Home Music Music Lists

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


MC Eiht

Already a veteran of slow, detail-heavy imagery across three albums from gangsta-rap pioneers Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht found his greatest success on his debut solo single. A highlight of the Menace II Society soundtrack — a film in which he also plays instigator A-Wax — Eiht delivers an eerily intimate street tale about how quick decisions can lead to unwanted circumstances. “I get comments from younger people who heard the song for the first time and ask me about it because they’re so fascinated,” Eiht told Passion of the Weiss. “It’s a descriptive tale you can really sink your teeth into. Growing up in Compton it wasn’t hard to write songs of realism.” —D.M.


The Jacka feat. Andre Nickatina

Pittsburg, California, rapper The Jacka grinded in the Bay Area underground for more than a decade before finally achieving a breakout moment with his 2009 album, Tear Gas. The late artist exemplified the “regional rap” ethos, writing tales of street life and his stalwart Muslim faith with an idiosyncratic mix of sung harmonies and grizzled, slightly offbeat rap flows. But his biggest track, “Glamorous Lifestyle,” demonstrated his versatility as he bounces and boasts over a thumping hyphy club beat. “You know I got paper, ‘cause I’m a d-boy,” he brags as the late producer Traxamillion accompanies him with a keyboard-heavy arrangement, and S.F. veteran Andre Nickatina drops in for a guest verse. The result is a winner that turns up local parties to this day. —M.R.


Vince Staples

After a string of EPs, mixtapes, and head-turning guest spots, Vince Staples finally transcended the “Odd Future associate” tag with the sprawling double-LP Summertime ‘06. The songs evoke the time and place of his adolescence with a richness only possible on a debut, as if decades went into each verse. “Norf Norf,” still the crown jewel of Staples’ discography, reps his city’s hard-edged charms with lines that soar and dip like a paper airplane. Clams Casino’s drone-like sample serves as a siren alerting anyone within hearing distance that the time has come to scream Staples’ opening line; from there, though, best to just shut up and listen. —C.P.



An instant success in the West, the hard-rocking “Boyz-n-the Hood” was the explosive breakout moment for 80 percent of N.W.A, the seismic middle finger that would change music forever. With lyrics by a teenage Ice Cube, production by Dr. Dre and Yella, and the unmistakable adenoidal flows of Eazy-E, this drama unfolds with multiple fistfights, a gunfight, a car crash, an arrest, and a submachine gun unsheathed in a courtroom. Inspired by the storytelling of Ice-T, Schoolly D, Slick Rick, and KRS-One, Cube originally wrote the lyrics for New York rap group HBO, who rejected them. “The lyrics was just foreign to them,” Cube told Talib Kweli. “They was like, ‘You talkin’ another language, man.’ And I was. It was the shit we talk out here.” —C.W.


J.J. Fad

Released near the end of L.A.’s electro era, the Grammy-nominated, Billboard Top 30 hit “Supersonic” was a blast of frenetic, spandex-clad energy. Yet J.B., Baby D, and Sassy C have often been dismissed as a one-hit wonder whose biggest accomplishment was helping Eazy-E get his Ruthless Records label off the ground. Even “Supersonic” producer Arabian Prince smeared the Rialto-based trio in a 2014 interview when he claimed, “They can’t rap.” It’s ironic that the famed electro innovator seemingly couldn’t understand why the track remains a hallmark. The “Just Jammin’ Def and Fresh” trio’s animated vocal interplay, tag-team chants, unforgettable chorus, and J.B.’s deliriously glossolalia finale: Their performance turned “Supersonic” into a memorable pop supernova. —M.R.


Lil B

After scoring a 2006 hit as a member of Berkeley group The Pack with “Vans,” Lil B developed an elusive online persona guided by internet culture as well as Bay Area slang and idioms. His second solo mixtape, 6 Kiss, remains a generational dividing line in West Coast rap, praised by the likes of Tyler, the Creator and Kendrick Lamar and dismissed by OGs who feel it breaks from the region’s traditional sounds. New Jersey producer Clams Casino’s amniotic production on “I’m God,” and his inventive sampling of ethereal pop artist Imogen Heap, proved massively influential, inspiring fans and critics to call it “cloud rap.” But Lil B raps in a distinctly California accent and warns, “Bet ya I’m the only goon nigga in these tiny pants,” a reference to the “tight jeans” favored by youth and mocked by older rappers. Influenced as much by Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy as Too Short and pumping out dozens of mixtapes, the self-proclaimed “based god” took Bay Area rap in bold, fresh directions, leaving the audience to debate what it all meant. —M.R.


The Game feat. 50 Cent

The story goes that The Game wrote his verses for this in an Escalade during a long drive home after a recording session. It sounds like that, too: in transit, reflective, spontaneous as a memory. Cool & Dre’s effervescent, disco-lifting beat puts 50 Cent in a ruminative mood, and Game packs in a handful of great lines (“Kill a nigga on a song and really do it/That’s the true meaning of a ghostwriter”), but it’s the hook they trade off that seals the song’s place in the pantheon. —C.P.



