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.
2. 2Pac 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.