Is California the strongest region in hip-hop history? Draft your own team in our new Bracket Competition!
The following is the first installment of a new series, The Hip-Hop Olympics Bracket. Throughout the next several weeks, we will be examining several of hip-hop’s most prominent locales. Historical context, musical aesthetic, key players, and prominent themes will be analyzed. Once the series is complete, there will be a vote to decide which region reigns supreme.
We need your involvement for this one. In order to find a winner, we invite our readers weigh in with their ideal roster for each region: six players, two producers, and two coaches. The comments will be tallied, and once the final vote comes to pass, fan-voted teams will be pitted against one another in order to crown a single champion.
For this week’s installment, we shall be examining California. As California is home to a variety of diverse cities, many of which boast thriving hip-hop scenes, it seems fitting to examine the state as a singular entity.
VOTE FOR YOUR IDEAL TEAM IN THE COMMENTS SECTION
Players: Your rappers. The ones you know will murder a track. Maybe it's flow, maybe it's lyrics, maybe it's straight up charisma.
Coaches: Now that you've picked your rappers, you need somebody to keep them in line. To oversee the whole thing. You gotta make sure you've got some OGs holding it down.
Producers: You've got your lineup, but who is going to bless them with the beat?
For example, my team would look something like this:
Coaches: Snoop Dogg, E-40
Producers: DJ Quik, Dr. Dre
Week One: California
The influence is undeniable. From “Fuck The Police” to Boyz N The Hood. Lowriders to women, weed, and weather. G-funk whistles, smooth bass lines, and crisp percussion. Endless classics, influenced in equal measure by sociopolitical anxiety and pure, unbridled hedonism. In short, West coast hip-hop.
Doubtless, many have come to acknowledge the birthplace of the movement as New York. 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, The Bronx, to be specific. With sample based music at the forefront, artists like The Sugarhill Gang, DJ Kool Herc, and Afrika Bambaataa used their expanding platform to bolster the voices of the unheard; minorities and impoverished communities, looked down on by authorities and lawmakers.
While a revolution was going down in New York City, the West Coast was not to be outdone. Many claim that a California based hip-hop culture was burgeoning simultaneously, primarily in Los Angeles and The Bay Area. The topic is certain to cause debate among purists, especially those who lived through the infamous (and deadly) East vs. West rivalries of the nineties. To this day, nationalism remains a defining point of pride; you’d be hard pressed to find a New Yorker willing to cite California as hip-hop’s home.
Not unlike the homies in NYC, the ubiquity of California hip-hop was undeniably elevated by DJs, primarily The World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Younger listeners might recognize the name through Dr. Dre, who spent some time with the group in the 1980s; “It's not a fluke, it's been tried, I'm the truth, since "Turn Off the Lights" from the World Class Wreckin Cru,” raps Dre, on the iconic “Still D.R.E.” The group’s contribution to the scene is not to be understated. Implementing genres such as disco, funk, and electronic, the Cru proceeded to build a foundation still evident in the West Coast music of today.
The advent of drum machines ushered in a new sound, and pioneers like Dre and DJ Yella went on to dominate the local DJ scene. Dre eventually caught the eye of Eazy E, and together with rappers Ice Cube and MC Ren, the four artists formed the world’s most dangerous group, N.W.A. After bringing Yella on board for added production, it didn’t take long for them to get to work on their debut Straight Outta Compton, which would soon become entrenched in the annals of hip-hop history.
NWA - "Fuck The Police"
The 2015 biopic has since shed some light on the group’s origin story, but it’s safe to assume that many were already familiar with “Fuck The Police” long before the film. While seminal hip-hop may have a benevolent reputation (the classic “my name is ___ and I’m here to say” flow comes to mind), N.W.A were the antithesis. Straight Outta Compton’s opening track seemed to encapsulate the zeitgeist of the time, with no shortage of unfiltered, uncompromising aggression aimed at any-and-all oppressors. It’s hard to deny N.W.A’s role in pioneering the subgenre of gangsta rap, especially given the project’s status as one of the first albums to sport the “parental advisory” sticker.
The success of N.W.A. went on to spawn successful solo careers for Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E, who sadly died in 1995. During the early nineties, the impact of N.W.A. continued to spread, and plenty of new names and faces rose to the forefront. Snoop Dogg, Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, and 2Pac Shakur came to define the decade’s sonic era, with the leviathan-esque Death Row Records leaving a destructive trail in its wake. The history of Death Row and its legacy is a long and bittersweet tragedy; perhaps, should there be enough public interest, a deep dive into the label can be arranged for a later date.