Compton rapper Coolio bounced around in teen electro-rap crews, spent time in prison, and overcame a crack addiction before a stint in WC and the MAAD Circle yielded a major-label deal. The resulting “Fantastic Voyage” is not only one of the biggest barbecue jams of the G-funk era, but also a moment to exhale and celebrate, no matter the circumstances. “I’m trying to find a place where I can live my life and/Maybe eat some steak with my beats and rice,” he raps in an easygoing cadence over a woofer-bass beat produced by DJ Wino and informed by the similarly titled Eighties boogie-funk hit by Lakeside. “Fantastic Voyage” established Coolio, who passed away last year, as a crowd-pleasing star, albeit one informed by the hardships he overcame to survive. —M.R.


Yo-Yo feat. Ice Cube

First heard playfully debating Ice Cube’s misogynistic boasts on the latter’s 1990 track “It’s a Man’s World,” Yo-Yo became a solo star with singles like “Stompin’ to tha 90’s” and her biggest hit, “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo.” Produced by Cube and Sir Jinx, who make good use of a sample from Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Devotion,” and with keyboards and other instruments by Hami Wave, it’s a hardcore statement of purpose for the Compton MC, the self-described “brand new intelligent Black woman” for the Nineties. She claims a love for blunts and Old English 800 “8 Ball” malt liquor, warns that any man who tries to touch her inappropriately will “end up in a coffin,” and clowns women who wear fake hair weaves and green contact lenses. Three years later, Yo-Yo would team up again with Cube for another hit collaboration, “The Bonnie & Clyde Theme.” —M.R.


Dr. Dre

At this point, it’s a given that Dr. Dre will take his time to perfect the beat. But in 1999, he felt pressure to reassert himself after the long layoff since 1992’s The Chronic. “Still D.R.E.” was the solution. Amped off keys by a then-unknown Scott Storch, the track announces the producer’s new minimalist production ethos, built off a few slim elements and propelled forward by caddy-bouncing drums. The verses — penned by Jay-Z, but delivered with prescription-strength cool by Dre — assert his legacy, with Snoop popping up as a tasteful cosignatory. The result is immortal. Listen to it today, it’s still “Still D.R.E.” —C.P.


Above the Law

Cold 187um may be one of many who insist that he, not Dr. Dre, is the true father of G-funk. But the Pomona rapper-producer has a stronger claim than most: His group with the late KMG and DJ Go Mack, Above the Law, recorded their debut, Livin’ Like Hustlers, for Ruthless Records while N.W.A were still together, and he alleges that Dre plumbed his musical ideas in the process. After Dre left to form Death Row, Above the Law completed Black Mafia Life, but Ruthless delayed its release until February 1993, and Dre’s The Chronic beat it to market. The album’s best single, “Call It What U Want,” finds 2Pac kicking the cipher off over a track filled with pummeling bass rhythm. “2Pac’ll pack a punch and pop the trunk/I’m pumping G-funk but can call it what you want,” he raps, marking the first public appearance of the word “G-funk.” Above the Law aren’t as well-known as Dre or even DJ Quik, but they remain a key West Coast influence, with 1990’s “Murder Rap,” 1994’s “Black Superman,” and “Call It What U Want’ to their credit. —M.R.


Egyptian Lover

With an image inspired by Earth, Wind & Fire’s King Tut-styled costumes and music honed from years DJ’ing in Rodger Clayton’s mobile crew Uncle Jamm’s Army, L.A. musician Egyptian Lover dominated Black radio stations during the electro-funk era. After making Uncle Jamm’s breakout hit “Dial-A-Freak” in 1983, Egyptian Lover issued his calling card on his own Egyptian Empire imprint. It’s a whirlwind of vocoder “Egyptian Lover” hooks, seductive and deep-voiced chants, Kraftwerk-inflected rhythms, and breathy exhalations akin to steam effects wafting across the dance floor. The cumulative effect may seem kitschy now, but it fueled Egyptian Lover’s debut album, On the Nile, which reached the Billboard top 200 album chart and is arguably the first West Coast hip-hop album. The generations who followed owe a debt to “Egypt, Egypt.”–M.R.



“Colors” made explicit what underground hits like Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the Hood” implied: Los Angeles was suffering from an epidemic of gang-related violence, the result of rivalries between various Bloods and Crips sects. Prompted by Dennis Hopper’s exploitation movie of the same name, Ice-T recorded the theme song with co-producer Afrika Islam and DJ Evil E, and took inspiration from Paterson, New Jersey, rapper King Sun’s underground 12-inch “Mythological Rapper.” (Listen closely and you’ll notice Ice raps in the same cadence as Sun.) He takes on the persona of a “nightmare walking, psychopath-talking” banger in a cold, heartless tone, while reasoning that his criminality is the result of social blight. “My mother’s on crack, my sister can’t work ‘cause her arms show tracks,” he says. “Colors” is a bleak and unrelenting journey. However, the video version ends with a message of hope. “Yo, please stop, ‘cause I want y’all to live,” says Ice. “Peace.” —M.R.



Formed in Sacramento by rapper the Gift of Gab and producer Chief Xcel, and based in the East Bay, Blackalicious were one of the strongest representatives of New York-styled, sample-centered hip-hop, with a dollop of soulful consciousness reminiscent of The Roots’ Soulquarians collective. The Gift of Gab not only wrote songs filled with moral insight and pathos, but also played with language, none more famously than when he spit a bar for every letter of the alphabet over Cut Chemist of Jurassic 5’s turntablist beat. Featured on the A2G EP, “Alphabet Aerobics” acquired a cult reputation among indie-rap fans. Over a decade later, it went viral when actor Daniel Radcliffe recited it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2014. By the time Gift of Gab passed away in 2021, you could hear him rhyme similarly poetic delights for DoorDash TV ads, inviting the viewer to explore the catalog of a mighty, unsung indie-rap career. —M.R.


