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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


Black Eyed Peas

Before the Black Eyed Peas took on a singer named Fergie and adopted the cheese-tsunami electro-whomp sound that’d make them maligned Super Bowl-playing mega-stars, they were a rising, well-regarded fixture on the L.A. alternative-rap scene. With its jazzy organ and upbeat groove, the infectious second single from their 1998 debut, Behind the Front, rolls out a politely partying vision of organic universalism, as Will.I.Am raps, “We about mass appeal, no segregation/Got Black to Asian and Caucasian sayin’.” But even amidst the relaxed vibes, you can already hear them sowing the seeds of their disco-pop putsch to come when singer Kim Hill interpolates the silky melody from the classic title song from the movie Grease. Within a few years,  the Peas would be trading backpacks for jetpacks. —J.D.


Oaktown’s 3-5-7

Thanks to MC Hammer’s multiplatinum success in the late Eighties, several of his associates earned major deals, including Oaktown’s 3-5-7, a trio of dancers. With production from Hammer and James Earley, the group’s second single mixes James Brown horn stabs with air horns, drum machines, and walloping East Bay funk. “Party’s jumping off on a Thursday night,” rap Terrible T, Lil’ P, and Sweet L.D. in tag-team style as an unnamed chorus of homeboys cheers them on. “The bass is boomin’ and the crowd is loud/We’re about to tear the roof off, yeah, Oak style!” —M.R.


Dom Kennedy

Dom Kennedy’s “When I Come Around” is redolent of West Coast rap in the early 2010s, an era that brought a new generation of artists like Kendrick Lamar, Casey Veggies, and Thurz to prominence. While not as dependent on G-funk tropes as his predecessors, you can still hear a firm bass bottom in J. LBS’s production amidst a swirl of laptop melodies that reverberate like disco lights. Meanwhile, the Leimart Park rapper boasts in a declarative and direct flow. “This the Coast/T-shirt, flannel, no coats/A party ain’t a party if my nigga can’t smoke,” he raps. As the breakout single on From the Westside With Love II, “When I Come Around” established Kennedy as a force in the L.A. scene for the rest of the decade, and he drew as much respect for his independent hustle as for his music. —M.R.


Open Mike Eagle

Open Mike Eagle is originally from Chicago, where he began his career in the Nineties as part of the underground collective Nacrobats. He settled in Los Angeles in the mid-aughts, cycling through crews like Hellfyre Club and while developing an “art rap” style that blends world-weary punchlines heavy on pop references and acidic putdowns. In 2014, he achieved a hard-won creative breakthrough with Dark Comedy, on which he began to foreground the kind of sincere observations that got lost amidst the jokes on his previous releases. The album was a left-of-center classic that made him one of the most prominent names in independent hip-hop. “We the best mostly, sometimes the freshest rhymers,” he harmonizes on the standout track, “Qualifiers.” In 2019, Open Mike Eagle launched a Comedy Central TV series, The New Negroes. —M.R.


Captain Rapp

Larry Earl Glenn, a.k.a. Captain Rapp, is a West Coast pioneer like none other. As one half of Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp, he released “The Gigolo Rapp,” the 1981 Rick James-meets-Sugarhill Gang party-rhyme that’s generally referred to as Los Angeles’ very first rap record. His second single, “Bad Times (I Can’t Stand It),” takes a widescreen view to the strife and struggle detailed in Melle Mel and Duke Bootee’s “The Message.” Where “The Message” took a microscope to the inner city, “Bad Times” zooms out to show a world plagued by AIDS, war, and natural disasters in bleak, unsparing terms: “Terrorism, cynicism, communism, suicide/Atheism, aneurysm, brutalism, homicide.” The blipping electro beat was one of the earliest production credits for future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (alongside Rich Cason), helping propel “Bad Times” to the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. —C.W.


Brotha Lynch Hung

In 1995, Brotha Lynch Hung cracked the Billboard 200 albums chart with his gory horrorcore gem, Season of da Siccness: The Resurrection, leading folks to wonder: Just what the hell is going on in Sacramento? The onetime Meadowview Crip drenched himself in murderous themes, bloody gun warfare, occasional cannibalism, and bleary keyboard funk. As the only single from Siccness, “R.I.P.” summed up the concerns of a rapper-producer who pioneered slang like “sicc,” “ripgut,” and “locc.” “Thoughts of death cloud my mind,” raps Lynch as he describes the trauma of losing his friends to gang violence. —M.R.