In some ways, it feels like California and New York have always been natural rivals. While the competition can feel friendly at times, at others, the hostility is downright palpable. The East vs. West narrative was never stronger than it was during Death Row and Bad Boy’s infamous beef. As we all know, the feud ultimately proved fatal for both label’s promising young talents. Yet in his death, Pac became immortalized, expanding beyond the realm of music. Despite being born in New York City, 2Pac became one of the iconic California rappers in history. Case in point, “California Love,” which has withstood the test of time as one of hip-hop’s iconic anthems, uniting Pac with fellow icons Roger Troutman and Dr. Dre.
2Pac & Snoop Dogg - "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted"
I’ve already written about Dr. Dre’s production at length. In truth, the man’s musical aptitude needs no introduction. From the groundbreaking production and engineering of The Chronic, to the cinematic, horror-inspired soundscapes of Eminem’s Relapse, Dre’s production has remained one of the West Coast’s golden properties. Whether it be through Snoop Dogg’s myriad bangers, or his work on Xzibit’s Restless LP, Dre’s contributions to the Cali canon have been a masterful blend of tradition and innovation. In many ways, Andre Young represents a generational talent akin to a LeBron James or a Jordan.
Meanwhile, artists like the equally prolific DJ Quik went on to have immense impact in their own right. While some of his peers have surpassed him in brand recognition, the contributions of David Blake are legion. Whether it be mixing 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, or blending hip-hop with jazz fusion on his “Quik’s Groove” series, the hilarious and smooth Compton legend is but one of the West Coast’s most understated talents. Though many respect the name, his discography has somehow remained underrated, despite consisting of nine albums of quality material. Between Dr. Dre and DJ Quik alone, the West Coast is backed by two of the production world’s heavyweight champions.
And that’s not even scratching the surface. Battlecat. Fredwreck. DJ Dahi. Madlib. The Alchemist. DJ Mustard. Daz. DJ Muggs. Sounwave. Scott Storch. When it comes to the sheer talent of their production rosters, California is among the game’s elites. Not only for the sheer volume of bangers, but for the variety and evolution displayed in the music. Contrast the early days of G-Funk to the minimalist bounce of DJ Mustard, to the current work of DJ Dahi and Sounwave, who consistently provide Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q & Ab-Soul with some of hip-hop’s most innovating production. Even Fredwreck, who has operated largely as a cult-favorite, provided Eminem with acclaimed Revival track “Framed,” largely recognized as an album highlight.
Black Hippy - Vice City
It would be a sin to gloss over the impact of the Bay Area, and an even greater sin to set aside the original slang God himself, E-40. While Snoop has long since immortalized himself as hip-hop’s favorite uncle, E-40 has played an equally important role in uncledom, amassing one of the most influential and hilarious vernaculars in the game. If you aren’t familiar with the exact cadence of “OUUUUU,” can you really call yourself a California connoisseur? E-40’s considerable shadow looms over the entirety of the state, and the Hyphy Movement helped solidify the Bay as one of hip-hop’s quintessential locales.
We haven't even scratched the surface of the new era. Coming off the heels of a Pulitzer Prize for music, Kendrick Lamar has proven himself to be one of the world's most brilliant living songwriters. While his talents are undeniably diverse, Kendrick's classic debut album Good Kid Maad City is considered by many to be his defining project; a veritable love letter to Compton, the story plays out in a Tarantino-esque exercise in non-chronological storytelling, an aural equivalent to Boyz N The Hood. Moreover, later songs like "King Kunta" and "You Ain't Gotta Lie" are firmly entrenched in California sonic aesthetics, and Kendirck has successfully managed to keep the Westside vibes alive for a new generation of listeners. And that's only one member of Black Hippy - Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Jay Rock (repping Carson, South Central, and Watts respectively) are all excellent artists in their own right.
In short, the West Coast remains one of hip-hop's defining locales; what would the genre do without California? From the storied history, to the modern day pioneers keeping the legacy alive. From Dr. Dre to Kendrick Lamar, YG to Nipsey Hussle, Suga Free to Snoop Dogg, Xzibit to DJ Quik; the list is pretty much endless. Those who ride for the West Coast know the importance of California. Who will hold it down?
While you consider your roster, throw up our accompanying West Coast playlist for inspiration.
Once again, don't forget to vote for your roster.
Age shouldn't necessarily be a factor; for example, if you love Ice Cube's early nineties prolific run, you can opt to vote him as a player.