WILD WILD WEST: From ‘Pac To Pac D## – The West Coast’s Gangster To Hipster Evolution


Editor’s Note: AllHipHop.com is all about the Wild, Wild West! This month, we’re profiling the prolific impact that the country’s left-hand side has had on Hip-Hop music and culture. There’s something distinctly different and wonderful about West Coast rap and the characters who have held it down over the years.

In recent years, a dramatic change has taken place  – the sound is not softer, but zanier; the symbolism, less thug and more Thelonius Monk meets Hendrix; the style channels Pharcyde and not feuding. We examine the gangster to hipster, West Coast revolution:

In the eyes of most Hip-Hop fans across the world, New York has always rightfully claimed to be the birthplace of Hip-Hop. But over the years, as more and more research has been done on the origins of Hip-Hop culture, questions still remain about whether or not there was a simultaneous movement taking place on the West Coast as well.

From breakdancing, to clothing, to graffiti, to the music, Hip-Hop had undoubtedly spread to the West Coast’s urban areas in the same amoeba like fashion seen on the East Coast in the 1980s. But, of all the movements in Hip-Hop from then to now, the West Coast’s Gangsta Rap movement had arguably one of the biggest impacts on our country’s psyche. With movies like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society displaying the gang violence seen in South Central L.A., suburban America was forced to see the struggle and tragedy that lower income families were dealing with on a regular basis. Not only did waring gangs like the Bloods and the Crips become real, but the stories that rappers professed in their songs became tangible for White America and, in short – it scared them.

Menace II Society – Car Scene

It was also right around this time that the War on Drugs became a focal point of the Reagan administration and shortly thereafter, the now late Rodney King was assaulted by Los Angeles police officers who were later acquitted of their charges. The riots of 1992 would follow and, in retrospect, are symbolic of the turmoil that was taking place in ‘hoods all across America. Subject to police brutality, corruption, and the abuse of power often exercised at the expense of minority youths, low income households were given a voice by gangsta rap. Wanted or not, gangsta rap was a voice for those impoverished and overlooked by governments, police, and politicians that had the power to change urban communities, but that failed to represent their needs. America failed at providing a sustainable environment for urban minorities.

But how did the West Coast G-Funk sound and Gangsta Rap transition into modern day Cali artists like Nipsey Hussle, TDE (Ab-Soul, Jay Rock Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q), Dom Kennedy, Pac D##, The New Boyz, Cali Swag District, Kid Ink, Crooked I, Strong Arm Steady and others? Ask around, and you will know that over time, the West Coast Gangsta Rap movement subsided in the wake to ‘Pac’s passing, and in came the new wave that became some of Hip-Hop’s most popular artists. As we look at those issues, we should also look at a few of artists that were pivotal in the West Coast movement, and how they impacted the sound and culture of West Coast music.

We start with Ice-T, widely regarded as the OG father of Gangsta Rap. Everyone has been digging his new movie, The Art of Rap, so shout out to the OG, for still being relevant with acting and his reality TV show. What better place to start than with Ice-T? Long before his love for the voluptuous Coco, Ice-T broke onto the scene with a ruthless disdain for crooked cops, a street edge that is still unmatched in today’s music, and real eye for what was happening in the streets. From pimpin’ to selling dope, to gang life, Ice-T knew about it all, growing up in the Crenshaw area of South Central.

Perhaps Ice-T conveyed it best in the break out song, “6 in the Mornin,” often called one of the first gangsta rap songs. The track has a great deal of controversy surrounding it, as East Coast rapper Schooly D also came out with a Gangsta Rap song during that era called “P.S.K. (Park Side Killas)”, and it had a similar feel. Ice-T has denied any claims that he bit off the Schooly D song, saying he was merely influenced by the record. What about “Colors”, though? Don’t be a “mark ass-b*tch” – you better go listen to that real sh*t if you don’t know enough about this Ice-T. Check out T’s demeanor when he interviewed with Arsenio back in the day. You can tell, T was on a mission and his raps were riddled with political jargon relevant to the streets.

