Rap  •  Hip-Hop/Urban

West Coast Rap

West Coast Rap dominated the hip-hop scene for the middle section of the '90s, making gangsta rap into a popular phenomenon and establishing Dr. Dre as one of the most influential figures in rap history. Still, even if Dre's patented G-funk defined the West Coast sound and style for many, California's rap scene was a great deal more diverse. Up until the mid- to late '80s, West Coast rap mostly imitated East Coast party rap, already considered old-school in its place of origin; however, both Los Angeles and the Bay Area soon proved to be fertile pastures. The former produced the landmark proto-gangsta recordings of Ice-T, the hugely influential, Latino-tinged stoner funk of Cypress Hill, and the warped comedy of the Pharcyde; the Bay Area countered with the pimp-obsessed rhymes of Too $hort, the P-Funk-inspired, good-humored Digital Underground, and the pop breakthrough of MC Hammer. In short, West Coast rap became as eclectic and difficult to pigeonhole as East Coast rap. However, N.W.A.'s 1989 gangsta-rap landmark Straight Outta Compton set the stage for a more identifiable West Coast style -- its sound was hard-hitting and minimalistic, its lyrics alternating between violent hedonism and righteously angry social commentary. Upon leaving N.W.A., Ice Cube made solo records which maintained that lyrical tone while employing noisy, Public Enemy-style production; his bandmate Dr. Dre discovered Snoop Doggy Dogg, signed to Death Row Records, and at the end of 1992 released The Chronic, the album that defined G-funk and spawned legions of imitators. The Chronic's gangsta hedonism and production style -- whiny synthesizers, rolling P-Funk beats, and deep, slow grooves -- provided the blueprint that made Death Row the biggest hip-hop label of the early '90s, scoring hits by Snoop, Warren G., Tha Dogg Pound, and more. Controversial gangsta star 2Pac joined the label in late 1995 and became a crossover superstar with the Dre duet "California Love," and Coolio had taken a more pop-oriented version of the West Coast sound to the top of the charts earlier in the year with "Gangsta's Paradise." However, West Coast dominance soon crumbled -- 2Pac was murdered in 1996, Dre jumped ship, and Death Row CEO Suge Knight was jailed over business practices. By the end of the '90s, hip-hop's focus had turned back to the East Coast and to the emerging South.