The Alkaholiks

Los Angeles’ funkiest, funniest, tipsiest underdog team of the ’90s never got the crossover hit they deserved, but Tha Alkaholiks delivered no shortage of cult hits, including their squealing, swerving 1993 debut single, “Make Room.” Affiliated with Los Angeles powerhouse King Tee, the trio of Tash, J-Ro, and E-Swift brought a belligerent, punchline-heavy, meat-potatoes-and-beer style that wasn’t as gangster as Ice Cube, but not as breezy as the Pharcyde. “We wasn’t really with the goin’ out, beatin’ up muthafuckas. We partied. We liked fuckin’ with girls and all that type of shit,” King Tee told HiphopDX. “What do we do? We get drunk, fucked up. So we came up with [the name] Tha Alkaholiks.” —C.W.


Dilated Peoples

Like so many Nineties underground acts, Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience, and DJ Babu suffered through a major deal that yielded a shelved album (1994’s Imagery, Battlehymns & Political Poetry) and not much else before winding up on industrious Oakland-based imprint ABB Records. The “Work the Angles” 12-inch became the L.A. trio’s redemption song, leading to a second major deal and standout singles like the 2001 Guru and Alchemist-assisted “Worst Comes to Worst” and the 2004 Kanye West collaboration “This Way.” From Kut Masta Kurt’s inspired DJ Premier-like beat chops to DJ Revolution’s turntablist cuts and Evidence and Rakaa’s sharp, boastful flows, “Work the Angles” epitomizes the indie renaissance that shook up hip-hop, with flows redolent of what has since become known as the backpack era. —M.R.



“I’ve been broke all my life…now I wonder, how does it feel to be rich?” asks Kamaiyah. The Oakland rapper seemed to manifest success: “How Does It Feel?” quickly became a mainstay on local rap radio, earned her a contract with Interscope through Compton rapper YG’s 4Hunnid imprint, landed her on XXL’s 2017 top 10 Freshmen Class list, and led to a platinum-certified hit with YG and Drake, “Why You Always Hatin?” Produced by CT Beats, “How Does It Feel” slaps with boogie-funk rhythm as Kamaiyah dreams optimistically better days for herself and her Big Money Gang in a sing-song voice. “Throwing whips when we swang/BMG do our thang,” she raps.–M.R.



Oakland duo Zion-I’s “Inner Light” reflects a brief, largely forgotten period of collaboration between electronic producers and underground rappers at large rave events and club nights like L.A.’s Konkrete Jungle. Producer Amp Live and rapper Zumbi seamlessly fuse light, Roni Size-styled drum-and-bass rhythms with metaphysical rhymes about ascending to a higher consciousness. “I’m like Gogol13, assassinator/Known to roam zones, microphones and faders,” raps Zumbi, referencing the early ’80s manga anti-hero. “Inner Light” kicked off over two decades of global tours for the group, and a run of indie success that only ended with Zumbi’s tragic death in 2021. —M.R.


Blu and Exile

Blu and Exile were a combustible duo: a battle-rapper with a spiritual streak set ablaze by a producer operating halfway between boom-bap revivalism and beat-scene psychedelia. Their collaborative debut, Below the Heavens, is a slow-burn classic, matriculating through the late-aughts internet into the indie-rap firmament off the strength of tracks like “So(ul) Amazin’ (Steel Blazin’).” Here Exile reassembles an old Dells track into a microscopic choir of hallelujahs, enraptured by Blu’s breathless flow. But as always with Blu, introspection is close at hand. “My pop a thug, I’m a son of a blood,” he raps, before smiling at the notion of his dad listening to his music. —C.P.  



“Emotionally disturbed in the third person,” begins West Oakland rapper Saafir on “Light Sleeper.” The first single from his debut album, Boxcar Sessions, spotlights a hardcore eccentric who spent time homeless, landed a brief appearance in the 1993 film Menace II Society, and led his Hobo Junction crew into a famous rap battle against Oakland collective Hieroglyphics. As he meditates on staying alert and wary of others’ intentions over an industrial beat from Jeremy “Jay-Z” Jackson, Saafir drops three minutes of memorable bars and couplets in a uniquely laconic and impactful vocal style. “Now tell me that my shit is fatter than the first/But I’m a light sleepin’ rapper in a hearse.” —M.R.


L.A. Dream Team

The electro-stutter grooves of “L.A. Dream Team Is in the House!” became one of the first nationwide looks for Los Angeles rap. Watts-based Snake Puppy and Ohio transplant Rudy Pardee became friends working at a Wendy’s and rapidly rose to success after self-releasing three singles in 1985. All of them would end up as part oftheir MCA debut, the not-wholly-inaccurately-titled 1986 LP Kings of the West Coast. Their biggest hit, “L.A. Dream Team Is in the House!”, is part Dragnet, part “Planet Rock,” part Gilligan’s Island, and all party. —C.W.


King Tee

Compton rapper King Tee is an underrated member of L.A. rap’s greatest generation — a talented hardcore rapper, delivering memorable rhymes with roguish charm and a sharp sense of humor. Although many golden-age heads probably don’t know it, “At Your Own Risk (Buddha Mix)” may be his most recognizable track since BET’s daily video show Rap City used it as theme music for several months in the early Nineties. Queens producer Marley Marl remixes DJ Pooh’s beat into a fresh arrangement of car-hopper bass and funky organ breaks, all grist for the self-appointed “king of the West” to flex and boast with. —M.R.


