West Coast rap has always been little brother to New York’s lyrical intellectual rap scene. Seen as not too self-serious, the West Coast would often highlight the culture’s party and fun side.
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Now don’t get me wrong, there are many great lyrical west coasts artists but the point is that most of them throughout the genre’s history have been charmingly folksy. The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde features the group rapping about school crushes and failing to capture their hearts – a far cry of the exceedingly braggadocios rap of today.
That isn’t to say all west coast rap was as light hearted. Of course, there was N.W.A who helped usher in an era of gangster rap. But years later a young Dr. Dre protegé made his was onto the scene by not just pushing the gangster narrative forward but also being inventive and playful in tone. Arguably, The Chronic would not be what it is in hip hop cannon without Snoop Dogg’s touch. Instead of lamenting the travails of gang-banging, Snoop’s swagger shone on records. With his relaxed cadence, Snoop elevated himself from gang-banging lothario to an urbane socialite “man about town.”
His pimp status made him smooth and icy. By Adopting a persona similar to Too $hort, he became a household name. Which brings me to the “Freaky Tales” rapper himself.
Too $hort started rapping as a hustle in high school and sold tapes to drug dealers and pimps. But it wasn’t really until “Freaky Tales,” that he made a real name for himself. The genius of “Freaky Tales” is that it is wish fulfilment. On the track, Too $hort details many male fantasies like having sex with an older women or having sex with a prostitute only to have them pay him!
Editors Note: No, it isn’t cool to not pay sex workers. This song is about male fantasy.
This leads me to talk about the swagger of the west coast.
One of the biggest moments for the west coast was when the spotlight finally reached the hyphy movement. Hyphy was an off-shoot of Crunk music. The hyphy movement was lead by Bay area legend E-40. E-40’s lingo and slang permeated through the culture in the mid-aughts.
“Ghost Riding the Whip” became a cultural phenomenon. For those who don’t know, ghost riding the whip was a form of stunt driving, where the driver lets the car roll as they dance beside it. And this once fringe and subcultural phenomenon gained massive attention after the “Tell Me When To Go” video.
Also part of the hyphy movement was The Pack. Their single “Vans” first introduced us to the Based god, Lil B. Known for their skateboard raps, The Pack epitomized the California lifestyle, and were discovered by Too $hort. (See if you can spot the Too $hort cameo in the video).
Taking cues from D4L and the snap movement, “Vans” was the beginning of a lo-fi sound in rap that started to really take off in the mid-aughts that evolved into the SoundCloud rap of today.
Besides swagger, the west coast was host to a burgeoning underground scene. In the mid-90s, acts like Ras Kass, Planet Asia, and Jurassic 5 made names for themselves. And the most prominent act rising from the west coast to crossover to the mainstream was Cypress Hill.
The Success Story of Cypress Hill
In 1991 with their self-titled debut, Cypress Hill received both critical and commercial success. The album was among many critics’ top lists and critically analyzed in Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies.
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Cypress Hill’s humour and street credibility meshed really well. They set a template for many alternative acts that followed with their trippy production. Many of their songs humorously dealt with serious societal issues, take for example the song “Pigs”, which takes on the nursery rhyme of “This Little Piggy” to tackle the very serious issue of police corruption. Then there’s the funky banger “How Could I Just Kill a Man”, that deals with the violence of south L.A, including blowing a home invader away.
Thanks to their creativity, Cypress Hill went on to become the first the latin hip hop group to go multi-platinum. Their follow up effort was even bigger. The monumental Black Sunday album went triple platinum. With their hit, “Insane in the Brain”, Cypress Hill reached heights of popularity thought beyond reach for a hip hop act.
So it’s time to give credit where it’s due. Without the west coast, rap would have lost its mass appeal. It is true that there were many popular East Coast artists in the 90s like Biggie, DMX, Wu-Tang, Nas, Redman, EPMD, and et al but the west coast let people be loose.
What The Game Has Been Missing
One variable that may have helped the west coast was its interest in supporting its own. Notably, Snoop Dogg helped mould future west coast artists like The Game and Kendrick Lamar.
Around the mid 2000s, hip hop was replete with sounds of the American south. But The Game was an ace in the hole for recording juggernaut Interscope Records. Initially signed to be a member of G-Unit, The Game took off much in the same way 50 Cent had done a couple years prior. While many claimed Game was a name dropper, it was partially thanks to his style of wordplay, that the west coast gained more attention after he stated on various records who helped shape him as an artist.
Hip Hop Is Dead?
In 2006, Nas declared Hip Hop is Dead lamenting the state of the culture left in critical condition after the crunk era. But thanks to artists like The Game, Blu, and Nipsey Hussle, the west coast made sure hip hop never faded away.
The seminal project, Below the Heavens was considered by many one of the very few classic hip hop albums released around this time. Blu, the son of a preacher alongside producer Exile created a conscious record that resonated with people from coast to coast by its creative sample use and spiritual lyrics.
Parallel to that was street rapper, Nipsey Hussle whose mixtapes became street legend. His mixtape Crenshaw had a viral moment behind it as he was able to sell the limited release hard copies for $100 with Jay-Z notably buying up 100 copies making Nipsey $100,000 richer in less than 24 hours.
TDE and The Black Hippy Movement
After a few years of the west coast picking up steam, it seemed that was it. The west still had their respect with notable artists keeping the culture alive but nothing that was overtly seen. Then came Kendrick Lamar.
While Black Hippy existed since 2009, it wasn’t until Kendrick Lamar signed under a joint venture between Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records, that Black Hippy moved to another stratosphere.
“HiiPower” had marked the start of a regional resurfacing. It’s cultural references to black activists helped signify Kendrick’s place in the pantheon of rap. Then Good Kid, Ma.a.d City became a classic record and moved the needle for the west coast.
It seemed Kendrick had been anointed the new prince of rap. Prior to being signed Kendrick received blessings from other regional artists. Here are some of the west coast legends passing down the torch:
Without the west coast, rap would never have become the mainstream powerhouse that it is today. The California cool of the west coast created a wonderful contrast to the often too self-serious east coast artists. The swagger of the west coasts helped bolster rap’s credibility with audiences in part due to movements like G-Funk or Hyphy. Acts like Snoop Dogg or Too $hort gave hip hop a certain charm.
And yet the legacy of the west coast is often forgotten theses days. But it was thanks to this swagger that rap eventually able to enjoy the ubiquity that it enjoys today.
- Too $hort releases Born To Mack
- Ice-T releases Power
- Cypress Hill releases their eponymous album to commercial and critical acclaim
- DJ Quik Debuts
- Dr. Dre puts out The Chronic to critical acclaim with assistance from Snoop Dogg
- Pharcyde puts out “Passin Me By”, the second single off Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
- That same year Snoop Dogg comes out with Doggystyle
- Black Sunday by Cyprus Hill becomes the best selling rap album at that time
- Ras Kass releases the seminal Soul on Ice named after the memoir.
- Jurassic 5 releases Quality Control
- The Game puts out The Documentary and help put new renewed energy into West Coast rap.
- Kendrick debuts with Section.80 and the rest is history