Ice-T On “The Arsenio Hall Show”

In and around the same time, NWA (N##### With Attitude) was building its buzz, and eventually released Straight Outta Compton in 1988. NWA is largely credited with establishing the West Coast’s gangsta rap movement with the general public. Led by Ice Cube and Eazy E, these guys let the world know what the gangsta rap movement was about and basically predicted the 1992 riots in a way of sorts by describing the life they lived everyday in Compton and South Central L.A.

NWA was able to be a voice for the streets; unfortunately, the group was unable to remain with its original members as Ice Cube split from the group after disputes regarding publishing and song writing credits. The group would never be the same, and some years later, Eazy E would succumb to AIDS. Nevertheless, NWA will be remembered in Hip-Hop forever for the LA Kings and LA Raiders gear, dressed in all black, with no shortage of attitude.

Compton’s Most Wanted – “Def Wish II”

From there we have to look at the DJ Quik and MC Eiht beef, and while it may seem weird to see these two names side by side for their collaborative role in the development of the gangsta rap movement, their beef and its role in the gangsta rap movement is crucial. These dudes had it out for each other for a long time, and members of their crews even took the beef off wax as the lyrics spilled into the street.

Real beef – not the Common and Drake beef – for all you youngsters out there, and it was raw, uncut, USDA beef, that both artists would barely escape. It should be noted that this beef is highly symbolic of the war between the Bloods and the Crips that was really at its peak at the same time as gangsta rap. The role of gangs in Hip-Hop cannot be overlooked, and there is no better clear cut case of the Blood and Crip beef as with DJ Quik and MC Eiht drama. This sh*t was not a movie.

DJ Quik – “Dollars And Sense”

Shortly thereafter, Death Row’s movement was busy founding the G-Funk era of production and sound. Consisting of Dr. Dre, 2Pac, Snoop Doggy Dogg (now Snoop Lion), DPG and other major West Coast artists like Nate Dogg and Warren G, the G-Funk Era was the undisputed sound of the West by the mid 1990s. Sampling Parliament Funkadelic and other classic funk groups of the 1970s, with DJ Quik, Warren G., and Dr. Dre on the beats, some of the greatest Hip-Hop artists and songs of all time were born under the Death Row roof.  The Chronic, Doggystyle, Dogg Food… we’ll let you continue. This was truly the “Golden Era” of West Coast of Hip-Hop, but selling millions upon millions of records came with blood as stories of life behind the scenes at Death Row are gruesome at best.

And while these West Coast legends may not exist as a group in their grand form seen in the mid 1990s, their impact on Cali Hip-Hop, and Hip-Hop as a whole, can never be forgotten. Each artist collaborated with the others over the years, so their sounds were largely influenced by one another and as whole had great similarities. But the corruption and violent nature of Death Row could only last for so long, and eventually as most do, the empire dissolved – Dr. Dre left, Snoop left, and 2Pac was violently murdered in Las Vegas, Nevada.

2Pac – “California Love”

Tupac Uncensored And Uncut Prison Interview

It seems like ‘Pac had two different lives. One was the compassionate and caring side, the other was the outspoken son of a Black Panther who was deemed a menace to society. Most of the time though, 2Pac was treated as a menace by authorities and members of society that didn’t understand his Thug Life movement. Blamed for his role in the corruption of America’s youth, in and out of the law’s hands, ‘Pac was always a target of police. But what was his impact on the gangsta movement of the 1990s?

We would be remiss not to mention that ‘Pac had some part in culturing some of the more violent individuals, and as such, he had his hand in bettering our communities, contrary to the stereotypes associated with the gangsta rap movement. Could 2Pac’s music have been a turning point in the gangsta rap movement, due to the commercialization of his music and his iconic stature?  Was his refined nature and ability to act, the beginning of the end for gangsta rap music on the West Coast? One man don’t stop the show, but the passing of ‘Pac undoubtedly took the wind out the West Coast’s sails and sales.