Keak Da Sneak

“Super Hyphy” is one of those songs that almost instantly captured an era: in this case, the hyphy movement that dominated Bay Area rap in the mid-to-late aughts. Oakland rapper Keak da Sneak wrote the song after getting a beat CD from San Jose producer Traxamillion; the latter, who passed away in 2021, was inspired by seeing his friends dance at a party. Released in spring 2005, it took over local radio and stayed in heavy rotation for years, with Keak’s raspy slanguage booming across the region. Musically, it served as a brighter corollary to the street-rooted mobb music, bubbling up at a time when youth-driven phenomenon — think ringtone rap, jerkin’, and snap music — were dragging rap fans back to the dance floor, whether they wanted to go or not. —M.R.



“At the time in rap, everyone was talking about getting high, but no one was talking about what it took to get high,” Luniz rapper Yukmouth told The Guardian. “Being real comedians, we thought it’d be funny to do a track talking about trying to put our money together to buy a sack. Like, ‘I think I got two bucks in my sock, what you got?’ That was our reality at the time.” The pulsating, ominous indo-smoker’s plea became an instant Bay Area anthem in 1995, but went much further, giving the city’s homegrown “mobb music” its day in the Billboard Top 10. During their brief moment of fame, Luniz dutifully served as Bay Area ambassadors, enlisting a who’s who of local legends — Dru Down, Spice-1, E-40, Shock G, and Richie Rich — for the also excellent remix. Its ominous melody, borrowed from Club Nouveau, would eventually serve as an orchestral motif for the Jordan Peele’s horror film Us. —C.W.


The Lady of Rage

Based in L.A. since the Eighties, Virginia-born The Lady of Rage established herself as Death Row’s power forward on rap ciphers like Dr. Dre’s “Lyrical Gangbang” and “Puffin’ on Blunts and Drankin’ Tanqueray,” and Snoop Dogg’s “For All My Niggaz & Bitches.” Unfortunately, the label didn’t know what to do with the hardcore rapper, and by the time she finally got to release Necessary Roughness in 1997, Death Row was falling aprt, with Dre and Snoop gone, 2Pac dead, and Suge Knight facing prison time. That leaves “Afro Puffs” as her only solo showcase from Death Row’s peak era. Still, the song displays everything that made her so essential, from her gruff, commanding voice to the way she rocks Dre and Daz Dillinger’s swinging hard-funk track. “Lyrical murderer, I’m servin’ ‘em two scoops of chocolate/Check how I rock it,” she raps while Snoop adlibs on the chorus. It’s a shame we didn’t get more.–M.R.


Ice Cube

Co-produced by Ice Cube, Sir Jinx, and Chilly Chill, “Dead Homiez” is a remarkable anomaly for a rapper whose career is marked by blunt sociopolitical opinions and verbal bellicosity. Cube’s storytelling strengths take center stage, but they’re rendered in a mournful, embittered voice. He attends the funeral of a friend who was murdered, but he focuses on the aftermath and how untimely deaths traumatize and fracture Black neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles, not the violent act itself. “It seems like I’m viewing a body every other month,” he raps ruefully while describing the day with impressive detail and admits he might “maybe shed a tear or two.” But he also fills his lyrics with empathy, and notes, “How strong can you be when you see your pops crying?” More than three decades after its release as an album cut and video for the Kill at Will EP, there’s still nothing in the genre quite like “Dead Homiez.” —M.R.


Warren G feat. Nate Dogg

“It was a clear black night, a clear white moon,” begins Warren G on “Regulate.” Two years earlier, he assisted his older cousin Dr. Dre as a ghost producer on The Chronic. Then, in 1993, he produced and made a cameo on his onetime friend Mista Grimm’s “Indo Smoke.” That rap hit set off a bidding war for Warren G that Def Jam won, while Death Row negotiated — or strong-armed, depending on whom you ask — the right to use “Regulate” for the Above the Rim movie soundtrack. “Regulate” opens as just another night of Warren G and Nate Dogg cruising around the LBC, an evening that nearly goes awry when Warren is threatened with a carjacking. He famously samples Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’,” resulting in a massive Billboard hit that, as noted in an episode of the aughts web series Yacht Rock, was memorably “smooth.” Anchoring it all is the late Nate Dogg, perhaps the greatest hip-hop crooner the West Coast ever produced. —M.R.


YG feat. Nispey Hussle

“Me and all my peoples, we always thought he was straight,” raps YG as he begins a memorable protest of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. It’s an acknowledgement that, despite too many past controversies to list here, Trump enjoyed pop-culture status as a wealthy mogul, with his name used as shorthand for big American business in numerous rap songs. However, Trump’s bigoted 2016 campaign, and his targeting of working-class immigrants, changed YG’s view. “Since we know how you really feel…fuck Donald Trump!” he chants. “It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans/And if it’s time to team up, then let’s begin,” adds the late Nipsey Hussle. Produced by Sam “Swish” Wishkoski, who sets a stark arrangement of bass and spare keyboards, “FDT” is pure rage, a middle finger to a mushrooming catastrophe that felt — and still feels — hopelessly out of control. —M.R. 


