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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


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.