We shine a spotlight on the Californian artists that've made a massive impact on hip-hop without a co-sign from Dr. Dre.
When it comes to Dr. Dre’s impact on his home state of California, his importance cannot be understated. The tutelage, mentorship and unparalleled wizardry that he’s exhibited behind the boards has elevated generations of talent and allowed them to fulfill their dreams, often moving beyond just a regional concern. His track record is inimitable.
From providing the bedrock of gangsta rap’s pioneering sound with NWA, to harvesting the raw potential of a young Snoop Dogg, plucking The Game from obscurity, and even finding a conduit for soulful arrangements of Anderson .Paak, Dre has a keen radar that’s routinely found high calibre MCs lurking in the golden state. More importantly, he knows how to take the intangibles that they already possess and align them with the work ethic needed to become a legend.
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Given that his era-defining album, The Chronic, was crucial to marking the West Coast as a hip-hop hotbed and taking control away from the East Coast, it’s only natural that Dre would aim to uphold this legacy by grooming many of Cali’s hopefuls for the bright lights. Dre has acted as a finishing school that equipped West Coast prospects with everything they’d need to make it in the wider world.
But for all the vigilance he’s shown in providing a platform for California’s brightest hopefuls, a co-sign from Dre isn’t a be-all or end-all requirement for a Cali-based MC to make it. While taking a trip through Aftermath’s hallowed halls has been a rite of passage for some of the West’s most cherished names, there is a small subset of rappers who planted their flag without any assistance from the region’s resident gatekeeper.
To begin with, there are those now-legendary stars who rose to prominence within a similar timeframe as Dre, but were never summoned to the studio to collaborate. Prone to using his rolodex of contacts to great effect, The Chronic, 2001 and Compton each saw Dre make space for an all-star team of Cali collaborators. From fellow Death Row signees such as The DOC, Nate Dogg, Daz, Kurupt, RBX and The Lady Of Rage to his own understudies of Hittman, Knock-turn’al and Cold187um, each of Dre’s landmark projects has given ample room for his fellow West Coast staples to shine.
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As a result, the fact that it wasn't until 2011 that Dre called upon the services of Oakland’s Too $hort seems like a gross oversight.
Well-versed in delivering the sort of fornication-filled content that’s always had its place on a Dre project, Todd Anthony Shaw has been making an artform out of on-wax pimpin’ since 1983. Although he’s proven himself to be a magnet for moral panic in a way that former NWA member Dre is certainly familiar with, there are admittedly ways in which Too Short and Dre exist in very different spheres.
For one thing, where Dre averages an album every generation, few rappers from the pre-internet era have been as prolific as Too Short. Sporting five platinum plaques to his name, this Bay Area icon managed to carve out a uniquely debaucherous legacy for himself without ever calling upon the doctor for assistance. But after years of being passing acquaintances, Dre and Short Dogg’s paths would finally cross during the producer’s fabled Detox sessions. Fittingly, on an unreleased track known as “Man’s Best Friend (Pussy).”
"Somebody suggested my name, so he called me in," Too Short recalled to Vibe. "I didn’t write the rap. Kurupt’s little brother wrote it – Roscoe – and he pimped me one hell of a sixteen-bar verse. Dre had me in there, the first session was nine hours."
However, while Dre had managed to convey his appreciation for one of the pillars of Bay Area rap, he has historically left Vallejo, CA’s resident innovator out in the cold.
"Snoop Dogg, shoot, he done been there. Dre, I got a lot of respect, but we’ve never done anything," revealed the incomparable E-40 in 2018. "I sent messages and whatnot through other people saying, ‘hey, I’m right here if you need me’. Just from being a West Coast cat. All my life, I’ve sold records in LA. So, I’m like, how can you look over me? I’m a legend. Game recognizes game."
Possessing one of the most influential discographies of any West Coast artist, E-40 has always brought his own flavour to the game. And by virtue of his unorthodox flows and ear for beats, he managed to fashion a brand new lane with the Hyphy movement, which itself meant he never required anyone else's endorsement. As such, the sense that he represents his own subdivision of the West Coast has been a point of pride for the Sick Wid It CEO.
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"I’m one of the pioneers of independent music and sold records without no airplay," he informed XXL in 2010. "I didn’t get a deal from coming up under nobody. No disrespect to Dr. Dre but I didn’t come up under Dr. Dre. I came up under E-40. I didn’t spit a hot 16 to get on."
Despite any reservations that either man may have had in the past, it seems that any ill-feeling is now water under the bridge. At long last, E-40 and Dre’s paths will intersect on the upcoming project between 40 and the supergroup of Snoop, Too Short and Ice Cube. As if finally hearing the progenitors of Hyphy and G-funk collide wasn’t exciting enough, it was recently revealed that Dre will be the only feature on this historic project.