Digital Underground

In case you missed it, Humpty Hump is the one who says, “Just grab ’em in the biscuits.” Before Digital Underground had all of suburbia doing the Humpty Dance, the major-label debut single introduced the world to this rollicking gaggle of funk freakazoids. With influence — and multiple samples — from the P-Funk Mothership, “Doowutchyalike” is a nearly nine-minute ADD pastiche of party noise, skits, scratch solos, and a virtuosic tour of iconic soul and funk melodies from Piano Man (actually DU mastermind Shock G). “I just felt like the song was all about having a good time and breaking all the rules in hip-hop,” Shock told Vibe. “You are not allowed to bite, so let’s bite on purpose. Let’s talk about stuff that no one talks about.” —C.W.


Suga Free

Formerly known as Royal Rock, Pomona, California, rapper Suga Free split time between hustling in the streets and rapping before he caught the attention of DJ Quik. His 1997 debut, Street Gospel, initially drew respectful reviews and a muted commercial response, then fomented a major cult reputation, particularly in corners of the rap world that delight in artists with colorful personas and unusual styles. “If U Stay Ready” got the single and video treatment, but “Why U Bullshittin’?” is widely considered the best representation of his unique stop-start, on-offbeat flow. He utilizes an unabashedly pimp-ish vocal tone reminiscent of Max Julien’s Goldie character in The Mack. “Now I’d never I hit a woman/But I’ll slap the shit out of a bitch, now why you bullshittin’?” he raps over Quik’s beat. True, Suga Free carefree misogyny is not for the faint at heart, but one can’t help but be dazzled at his sense of wordplay and timing, even as he illustrates a world that most of us would never want to live in. —M.R.


The Pharcyde

Released as the first single from the Pharcyde’s second album, Labcabincalifornia, “Runnin’” marked the first widespread exposure of James “Jay Dee” Yancey. The Detroit producer arranged a softly melodic Stan Getz samba loop to accompany the quartet’s lyrics of vulnerability and pathos, from Fatlip’s admission that he was bullied in school to Imani’s feelings of self-doubt. “There comes a time in every man’s life when he’s got to handle shit up on his own,” harmonizes Slim Kid Tré. The single was a mellow shift from the group’s delightfully antic debut, BizarreRideIIThePharcyde, and it captured the group and their fans in a different phase, lost in buttery beats, aided by weed smoke, and making sense of life’s tumultuousness. —M.R.


Tyler, the Creator

Emerging from the underground around 2010, Odd Future were blog and zine darlings with a grimy, surreal sound to back up the hype. Eerie and minimal, “Yonkers” put everyone on high alert that the crew’s leader, Tyler, the Creator, was deep into his own unnerving aesthetic. The song was slow, dour, and sinister, with Tyler kicking things off with the inviting line, “I’m a fucking walking paradox/No, I’m not, threesomes with a fucking triceratops,” delivered in his signature subterranean grumble, and it only got weirder from there. Somehow, this left-field statement started his rise to becoming one of this century’s least likely pop stars. —D.M.


E-40 feat. the Click

Bay Area fans of a certain age will remember the clout E-40 carried when he dropped The Mail Man EP near the end of 1993. His Sick Wid’ It label promoted the five-song EP by wheat-pasting large posters throughout Northern California, and “Captain Save a Hoe” seemed to blast from every passing car. Unsurprisingly, Jive Records picked it up for national distribution months later. A collaboration between the Vallejo, California, rapper and his family group the Click — brother B-Legit, sister Suga T, and cousin D-Shot — “Captain Save a Hoe” is only one example of E-40’s talent for inventing and/or popularizing local slang (also see the deathless word “d-boy”) as well as his ability to balance P-funk-like satire and pointed reality rap. Even Suga T mocks the titular cornball: “If ya breath stank, ya gets ganked, mang.” Meanwhile, producer Studio Ton arranges a slumping, bluesy beat full of funky worm melody and mobbed-out bass. —M.R.


Cypress Hill

“How I Could Just Kill a Man” was originally released as the B side to “The Phuncky Feel One,” the first single from the debut album by South Gate trio Cypress Hill. “The Phuncky Feel One” didn’t do well, and the album failed to take off until winter 1992, when “How I Could Just Kill a Man” soundtracked the finale in Ernest Dickerson’s movie Juice. A crucial trip to NYC yielded visuals for the song that made Cypress Hill’s career, and you can see Q-Tip and Ice Cube purposefully nodding their heads to DJ Muggs’ dusty, ominous, slow-rolling rhythms in the clip. Heard today, “How I Could Just Kill a Man” feels like a metaphorical warning shot for the Nineties: guns as an affirmation of individual power, the crate-digging aesthetic of boom-bap, the permanently dusted sound of groups like Wu-Tang Clan and Black Moon, and the slow, steady rise of brown identity in hip-hop. Then there’s B-Real’s tale of a deadly encounter with a home invader, rendered in his unique nasal delivery, all while Sen Dog drops gruff ad-libs. “Didn’t have to blast him, but I did anyway,” raps B-Real. “That young punk had to pay.” —M.R.