Cypress Hill – “How I Could Just Kill a Man”

Also during this early-to-mid-1990s era was the growth of the Latino rap group Cypress Hill and the humorous tunes of the Pharcyde. We cannot continue without mentioning these two groups, as Cypress Hill’s growth across the country spawned early smoke movements displaying Hip-Hop’s affinity for herb smoke. The Pharcyde also clearly enjoyed their share of herb as well, as their melodic and hypnotic tunes found on the hits “Drop”, “Passin’ Me By”, and “Runnin'”, gained mainstream attention. If you don’t know just start from their first album, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, and get back to us when you catch up, then  check out Plain Rap.

The Pharcyde – “Drop”

After Death Row crumbled, the West Coast definitely had a lull, as attention moved to the South and to the East Coast. But while Hip-Hop tried to clean up its act and recover from the coastal beef, what would follow in the West was a host of artists deemed “underground” that would experience relative success on the Internet and with live shows worldwide, especially in Europe. From Dilated Peoples, to Alchemist, to Murs and the Living Legends, to Jurassic 5, to the Cali Agents, to People Under the Stairs and others, Cali artists were largely in the shadows of the now blossoming East Coast and Dirty South and forced “underground.”

Dilated Peoples & Guru – “Worst Comes To Worst”

Jurassic 5 – “Quality Control”

But, Cali was still active as the song once said, and thus entered Dr. Dre’s Aftermath and the ascendance of Snoop to his modern day iconic status, carrying the torch for the West Coast and releasing a string of successful hits and albums.  The Chronic 2001…we don’t need to even say anything more about one of the most influential, post-2000 Hip-Hop albums. Eventually, Dre would sign Eminem and 50 Cent, who would eventually sign Game, and the rest is history, as we all remember the “G-Unot” beef of the mid-2000s. It’s important for us to not forget Em’s role in the whole West Coast movement, despite the fact that he was from Detroit. Without Em, where would Dr. Dre be today? Would Game have gotten his big break with 50 Cent? Interesting to ponder.

Dr. Dre – “Still D.R.E.” ft. Snoop Dogg

Eminem, Dr. Dre – “Forgot About Dre” (Explicit) ft. Hittman

Now over the past five to 10 years, we have seen the rise of a new school of artists looking to break onto the scene. Who could forget the “jerk movement” and the “Teach Me How to Dougie” movement (RIP M-Bone) that evolved with the youth wearing tight jeans and bright colors? Dancing in ways that Hip-Hop fans had never thought were possible and taking from gang related dances like the C-walk, Cali’s “jerk” and “dougie” movements started a new lane for Cali artists looking to connect with the youth.

Kendrick Lamar – “Swimming Pools (Drank)” (Clean)

But TDE’s crew (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul) Pac D##, Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, and Kid Ink are a far cry from the jerk movement. How did this new hipster movement develop? From jerking to herb smokin’ hippies, how does that happen?

One thing that we can say is that all of the aforementioned acts built their buzz online, by doing shows and by developing their own movements in their own backyard. By tending to their own garden as the South, Texas and East Coast reigned supreme, the West Coast was steadily stacking its talent – until it overflowed. Now the Left Coast has over a dozen up and coming talents that are breaking on to the mainstream and into the hearts and mind of Hip-Hop fans worldwide.

Dom Kennedy – “My Type of Party”

Last year, Nipsey performed in Japan for adoring fans at sold out shows on the TMC (The Marathon Continues) Tour, while Kendrick made his way to the mainstream by making a DJ Khaled record on the Kiss the Ring project. Let’s not forget about Kendrick and TDE being Dr. Dre’s newest signees, as we approach the looming release of Detox… if that ever comes out. Dom’s Yellow Album seems to have classic written all over it, and Kid Ink is making his way around the world yet again with a tour of Europe at the end of August. All we can do is watch in amazement, as once again the stars are aligned for the West Coast.

Nipsey Hussle – “They Know” (Official Video)

Pac D## – “Posted”

BONUS: Pac D## Talk Musical Expression and Examine Lil B’s “I’m Gay”

Come back for more ‘Caaaaaalifornia Love’ this month on AllHipHop.com!