West Coast hip hop is a regional genre of hip hop music that encompasses any artists or music that originate in the West Coast region of the United States. The gangsta rap subgenre of West Coast hip hop began to dominate from a radio play and sales standpoint during the early 1990s with the birth of G-funk and the emergence of Suge Knight and Dr. Dre's Death Row Records.
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Some believe that the four elements of hip-hop culture, B-boying, DJing, graffiti art, and MCing, existed on the East and West Coasts of the United States simultaneously during the mid-seventies. This theory runs in opposition to the more generally accepted belief that the fundamental elements of hip hop were born and cultivated exclusively on the East Coast, in New York City in particular, in the earliest stages of the culture. Although it is agreed that hip hop was given its name in New York, some say a culture that closely mirrored the East Coast hip hop culture had emerged in the West, existing from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area during the same period. The culture is widely believed to have been a mutual creation which evolved from interaction between people who identified with elements from their respective coasts.
A number of events laid the foundations for West Coast hip hop, long before the emergence of West Coast rappers such as Eazy-E, Ice T, and Too Short. According to geniusrap.com, "a cataclysmic event helped give rise to it out West: the Watts Riots of 1965." In 1967, Bud Schulberg founded a creative space entitled Watts Writers Workshop, intended to help the people of the Watts neighborhood and provide a place for them to express themselves freely. Out of this background the Watts Prophets formed, a spoken-word and musical collective, whose members had moved to the West Coast from southern states such as Texas and Louisiana. However Black expression in Los Angeles was muted after the release of the Watts' Prophet 1971 record Rappin' Black in a White World until the emergence of hip-hop in the 1980s.
The origins of West Coast hip hop trace back to the mid-1970s in Los Angeles when Alonzo Williams, a young disc jockey from Compton, California, began to DJ at parties and various venues in Southern California under the name "Disco Construction" and the "Wreckin' Cru". Williams eventually formed a partnership with another DJ named Rodger Clayton who created a promotion company called Unique Dreams that would hire Williams to DJ at local events. The two eventually went their separate ways: Williams' Wreckin' Cru became the house DJs at a local nightclub called Eve's After Dark while Clayton launched what would perhaps be the foremost successful mobile DJ crew in the region by the name of Uncle Jamm's Army that would host parties by top DJs for thousands of people at large venues. Other smaller DJ and party crews emerged around this time, hoping to establish themselves in the area. Unlike their East Coast counterparts, the hip hop sound emerging from Southern California was more fast-paced and influenced by electronic music. This could be largely credited to the fact that the local West Coast hip hop scene revolved more around DJing than rapping. A localized dance sub-culture later came out of this party scene, which was highlighted on a national scale on such motion pictures as Breakin'.Breakdancing, popping and locking gave the Los Angeles music scene some of its earliest credibility outside the region. Further attention came to the West Coast as Uncle Jamm's Army began inviting such well-known East Coast hip-hop acts as Whodini and Run-DMC to their functions.
Another early landmark occurred in 1981, when Duffy Hooks launched the first West Coast rap label, Rappers Rapp Records, inspired by Sugar Hill Records in New York. Its first act was the duo of Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp, whose debut single was "Gigolo Rapp" or "Gigolo Groove". However these early records suffered from a lack of radio play from both Black and East Coast hip-hop radio stations.Captain Rapp created the classic West Coast song "Bad Times (I Can't Stand It)". Clayton's group released their first single, "Dial-a-Freak", and in 1984 Egyptian Lover released his On the Nile album, which includes the popular 12" single "Egypt Egypt". Members of Uncle Jamm's Army and the World Class Wreckin' Cru, including Dr. Dre, The Unknown DJ, Egyptian Lover and Ice-T would later go on to help define the early West Coast hip-hop sound throughout the 1980s.
In the mid-1980s, Mixmaster Spade defined an early form of gangsta rap with his Compton Posse. From this group, Spade mentored future rap stars of the West Coast, including Toddy Tee, who recorded the South Central LA anthem "The Batteram" in 1985.
In the same period, the Compton-based former locking dancer Alonzo Williams formed World Class Wreckin' Cru, which included future N.W.A members Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. Williams also founded Kru-Cut Records and established a recording studio in the back of his nightclub Eve's After Dark. The club was where local drug dealer Eazy-E and Jerry Heller decided to start Ruthless Records and where Dr. Dre and DJ Yella met the group CIA, which included future N.W.A member and Ice Cube, Laylaw, Dr. Dre's cousin Sir Jinx, and K-Dee.
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In 1988, N.W.A's landmark album Straight Outta Compton was released. Focusing on life and adversities in Compton, California, a notoriously rough area which had gained a reputation for gang violence, it was released by group member Eazy-E's record label Ruthless Records. As well as establishing a basis for the popularity of gangsta rap, the album drew much attention to West Coast hip hop, especially the Los Angeles scene. In particular, the controversial "Fuck tha Police" and the ensuing censorship attracted substantial media coverage and public attention. Following the dissolution of N.W.A due to in-fighting, the group's members Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and MC Ren would later become platinum-selling solo artists in the 1990s. Ice Cube released some of the West Coast's most critically acclaimed albums, such as 1990's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and 1991's Death Certificate, as well as making film and television appearances such as in John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood in 1991.