DJ Quik

Not only the biggest hit for rapper-producer-auteur DJ Quik, but a pump-priming moment for G-Funk’s slow-rolling world domination. This “day in the life of a player named Quik” was based on an actual weekend of gambling and drinking with his friends. “That record made itself,” Quik said on the People’s Party With Talib Kweli podcast. “I looped the beat, and we lived for a weekend while the beat was on the SP-1200 in the kitchen nook, just on repeat … I’m writing the song as I’m living it, but that hangover was fucked up.” —C.W.


Rodney-O and DJ Joe Cooley

Like so many rap gems from rap’s golden age, Riverside rapper-producer Rodney-O’s “Everlasting Bass” never reached the Billboard charts, even as it seemed to blast from every boombox in California. Now, it’s part of the soundtrack at NBA arenas nationwide, just rewards for an unsung West Coast pioneer who also helped the 2 Live Crew map out “Throw the D” before they relocated to Miami, Florida. The key to “Everlasting Bass” is, well, a massive 808 bass boom that “sho nuff shrugs your face/Just like you got sprayed by a can of mace.” Then there’s that insanely catchy synthesizer melody that seems to evoke the Eighties, L.A. sunshine, and cruising with the roof down. Released on Egyptian Lover’s Egyptian Empire label, “Everlasting Bass” has been sampled by Lil Wayne, Baby Keem, Three 6 Mafia, NLE Chopper, and dozens of others, a concrete anthem that resonates to this day. —M.R.



Ice Cube had written and set aside the initial lyrics for “Fuck tha Police” when a near-violent encounter between law enforcement and members of the group prompted him to pull them out again. Completed as an album track for Straight Outta Compton, the song unfolds as a trial of the Los Angeles Police Department, with Dr. Dre as judge and Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy-E as witnesses. “Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground/A young nigga, got it bad ‘cause I’m brown,” Cube begins. “They have the authority to kill a minority.” Dre’s funky backbeat makes good use of a sample of Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s “The Boogie Back,” but the overriding feeling is one of anger and outrage at how police officers brutalize young Black men with impunity. Though there were plenty of similar rap protests in the late Eighties — see Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” — none of them sounded as visceral as “Fuck tha Police.” It led to years of harassment by law enforcement, and N.W.A was banned from performing it during their 1989 national tour, even as it grew into a cultural milestone and turned N.W.A into the most important musical group in the country. Given how the phrase “Fuck the police” is a mainstay at street protests around the world, it has lost none of its fiery power. —M.R.



“California Love” felt like a lot of things when it was released in early 1996: a moment of catharsis for 2Pac, who was just reemerging from a prison stint for sexual assault; a long-awaited new jam from Dre, who hadn’t produced anything of note in nearly a year since his “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” for the Friday soundtrack; and a sense that it was a tide-is-high moment for an era destined to end disastrously. Thanks to Dre’s legendary mixing skills, the music is too loud, a blaring call to the dance floor. Roger Troutman renders a vocoder interpolation of the chorus from Ronnie Hudson’s electro hit “West Coast Poplock” — “In the city, city of Compton, we keep it rockin’” — while 2Pac and Dre turn their verses into grand, gauzy statements to the Golden State and the “ballers” who rumble through it. “Give me love!” Pac exclaims.Even the big-budget video that helped broadcast the song around the world and found the duo traveling through a dusty locale like extras from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was massive. And when Pac used an MTV News segment on the video’s making to bait the Notorious B.I.G., hinting that he had relations with Biggie’s wife, Faith, he tilted the rap industry on its axis. In short, “California Love” evokes all the memories of 1996, and the final ride-or-die months before the murders of Pac and Notorious B.I.G. forced everyone awake from their East Coast vs. West Coast delusions. At its center is 2Pac, fresh out of prison and ready to party, a star burning through the sky a bit too fast. —M.R.



“Real Muthaphuckkin G’s” sounds like a punch to the face. Produced by Rhythm D, it’s brutally effective, with every G-funk funky-worm cliché pumped up to a thrillingly horrific extreme. Perhaps that’s why it stands as a hallmark of street rap at its most unrepentantly aggressive, and young artists barely alive when the single was released quote it as a totem of unimpeachable hardness. Its inspiration was the end of Dr. Dre and Eazy-E’s friendship and, more specifically, the former’s scabrous diss with Snoop Dogg, “Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’).” In response, Eazy-E circulated photos of Dre’s glammed-up years with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru and mocked him with claims like, “But on his own [Wreckin’ Cru] album covers he was a she thang.” Meanwhile, B.G. Knocc Out and Dresta — the latter allegedly wrote most of the track — offer clear-eyed analysis of why they think Dre is a fraud. “See I did dirt, put in work, and many niggas can vouch that/So since I got stripes, I got the right to rap about that,” claims Dresta. Over a year after “Real Muthaphuckkin G’s” helped Eazy’s It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa EP go double platinum, Eazy laid in a hospital bed dying from AIDS. He and Dre squashed their feud before he passed in 1995; the super-Crip myth he created outlived him. —M.R.


