live instrumentation by himself and session musician Eric Valentine, “Fonky Expedition” hums at a low, steady altitude, fueling the sound of a duo on the come up. Their vocal interplay is heavily influenced by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” “Kickin’ that shit you love,” raps CMG. “Pass the drank and the dank for the bitch to buzz.” —M.R.


Schoolboy Q

South Central L.A. rapper and former Hoover Crip member Schoolboy Q has long split the difference between punchy, evocative bars touting his thug bona fides and memorable turn-up choruses. “Man of the Year” encapsulates that unique songwriting talent by centering on a crazily effective strip-club chant. “Shake it for the man of the year/Uhh, m-man of the year/M-man of the bounce!” he raps, with producers Nez & Rio and Soundwave adding a percussive flourish as Q says the word “bounce.” But he also imbues his verses with colorful details like wearing “tank tops” to soak in the California breeze, “burnt lips” from blunt smoke, and “making meals from a verb.” Far from the knotty textures of onetime Top Dawg labelmate Kendrick Lamar, Q occupies his own lane and, as Will “Chazz Michael” Ferrell once said, he gets the people going. —M.R.


Roddy Ricch

Throughout 2020, “The Box” was inescapable. It seemed as if you couldn’t turn on a radio for more than a few minutes without hearing Roddy Ricch’s high-pitched “eee-err” ad-lib that kicks off the track. The global chart-topping hit was the culmination of growing acclaim for the Compton rapper’s hybrid of L.A. style and Southern melodic rap influences and followed increased attention for his mixtapes as well as breakout singles like “Die Young,” his dedication to a murdered friend. Co-produced by 30 Roc, Datboisqueeze, and Zentachi, “The Box” is an otherworldly number full of laptop synth washes and bass drops, a glossy canvas for Roddy Ricch to crow about “mojo deals” and “trapping like the Eighties.” —M.R.



Releasing dispatch after dispatch from his underground Bomb Shelter studio, the hopelessly prolific Madlib has been a cult figure for decades thanks to his offbeat sample choices, blunted textures, and endless stream of aliases. Next to his now-legendary Madvillain project, there’s perhaps no Madlib guise more beloved than Quasimoto, his squeaky-voiced, crate-digging “bad character” prone to sampling psych rock and Sun Ra. “Microphone Mathematics” was the lead single off Quas’ hazy debut, The Unseen. “The music is just uninhibited,” Madlib told Remix. “All of my stuff is, like, one take, like a free-jazz dude. And as far as Quas goes, that’s all freestyle shit.” —C.W.


2Pac feat. Digital Underground

“I Get Around” marked a reunion between 2Pac and Digital Underground, the Oakland rap band who first brought him to prominence as a touring dancer (and sometime stand-in for Shock G’s alter-ego, Humpty Hump), then as a breakout guest in 1991’s “Same Song.” Even though it was his first real pop hit, he had already gained notoriety through a starring role in the 1992 movie Juice, run-ins with law enforcement, and Black Panther-inspired songs that earned the ire of former Vice President Dan Quayle. There’s a sense of paying it forward as Pac spotlights the pioneering Bay Area crew behind “The Humpty Dance” while continuing his ascent to generational icon. Produced by Shock G’s D-Flow Production Squad with drum programming from DJ Fuze and a cameo from Money B, “I Get Around” is a playful, good-natured party classic, save for one ominous lyric that came back to haunt 2Pac: “It’s a lot of real Gs doing time/’Cause a groupie bit the truth and told a lie.” —M.R.