The early 1990s was a period in which hip hop went from strength to strength. Tupac Shakur's debut album 2Pacalypse Now was released in 1991, demonstrating a social awareness, with attacks on social injustice, poverty and police brutality. Shakur's music and philosophy was rooted in various philosophies and approaches, including the Black Panther Party, Black nationalism, egalitarianism, and liberty. Also in 1991, Suge Knight founded Death Row Records using money he had extorted from the pop-rapper Vanilla Ice, and the West Coast saw the debut of arguably its most influential and popular rapper. In 1992, Dr. Dre released his solo debut, The Chronic; this marked the birth of the G-funk sound that became a hallmark of the West Coast sound in the 1990s, with the album's lead single "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" peaking at Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other Death Row releases such as Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle (1993) and 2Pac's All Eyez on Me (1996) became huge sellers and were also critically acclaimed.
The popularity of hip hop was undoubtedly assisted by the ensuing feud between Death Row Records and the East Coast's Bad Boy Records, fronted by Puff Daddy and The Notorious B.I.G. The East-West feud gained particular traction when Shakur was shot on November 30, 1994 outside Quad Recording Studios in New York, coincidentally where Biggie Smalls and Puff Daddy had been recording that day, which led Shakur to accuse them of setting him up. Tensions rose were at their highest at the Source Awards in 1995, with artists from both sides making indirect comments about the other.
The drive-by shooting murder of Shakur on September 13, 1996 was a major turning point for hip-hop as a whole. Shakur had been the West Coast's most popular rapper and among the most critically acclaimed. After his death and Suge Knight's incarceration, Death Row Records - once home to the majority of the West Coast's mainstream rappers - fell into obscurity. The death of the East Coast rapper and former Tupac adversary, the Notorious B.I.G., concluded the West-East feud that had riddled hip hop throughout the 1990s. The West Coast scene slowly started to fade from the mainstream in the early 2000s, as fans drifted more towards the East Coast scene, with new artists such as 50 Cent coming to the fore alongside 1990s veterans such as Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan. In addition, Southern hip hop reached the mainstream in the early 2000s and, arguably, Atlanta's rap scene became the most popular in the country with the rise of crunk in 2003-2004.
West Coast hip hop's position in the mainstream dwindled greatly in the late 1990s and 2000s, with a few notable exceptions such as Dr. Dre's 2001 album. However, the trend soon changed. Although gangsta rap was still popular on the West Coast in the 2000s, the West Coast sound became more designed for nightclubs with the rise of the Bay Area's hyphy scene, featuring flamboyant raps and explicit references to sex and drugs. A key artist in the genre was E-40, who found a substantial audience with his 1995 album In a Major Way; he found even greater success with the song "Tell Me When To Go" in 2006, featuring Oakland rapper Keak Da Sneak.
Bay area rapper Too Short, already well known for his collaborations with artists such as Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., found a new lease on life with the hyphy scene, his 16th studio album Blow the Whistle in 2006 debuting at number 14 on the Billboard 200. The Game also brought attention back to the West Coast with his double platinum album, The Documentary, as did Xzibit's platinum certified Restless album, and gold certified albums Man vs. Machine and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Artists from the 1990s such as Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube and groups such as the Tha Dogg Pound and Westside Connection continued to release albums throughout the 2000s but did not garner the same level of fame as they had experienced in the 1990s. Throughout the 2000s, a number of peripheral West Coast hip hop artists such as Ya Boy, Glasses Malone, Juice,SKG (Suge Knight Girl) Helecia Choyce Crooked I, 40 Glocc, Slim the Mobster, Bishop Lamont, and Mistah F.A.B. collaborated with big-name artists such as Dr. Dre, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, The Game, E-40, and Snoop Dogg.
In the early to mid-2010s, the West Coast has also seen a resurgence with hyphy as well as a transition to an uptempo and club-oriented type of hip hop.
Producer DJ Mustard has pioneered the "ratchet" music movement, a production style that has snowballed into the mainstream. DJ Mustard played a role in bringing West Coast hip hop back to national attention through the 2010s. He gained huge popularity throughout 2011 to 2014, producing a number of popular artists' singles, including Tyga's "Rack City", 2 Chainz's "I'm Different", Young Jeezy's "R.I.P.", B.o.B's "HeadBand", YG's "My Nigga" and "Who Do You Love?", Ty Dolla Sign's Paranoid, Kid Ink's "Show Me", and Trey Songz's "Na Na". Mustard also released his debut mixtape, Ketchup, in 2013, further solidifying his ratchet sound, which follows its G-funk and hyphy predecessors.
Other more peripheral acts that achieved relatively moderate and rather short-lived success in the mainstream include Lil B, who built a strong fan base via social media outlets such as Twitter, YouTube, and Myspace, and has recorded both solo and with The Pack.
As a result, with the resurgence of hyphy and the progression of the ratchet movement through the 2010s, the West Coast has spawned commercially successful rappers such as Tyga, Jay Rock, Droop-E, Sage the Gemini and Iamsu! of The HBK Gang, YG, Kid Ink, Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, Ty Dolla Sign, DJ King Assassin, Dizzy Wright, and Problem. During the same time, alternative hip hop acts have also begun to gain traction along the West Coast hip hop scene such as Tyler, The Creator and his Odd Future collective. In addition, hip hop artists who are more socially conscious and focus more on the lyrical aspects of hip hop have also risen from crews such as solo acts Hopsin and group acts such as Black Hippy, entering the mainstream and releasing a number of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums.
Black Hippy's own Kendrick Lamar 2012 release, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, was met with rave reviews and is featured on many critics' end-of-year lists. The album was nominated Album of the Year at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, marking the first time any West Coast hip-hop was nominated for award. In 2014, Schoolboy Q debuted at no.1 on the Billboard 200 with 139,000 copies sold. YG's My Krazy Life debuted at no.2 on the Billboard 200 with 61,000 copies sold.
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