Nipsey Hussle feat. YG

Nipsey Hussle’s 2018 major-label debut Victory Lap was exactly that: The view from the mountaintop for a Crenshaw rapper who spent over a decade winning the heart of Los Angeles and beyond with standout mixtapes like The Marathon, Crenshaw, and Mailbox Money. Sadly, the title also proved prophetic. A little over a year after its release, a disgruntled Bloods member murdered him outside of his Marathon clothing store. Given all that, Nipsey’s claim that he’s “the streets’ voice out West” on “Last Time That I Checc’d” feels poignant now.Co-produced by Mike & Keys, Brody Brown, and Rance, the biggest single from Victory Lap is all funky-worm hardness. The bass kicks in like slamming car trunks, and Nipsey rides the track with declarative bars and his distinctively raspy voice. He’s self-made, the smart independent mogul treating life like a Monopoly board, a visionary grinder who didn’t need radio or famous cosigns to shine. YG chips in with a final verse, boasting about wearing his own clothes, owning his label, and being a pro-Black businessman. Mere months after its release, “Last Time That I Checc’d” was in heavy rotation during L.A. Clippers and L.A. Lakers games. Nipsey only had a few months to enjoy its success.–M.R.



The absolute ur-text for West Coast gangsta rap, “6 in the Mornin’” was the first track to truly present the hard rhymes, evocative storytelling, and streetwise subject matter that Los Angeles would be known for. Inspired by hearing the “dusted” sound of Schoolly D’s “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean)” in a Santa Monica nightclub, Ice-T penned a seven-minute story about one man’s tribulations both in and out of the hands of the law. “I didn’t think this was going to be some kind of long-lasting or influential record. I was trying to knock out a cool B side,” Ice-T said in his memoir, Ice. “I didn’t call it ‘gangsta’ or ‘hardcore.’ To me it was just the life I was living.” —C.W.


Mac Dre

Mac Dre is synonymous with hyphy, the quirky, dance-centered sound that rejuvenated Bay Area hip-hop. But the Vallejo rapper whose career dated back to the end of the Nineties didn’t live to see his music become a cornerstone of the movement. At the time of his murder in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 1, 2004, he was a regional star slowly but surely expanding beyond his West Coast base. Increasingly prolific, he released three albums that year alone. The first, Ronald Dregan for President 2004: “Dreganomics,” landed in the lower reaches of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and yielded the single “Feelin’ Myself.” Produced by Sean T, it finds Dre exulting in his flamboyance, striking a goofy, happy-go-lucky tone that blends easily with claims that “I’m a stoner and I’m chilling with two bitches like Jack [from Three’s Company].” He sounds high on his own vapors, strolling through life with carefree recklessness. “Feelin’ Myself” didn’t truly take off until nearly a year after its release, turning Dre into a Promethean figure whose innovations outlasted him. —M.R.


Snoop Doggy Dogg

“With so much drama in the LBC/It’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G,” go the famous and oft-repeated opening bars of “Gin and Juice.” It may be hard to remember now, given Snoop’s persona as a beachy, family-friendly pitchman for Corona beer, that he was once public enemy number one, the personification of the gangsta-rap menace, and the subject of a heated Newsweek cover that asked, “When Is Rap 2 Violent?” As a protégé of Dr. Dre, he had first rapped about doing a “1-8-7” on uncover cops on “Deep Cover,” then sparked wars of words with Eazy-E and 2 Live Crew’s Luke Campbell on “Fuck With Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’).” Meanwhile, rap traditionalists were divided on the merits of his unusually passive vocal delivery, and the way he drawled out his lyrics for maximum effect. But Snoop’s debut album, Doggystyle, gave clues that the Long Beach Crip was more interested in having a good time than bangin’ on wax. Even though it had its customary share of hardcore cuts, party songs like “Gin and Juice” stood out the most. In the video, he gets his hair weaved into braids, rides on the handlebars of a bicycle while producer/rapper Daz pedals, and tries to break up two homegirls fighting. Since his “mama ain’t home,” he arranges a house party, and even mimics Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone. It’s not exactly gangsta. While no one could have predicted that Snoop would co-host game shows and become a close friend of Martha Stewart, his journey from the dogghouse to the penthouse began in earnest with “Gin and Juice.” —M.R.


Ice Cube

In the summer of 1992, Ice Cube was at the peak of his artistic powers, and he was widely respected on the West and East Coasts as one of the best rappers alive. He had scored two platinum albums and married his fiancée, Kimberly Woodruff. That sense of contentment inspired his most famous song, a smooth, summery groove centered around producer DJ Pooh’s sample of The Isley Brothers’ funk ballad “Footsteps in the Dark.” “OK, there’s been the riots, people know I will deal with that. That’s a given. But I rap all this gangsta stuff — what about all the good days I had?” Cube told Blender in 2005.“It Was a Good Day” unfolds as a story rap where nothing spectacular happens, which is the point. He doesn’t get shot at by the “cowards” even though they “tried to blast me” yesterday. He plays basketball, then watches Yo! MTV Raps and plays dominoes at Shorty of Da Lench Mob’s house. He gets a “beep” from Kim to have a rendezvous at a local hotel, then heads to Fatburger. The song unfolds like a “fly dream” for a Black musician trying to unburden himself from the stress of intra-community tensions, police violence, and daily stress. Despite his reputation-saving “I didn’t even have to use my AK” line, “It Was a Good Day” marks Cube at his most relatable. After its release, every West Coast rap act had to include at least a song or two on their albums dedicated to chillin’ in the hood. If you’re looking for the origin of what would later be called “barbecue” or “cookout” rap hits, this is as good a place as any to start. —M.R.


