The ten greatest West Coast rappers of all time
West Coast rap is sometimes disparaged by hip-hop purists for it's perceived lack of lyricism and substance, but what it lacks in lyrical acrobatics and "message," it more than makes up for in personality. Whether the aesthetic is raw and violent or chill and relaxed, the sentiment comes through just as powerfully. Continue on for a rundown of the ten greatest West Coast rappers of all time.
Though he is best known for his work with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound, Kurupt is a more well-rounded MC than his guest verses would suggest. While the Dogg Pound albums are about "not giving a fuck, bangin' out, making some good gangsta music," his solo ventures are more "wordly...all across the board." Indeed, as a solo artist and with groups, Kurupt has been one of the most consistent rappers on the West Coast, releasing music as recently as 2011.
9. Ras Kass
Not the most listenable MC to pick up a microphone, Ras Kass is certainly one of the most intelligent and unique, especially in the mid '90s, when gangsta rap was in full swing and the scene was largely homogenized. When his landmark debut, Soul On Ice failed to sell like expected -- despite being praised by many for its dense, detail-oriented lyricism -- because of allegations of racism and factually inaccuracy on the ambitious track, "Nature of the Threat," along with poor production compared to Ras's top-notch rhymes, the MC enlisted Dr. Dre to produce his next album's lead single, "Ghetto Fabulous," and opted for a less controversial tone. Ras continued to release sophisticated material after that, albeit infrequently, but for hardcore fans, it doesn't get better than his 1996 debut.
8. Cypress Hill
Headed by B-Real, this California group is known best for their ardent love of weed with songs like "Legalize It," "Hits from the Bong" and "Dr. Greenthumb." It's the darker, more serious side of Cypress Hill, however, that earns them respect as one the West Coast's greatest acts. The group's self titled debut went double platinum thanks to singles like the calloused "How I Could Just Kill a Man" and "Latin Lingo," which showcased the MCs' competence in bilingual rhyming with verses that seamlessly transition between English and Spanish. The groups followup, Black Sunday was even more successful, featuring "Insane in the Brain," which appealed to both rock and rap fans and seemed to be playing everywhere in the '90s, as well as "I Ain't Goin' out Like That," which was nominated for a Grammy. A later single, "Rock Superstar," cemented the outfit's status as a crossover act, landing it on tours with the likes of MxPx and the Offspring.
E-40 began his rap career as one fourth of a family operation, the Click, with his brother, sister and cousin, but the vast majority of his output has come as a solo operator. His distinctive style, which sounds like he's trying to jam as many syllables as possible into a bar, almost as if he's in fast-forward, makes his music instantly recognizable. He's one of the earliest practitioners of the Bay Area's hyphy movement, along with Mac Dre, and is arguably the most recognizable and successful. The fact that nearly every one of 40's seventeen (count 'em) albums has been top twenty on rap/R&B charts speaks to his commercial viability and consistency. And that he shows no signs of slowing or losing his audience well into his forties is a testament to his absolute credibility.
6. DJ Quik
Quik is one of the most well-respected cats to come out of California, having produced for 2Pac, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, Eazy-E and, most significantly, himself. He's also an adept rhymer whose albums have fared well critically and commercially, at least during his heyday throughout the '90s. He may not have the career-defining singles that other artists are famous for, but he's written and self-produced three gold albums, as well as the platinum Quik is the Name. Though Quik has been forgotten by the mainstream hip-hop audience, his impact on West Coast rap is clear and unquestionable.
Though N.W.A. captured the nation with its fierce and exciting brand of gangsta rap, it is Ice-T, along with Schoolly D, who is frequently credited with creating it. For Ice-T, it was the track "6 in the Mornin'," released in 1986, that marked his foray into the genre. The song was actually a B-side to "Dog'n the Wax," but due to it's popularity in clubs, Ice-T realized the lucrative potential of rapping about Los Angeles gangster life. In 1991, Ice-T released O.G. Original Gangster, which, despite its relatively primitive stylings, is considered a seminal album in gangsta rap. Ice-T is also co-founder of the group Body Count, one of the earliest fusions of gangsta rap and hard rock, whose "Cop Killer" single sparked a political outcry and moral panic that eventually resulted in the song's removal from subsequent album pressings with the exception of 2005's Body Count: Live in LA.
4. Too $hort
Well before N.W.A. brought the West Coast to hip-hop prominence, before even Rakim and Big Daddy Kane were revolutionizing rap in New York, a teenaged Too $hort was signed to a local label, writing explicit, street-level lyrics for the growing audience in California. Less than two weeks after Eric B and Rakim's game-changing Paid in Full was released, Too $hort released what would become his first gold album, and that was followed the next year by what is arguably his best album, the double platinum Life Is...Too $hort. More than two decades later, Too $hort is one of California's most seasoned and most prolific rappers -- and one of the most commercially successful, selling more than ten million albums -- plus, he's still making music, releasing three albums in 2012, including two compilations with one of the few Cali MCs who can match his battle scars, E-40.
3. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg is more a sheer force of personality than simply a rapper -- though, even as just a lyricist, on tracks like "Murder Was the Case" and "Lodi Dodi" off his classic Doggystyle, Snoop is in top form. But what separates him from other MCs, and what has kept him a fixture in the music industry for so long, is his hypnotizing voice, his cool, confident demeanor and his relaxed, conversational flow. His song, "Drop It Like It's Hot," for instance, while also aided immeasurably by the Neptune's incredibly catchy production, has no better subject matter and lyrical prowess than uncountable numbers of similar songs at around the same time, yet Snoop's song became a club phenomenon because of his magnetism as an MC.
Although 2Pac was actually born in New York, it's like they say, "It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at," and one listen to "California Love" reveals where 2Pac's heart was. Songs like "Changes," "Dear Mama" and "Keep Ya Head Up" were radically different from the other music being made in the '90s. 2Pac displayed a heartfelt tenderness yet managed to keep his street reputation.
With the release of Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. pushed California hip-hop to the forefront. The assembly of talent in the group was as impressive as it proved to be influential. With Dre's production and the rhymes of Eazy E and Ice Cube, who displayed charisma and ice cold lyricism, the group took the rap world by storm. Suddenly, everyone from suburban mothers to the FBI were forced to take notice. What the media viewed as glorified violence, N.W.A. termed reality rap, and to this day, it stands as the best and most compelling West Coast rap ever produced.