For Short and E-40, their lack of interaction with Dre is understandable in that just as they were blazing their own trails through hip-hop, the doctor was fighting to carve out his territory in NWA, as Death Row’s de-facto creative director, or by himself. With so many irons in the fire, it's natural that a couple of dream collaborations would slip by.
But even after Dre had cemented his legacy and had switched over to more of an ambassadorial, behind-the-scenes role, there have been a few immensely successful West Coast artists that had to make their way without so much as a consultation from Aftermath’s founder.
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Resoundingly endorsed by Dre’s former label boss, Suge Knight, YG is one such artist who has placed his stamp on the West Coast in his own, bravado-filled fashion. Busting out of the gate with the now legendary My Krazy Life in 2014, the Bompton MC was content to pay homage to his coast’s hip-hop lineage without feeling the need to actively interact with the artists that paved the way.
As the successes kept racking up and his chemistry with Mustard-- who declared himself and YG to be the new Dre and Snoop-- continued to deliver the hits, YG turned his attention to forming his own label under the 4Hunnid banner. Much like E-40 before him, the lack of recognition he received from Andre Young eventually became a badge of honour for YG. On the notably G-funk-tinged "Twist My Fingaz," YG took things a step further by declaring himself to be "the only one who made it out the west without Dre."
Iconic as this rallying cry has become, it’s not entirely true. As when you look at the West Coast MCs that have sprung up in YG's midst, there’s a strong class of Californian creatives that have not only fended sans Dre, but flourished while doing so.
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But aside from sampling "Bitches Ain’t Shit" on "Blue Suede" and contributing a freestyle to Dre’s now defunct The Pharmacy on Beats 1, Vince’s career has splintered off into avenues that are far removed from Dr. Dre. Attuned to the sort of abrasive, bass-heavy beats that producers such as Officer Kenny Beats specialize in, Vince has mapped out his own style of presentation that makes for not only arresting verses, but one of the most captivating personas in modern hip-hop.
Willing to touch on everything from UK garage to hyper-pop, Vince’s eclectic approach is something that a man with as famously-diverse taste as Dre would appreciate. And when you consider that Vince has fostered close ties to fellow LBC native Snoop Dogg and even previous Dre collaborators such as Tray Deee, it seems that there’s still plenty of time for them to make magic happen down the road now.
However, where time is on Vince and Dre’s side, there are other LA-based rappers for whom the window to work with the iconic producer has tragically elapsed.
The embodiment of the West Coast in many ways, Slauson’s Nipsey Hussle was earmarked to be one of the West Coast's new torchbearers from the very moment thatBullets Ain’t Go No Names Vol 1 hit the airwaves in 2008. Although he was insistent that he didn’t need any co-signs, both uncle Snoop and Game were quick to anoint Nipsey as next up. As the Bullets Ain’t Got No Names series gave way to The Marathon, Slauson Boy 2 and, finally, his 2018 debut LP, Victory Lap, Nipsey proved exactly why he’d accrued so much goodwill on the West Coast. But no matter how many glass ceilings Nipsey breached, the line from 2010’s “Keys To The City” in which Hussle revealed that “Dre passed, Def Jam, Capital, Atlantic too” continued to ring true.
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Over time, this feeling of being overlooked by Dre would turn to bemusement, but eventually, lead to him venting his frustrations during a 2013 interview with Bootleg Kev.
"I felt like if I’m sitting back in the game, and I’m watching Nipsey Hussle, and I’m watching Dom Kennedy, and I’m watching YG at that moment developing a situation, I just felt like what I would do — I wouldn’t spend money… I wouldn’t necessarily offer financial support, but I would do what I do to these young dudes that I see. I would acknowledge they grind," Nipsey said while discussing what seemed to be a lack of recognition on Dr. Dre's part. "Because when it’s impossible to miss, and you don’t acknowledge it, that becomes intentionally not acknowledging it."
Sadly, Nipsey would never get the audience with Dre that he believed that he and his contemporaries had earned. Consequently, the West Coast kingpin’s decision to honour Nipsey after his death was actually met with allegations of clout chasing.
However, what Nipsey and his counterparts have proven is that just because they haven’t linked with Dre, it doesn’t mean that their careers are incomplete. From E-40 to Vince Staples to Dom Kennedy and the late Nipsey, this undercurrent of West Coast artists serve as the rebuttal to the notion that if you need Dr. Dre on your side if you want to transcend being a Californian MC and become an international star. Instead, these artists have triumphed off of their merits. Thus, if they choose to work with the Aftermath icon down the line, it won’t be the sum total of their legacy, but just another feather in their cap.