Too $hort

“Blow the Whistle” isn’t his most important song. But it’s the one you’re most likely to hear at the club, at a house party, in a sports stadium and on the radio. It sounds like another sure shot in many Too Short has taken in a career, which is part of its charm. By the time “Blow the Whistle” was released in 2006, it had been nearly 20 years since he released his breakthrough single, “Freaky Tales,” a historic record built around his sly, macked-out flow, confident and unyielding cadence, and coolly unadorned language. So much of Bay Area hip-hop culture has been built on what he made that summoning his unique style is as innate as the San Francisco Bay salt water that lingers in the breeze.Lil Jon, whom Too Short connected with while living in Atlanta, produced “Blow the Whistle.” (He also produced E-40’s hyphy classic “Tell Me When to Go,” just one of many links between Bay Area and Southern rap.) The track is vintage Short, all rubbery synth bass so thick it could break car speakers. He opens the track with the line, “I go on and on,” as if this is just the latest verse in a decades-long song. Of course, he also asks, “What’s my favorite word?” But “Blow the Whistle” holds universal appeal and whether you’re a hip-hop OG, a big stepper, or a bad feminist, you’ll respond by answering “Biiiiiitch!” just like the rest of us.–M.R.


Souls of Mischief

Souls of Mischief were products of the East Bay’s highly underrated underground scene, making music closer in spirit to the sample-driven boom-bap flourishing on the East Coast in the early Nineties than the bass-fueled street-rap for which the area was nationally known. As part of Hieroglyphics, a collective of rappers that also included Del the Funky Homosapien and Pep Love, the East Oakland quartet espoused freestyling lyrics off the dome and traded bars as if finishing each other’s sentences. Their debut album, 93 ‘Til Infinity, proved popular among hip-hop heads – A Tribe Called Quest included them them in the elite group of artists pictured on the cover of Midnight Marauders — but made little mainstream impact. Meanwhile, its title single blew up on video channel The Box as well as BET’s Rap City, even as radio proved resistant.Produced by Souls rapper/producer A-Plus, “93 ‘Til Infinity” is a roundelay of lyrical shit-talking. “Crews talk shit but in my face they kiss my ass/They bite flows but we make up new ones,” raps Opio. The sped-up, horn-infused sample — made years before Kanye West became famous for his “chipmunk” sound — gives the song a feel akin to four friends kicking raps on the porch, lazing the day away. The memorable video found Phesto, A-Plus, Opio, and Tajai performing in mountainous national parks like Yosemite and Pinnacles, enhancing “Infinity’s” sunshine vibe. “People think of California, I don’t know if they realize how many different kinds of microclimates we have out here. There’s beach, there’s snow, there’s mountains, there’s desert,” Phesto told Spin in 2013.“93 ‘Til Infinity” may have not launched Souls into superstardom, but it nurtured a cult following that exists to this day, including an annual Hiero Day festival in Oakland. They’re evidence of how diverse the West Coast’s hip-hop “microclimates” truly are.–M.R.


Makaveli feat. Outlawz

On Sept. 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur died of injuries inflicted by a Sept. 7 shooting in Las Vegas. Two months later came The Don Killuminati (The 7 Day Theory), an album that only supercharged conspiracy theories surrounding his death as well as fantasies that he was somehow alive and living in Cuba. The public was only becoming aware of his hundreds of unreleased songs; how did he complete this new album if he was dead? Had he prophesied his own death and rebirth by assuming the name Makaveli, a play on the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli? Was he “killing” the Illuminati who plotted against him?Amidst the fevered speculation arrived “Hail Mary,” an ominous single that found Pac in a paranoid mind state, barely enunciating his words, and throwing shots over Tyrone “Hurt-m-Badd” Wrice’s Gothic, sepulchral beat at foes real and imagined. “I’m not a killer but don’t push me,” he warns. His Outlawz protégés Kastro, Young Noble, and Kadafi as well as ragga singer Prince Ital Joe lend support. “Dealing with fate, hoping God don’t close the gate,” Kadafi adds. In early 1997, Death Row Records ramped up the deathsploitation by releasing a music video that treated Pac as a malevolent spirit, wafting into his enemies’ homes and taking vengeance with their grisly deaths.Less sensationally, “Hail Mary” underlines Pac’s legacy as a self-described T.H.U.G. who finds freedom through unpredictable and “crazy” behavior. Our inability to fully decipher him only enhances his myth. It’s also a startling musical performance, a moment where he seems fully aware of the legend he conjures. “Now pay attention/Bless me please, father/I’m a ghost,” he raps. “Let’s go deep inside the solitary mind of a madman.” —M.R.