Lyrics Born

Born in Japan and raised in the U.S., rapper Lyrics Born got his start in the early Nineties and is still going today, a pathfinding Asian-American voice in hip-hop who has also branched out into acting in recent years. His funky 1993 collaboration with DJ Shadow, “Send Them,” was a showcase for his scratchy motormouth acrobatics on the mic. He was in the worth-checking-out duo Latyrx with Lateef the Truthspeaker, the kind of rap group that worked Angela Davis and Alice Walker references into their rhymes. By the time of Lyrics Born’s 2003 debut solo LP, Later That Day, he’d learned to temper his flow into the playful and empathetic growl you hear over the rubber-band bass bumps of “Callin’ Out.” The result was the kind of the left-field, party-starting jam he might’ve dug out of a crate on a college record-buying excursion. —J.D. 


Jurassic 5

“Just act classic,” this L.A. alt-rap crew implored on their breakout song. The J5’s proudly old-school name suggested a traditionalist place apart from Nineties rap’s crass commercialism, and so did their music, with producers Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark refracting a soulful piano sample through the group’s sing-song mic-passing bonhomie. At the time, opening the track with the voice of Bill Cosby from Fat Albert was a nice setup for the song’s generous tone of urban-pastorale nostalgia, a PBS-of-the-streets warmth that could even get you nodding along to tut-tutting punditry like, “It’s not about the bills/That’s not keeping it real/ A lot of tight rappers out here ain’t got no deals’ Pretty soon, Jurassic 5 had a major-label deal themselves. —J.D.



The inauspicious beginnings of a spare, 1:47 freestyle posted to SoundCloud became the career-making moment for Sacramento’s Saweetie, who would soon take her dexterous, deeply assured style to the Top 20. Bringing some breezy, confident California swagger to a Southern rap classic (Khia’s “My Neck, My Back”), Saweetie’s rapping about pedicures, beach vacations, and smart investments became a viral sensation. “It was a hard time in my life, and I wasn’t where I wanted to be. So I wrote about things that could inspire me,” Saweetie told Billboard. “I was very prideful when I was going through hard times and didn’t want to ask my family for money. I had a few dollars in my bank account, not going out, sitting in my room, and eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich. So what I had to do was stay positive, keep writing raps, and know someone was going to see it — and they did.” —C.W.



P-Lo emerged as a member of Bay Area collective HBK Gang and initially drew attention as a producer for his crew as well as Yo Gotti (“Act Right”), Kehlani, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, and others before taking the spotlight for himself. The Pinole, California, rapper’s breakout single, “Put Me on Somethin’,” is typical of the post-hyphy tracks he makes, with hard keyboard-funk licks and bass throbs. “Yeah, we really going dumb,” he calls out on the chorus, emphasizing the beat and the cool, unflustered tone of his voice. A burner verse from elder statesman E-40, who claims “my fetti stretch like elastic” and that he’s “born to trap, survival tactics” builds a bridge between the Yay Area’s vaunted mobb music past and its proudly multicultural, turf-dancing present. —M.R.



Despite its release at the height of the G-funk era, the gold-certified, Grammy-nominated “I Wish” represented an increasingly rare kind of hit, the clean-cut, universally beloved rap anthem. Riverside artist Skee-Lo weaved an irrepressibly fun complaint about wishing he could be a little bit taller, a baller, with a good-looking girl he could call, a rabbit in a hat with a bat, and a ’64 Impala. Produced by Walter Kahn, the whimsically funky track served as a reminder that even the hardest of rocks were once kids in the playground, dreaming of a bright future. —M.R.


World Class Wreckin’ Cru

Before Dr. Dre and DJ Yella were getting the F.B.I. heated as members of N.W.A, they were burning up Los Angeles dance floors and skating rinks as part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Under the tutelage of mobile DJ veteran Alonzo “Lonzo” Williams, the Cru provided a mix of hip-hop, R&B, and electro that was a crucial groove in the early years of West Coast rap. Their final single — a mix of Casanova croon, hard-edged beat work, and a soaring Michel’le chorus — would become their biggest single. “It got big, but when that song came out, we was done, we was gone, the group was over,” Yella told VladTV. “We never performed off it or anything. So me and Dre, we left the group, but we went right into the ‘Boyz-n-the Hood,’ that era.” —C.W.


Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Artistically, no one is ever going to compare Seattle duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to political hip-hop greats like Public Enemy or Kendrick Lamar (well, except the Grammy voters who awarded them a best hip-hop album statue over Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city). But if using your music to open the minds of junior high kids from white-bread backgrounds counts for anything, their 2012 same-sex marriage anthem “Same Love” was a genuine cultural watershed. Macklemore delivered his liberated message straight from the heart, and the duo’s decision to make the song’s chorus an impassioned expression of love from a gay artist, singer-songwriter Mary Lambert, was inspired. “I definitely feel like we’re in the middle of something of a cultural shift,” Lambert said at the time. This song helped make it. —J.D.



Of all the selections on this list, Medusa and “Power of the P” may be the most deserving of greater attention. Medusa recorded the track as part of S.I.N., her former group with fellow L.A. rapper Koko; both were frequent performers during the legendary open-mic events at the Good Life Café in Crenshaw in the early Nineties. As illustrated in Ava DuVernay’s 2008 doc This Is the Life, the song continued to reverberate in the Los Angeles underground as an intoxicating display of sex-positive feminism. “Now, what’s a bloke/Don’t choke/On a cocoa puff smoke/Just dive into my waters and I’ll keep you afloat,” rhymes Medusa. Widely respected throughout the rap industry, Medusa built her reputation through decades of live shows and appearances in TV and movies like the 2001 film Stranger Inside. Meanwhile, “Power of the P” lingers like a secret prize waiting to be unwrapped. —M.R.


03 Greedo

Watts rapper 03 Greedo has weathered years in prison, including a four-year stint that just ended in January, as well as multiple shootings and, owing to his family history as a Grape Street Crip, numerous personal tragedies. That sense of loss and survival, as well as his talent for absorbing sounds and styles from around the country, informs “Never Bend,” a key track from 2017’s Money Changes Everything that helped cement his reputation among critics and fans. “My music just documented a nigga on the run or fighting life, you feel me?” he told Rolling Stone in 2018. On “Never Bend,” he flows in an Auto-Tuned melodic voice, demonstrating resolve in the face of turmoil. He blends West Coast bass thumps with melancholic laptop washes on the self-produced track while crooning, “I’m thinking, God, could have died in the pen/You haven’t been since the odds like I’ve been.”–M.R.


Deltron 3030

Dan the Automator had already been branded a visionary thanks to his work with Kool Keith on the wildly inventive Dr. Octagon project in 1996. For his next move, Deltron 3030, he conceived a post-apocalyptic fairy tale, enlisting one of the most distinctly musical DJs ever, Kid Koala, as well as rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien, an Oakland legend and part of the Hieroglyphics crew, whose clear-cut voice and cadence made him stand out in the early Nineties. Replete with swelling opera samples, a slo-mo beat, and psychedelic sound effects, the seven-minute “3030” pulled listeners into the album’s vast and vivid universe — a place that still seems futuristic today. —D.M.


Earl Sweatshirt

“Get up off the pavement, brush the dirt up off my psyche,” says Earl Sweatshirt on “Chum.” The L.A. teen weathered a long public disappearance after his mother sent him to a parochial school in Samoa, even as his onetime Odd Future crew became the talk of the music world, prompting the meme “Free Earl.” Now, he set aside bratty provocations like the “potty-mouthed” 2010 mixtape Earl behind as he remembers his troubled youth, missing his father, and battling against his mother’s expectations, all while dealing with the repercussions of becoming a rap star. Set over a bare-bones, piano-inflected track he co-produced with the duo Christian Rich, “Chum” displays sensitivity and hard-won maturity, even as Earl tells his story with dense, knotty bars. As the first track from the 2013 album Doris, it reframed the terms for his career going forward, making him a hero for fans of left-of-center rap lyricism. —M.R.


Toddy Tee

Toddy Tee was a fledgling DJ in Compton when he made the infamous “Batteram” tape, a cassette full of sharp and funny rhymes about street life and the increasing presence of drug dealers and “cluckers.” Its underground success led Leon Haywood’s indie imprint Evejim to pick up the title track for release; Epic Records licensed it shortly afterward. The 12-inch electro version of “Batterram” isn’t as profane as the original tape, and Toddy Tee casts equal criticism at the “rock men,” the mayor, and the police who brutalize communities. But it’s an effective snapshot of L.A. hardcore at the dawn of the reality-rap era. —M.R.



In the early 2000s, the Crip Walk became a viral sensation, a phenomenon celebrated by underrated rapper Xzibit’s “Get Your Walk On.” Produced by Mel-Man and Battlecat, it symbolized how Crip and Bloods signifiers had, for better or worse, been shorn of their violent gang context as they’d been absorbed into Black pop culture. “Get your walk on, get your head right, I know you’re feeling this shit, shit is dead right,” chants the L.A. rapper on the chorus as Mike Elizondo’s keyboards hammer away. The video, which featured various rappers such as WC and DJ Quik doing gang dances, proved controversial. But it was also a sign of peace among the longtime rival sects — at least in terms of getting paper in the music industry. —M.R.


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.