Kendrick Lamar feat. Mc Eiht

On the title track to Kendrick Lamar’s most beloved West Coast album, MC Eiht helps pass the torch from the West Coast’s greatest generation to L.A.’s new leading voice. But here, the transition feels more like a burden than validation. “If Pirus and Bloods all got along, they’d probably gun me down by the end of this song,” he says, just before Schoolboy Q jumps in by adlibbing, “Ya-ya-ya-ya!” Angling atop tremulous keys arranged by Sounwave and THC that suggest oncoming danger, he’s haunted by a memory of seeing his uncle murdered when he was nine, and “bodies on top of bodies, IVs on top of IVs.” It’s almost a relief when the beat shifts to an old-school groove produced by Terrace Martin and a promise from Eiht to teach us some lessons about the streets. “Wake your punk ass up!” commands Eiht, repeating his famed intro from Compton’s Most Wanted’s 1991 hit “Growin’ Up in the Hood.”“m.A.A.d City” unfolds like a short film with Lamar and Eiht stuffing the screen with small yet important details: the cluckers on the block, the PCP-laced blunt Lamar smokes, and his wish that the next generation can aspire to be doctors or lawyers instead of Compton’s next human sacrifice. But it also knocks, and Lamar has set off plenty of arenas as fans start throwing bows when they hear Q’s cattle call. He’s sold far more records in the decade since this cinematic track floored the rap community. He’s also become a divisive figure, with contrarians taking aim at his fussy, complex lyricism and unusual musical concepts. As a result, “m.A.A.d City” not only evokes an era when everyone seemingly agreed on his greatness, but also a moment of coronation before the rap world began to split on what that truly meant.–M.R.



“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge,” begins Eazy-E on “Straight Outta Compton,” the title track that kicks off N.W.A.’s 1989 album. It’s difficult to convey how electrifying and dangerous the song sounded upon its release, even to an audience familiar with the group’s prior hits, “Dopeman” and “8 Ball,” as well as the advance single from the album, “Gangsta Gangsta.” It was one of two tracks the group was forbidden to play during their mythic 1989 national tour, the other being “Fuck tha Police,” and MTV banned its video. It felt like a lightning strike, completely shorn of the thuggish whimsy that animated Eazy-E’s solo work or the sinuously funky groove that made “Gangsta Gangsta” a Black radio favorite. This was the one that made the white rock establishment, and not a few in the Black music community, tremble with fear and call the group glorified gangbangers.Co-produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and inspired by the Bomb Squad’s sample-heavy quilt It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, “Straight Outta Compton” is a gumbo of drum breaks, vocal snippets, and Yella’s turntable scratches. Ice Cube comes out the gate with pure aggression and a “murder rap” verse. He’s followed by the self-described villain MC Ren, and Eazy-E, “the motherfucker raising hell.” For all its velocity and lack of a clear chorus, the production is sophisticated, with a short bridge between the first two raps and Eazy’s closing verse. Still, it’s a cyclone that doesn’t let up until the very end, when Dre calls out, “Damn, that shit was dope!”In 2015, the N.W.A. legend was mythologized in an Oscar-nominated movie, Straight Outta Compton. The group that once shook the foundation of the music industry was now a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame institution, their angst safely absorbed into the pop firmament. But the old heads who remember when “Straight Outta Compton” dropped won’t forget that first impression.–M.R.


Dr. Dre  feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg

“Nuthin’ but a G Thang” changed everything. It codified a sound that percolated on records such as N.W.A.’s efil4zaggaN and DJ Quik’s Quik Is the Name and made it the default style for Los Angeles past and present. It brought street culture to the forefront permanently, and forced every hip-hop artist to decide whether they were “gangstas” or not, with their careers hanging in the balance. And it made Dr. Dre the undisputed king of West Coast hip-hop for generations to come, casting a shadow that lingers to this day.Dr. Dre had already introduced Long Beach rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg to the public earlier in 1992 on “Deep Cover,” a single from the movie soundtrack of the same name that caused a sensation in rap and angered law enforcement officials with Snoop’s chorus, “Cause it’s 1-8-7 on an undercover cop!” Now, with the “G Thang” video blowing up on The Box during the holiday season, the duo delighted with their old-school tag-team flow and “rip shit up.” Dre offered a sample of Leon Haywood’s “I Want’ a Do Something Freaky to You,” and created a vibe that felt familiar, as if the song had been out for years. The clip, directed by Dr. Dre, looks raw and unpolished as it depicts Dre picking up Snoop at his house, a barbecue in the park, and a house party.Yet viewed today, “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” and its video also evokes troubling reactions. During a volleyball game at the barbecue, a man pulls down a woman’s bikini top. More alarmingly, is the scene where a model makes her way into the house party. She declines the advances of numerous guys who try to approach her. Finally, annoyed by her apparent snobbishness, several dudes stage an assault by spraying malt liquor all over her.It’s important to point out that violence against women was a persistent theme during the hardcore early Nineties. These were years when MCs pushed lyricism into strange directions, exploring their inner mind’s eye with little care for whether outsiders took offense. Empathizing with this approach was part of being a hip-hop consumer, even as artists pushed the boundaries of taste with fantasies of rape and murder.However, when Dre rapped, “And if your bitches talk shit, I’ll have to put the smack down,” his words had a real-life parallel. His assault of rapper and television personality Dee Barnes in 1991 made national headlines; everyone knew who he wanted to “smack down.” To his credit, Dre has since taken steps to account for past behavior. “I made some fucking horrible mistakes in my life,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015. This year, Barnes told RS’s Mankaprr Contekh that, in effect, she still hasn’t forgiven him. And that’s okay. It’s her life that was irrevocably changed, and only she gets to decide how to deal with that.“Nuthin’ but a G Thang” not only popularized what soon became known as “G-funk,” it also helped cement deep-rooted misogyny as an article of faith within rap music. Pointing out the latter doesn’t minimize Dre and Snoop’s historic achievement or that, simply put, they made an incredible, timeless piece of music. There’s much to learn from this all-time classic as fans, the music industry, and the artists themselves reckon with the complications of the “G Thang” legacy.–M.R.