WILD WILD WEST: The Historically Outrageous West Coast Figures of Our Time
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.
For sure, the West Coast has spawned some of the most controversial, headline-grabbing characters in Hip-Hop. Check out our sampling of some of the most prolific West Coast Wild Boys ever:
Quite possibly one of the most iconic figures of our time, Tupac Amaru Shakur remains one of the best-selling music artists of all time, even more than a decade after his death. Tupac was outlandish in his music and career, as well as his personal life—his legal problems were the stuff of legend. A critical part of the violent East Coast/West Coast rivalry which irrevocably fractured the Hip-Hop generation, Shakur is still considered one of the most inspirational and influential artists of our time. He even got his own port-mortem Hologram at this year's Coachella Festival.
Considered the “Godfather of Gangsta Rap,” Eric “Eazy-E” Wright was the founder of the legendary West Coast rap group, NWA. Frequently villianized for their anti-police lyrics, NWA crafted the classic songs “Boyz-n-the-Hood”, “100 Miles and Runnin’”, and “F*ck the Police,” with the latter widely-considered as one of Hip-Hop’s most significant protest songs against police violence. Despite the break-up of NWA, Eazy-E went on to produce Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, one of the best-selling rap groups of all time. Eazy died in March of 1995 due to complications from AIDS, putting a face on the disease for the Hip-Hop generation for the first time. He may rise again via his son's role as him in an upcoming NWA biopic.
His 1987 song, “6 ‘N the Mornin’”, remains of Hip-Hop’s greatest gangsta rap songs. The Rhyme Pays album was the first hip-hop album to ever have a parental advisory sticker, soon to be synonymous with rap albums. Ice-T was and is still known for his cautionary storytelling style. A critically-acclaimed actor, Ice-T has been featured in dozens of films and television programs, as well as been a voice actor for video games. His directorial debut documentary film, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, was released in July to high praise.
With a 30-year career, Todd Anthony Shaw, a.k.a. Too Short, put Oakland, California on the map with his raunchy rap lyrics and classic collaborations. His debut album, Born to Mack, is considered one of Hip-Hop’s greatest albums and the origination of “h*e flows,” songs all about sex. In 2006, the album and title single, Blow The Whistle, brought about a resurgence in Too Short’s career. He has also appeared in the 1993 film, Menace II Society, as well as several documentaries. Most recently, Too Short has dodged the bad PR bullet over some risque' advice he offered to young boys via XXL.
The former CEO of Death Row Records became infamous after the 1995 Source Awards where Knight invited, "Anyone out there who wanna be a recording artist and wanna stay a star, but don't have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing, come to Death Row." Ouch. At the time, it wasn't hard to point to Sean "Puffy" Combs as the target of his verbal shots fired.
Knight signed 2 Pac to Death Row after bailing the star out of a New York prison with a briefcase full of cash. Shakur's signing to the label helped spark the official beginning of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, which ultimately contributed to the deaths of both Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. After the murders, Knight was imprisoned for a parole violation and spent nearly five years in jail. Knight's reputation as one of the most intimidating figures in Hip-Hop has largely been tarnished by public fights, shootings, and a bankruptcy claim.
Freeway Ricky Ross
Often credited with inventing the cocaine derivative known as "crack," Freeway Ricky Ross became a legend by generating an estimated $600 million in crack rock sales starting in Los Angeles and spreading East. Ross was also instrumental in exposing the role that the CIA had in trafficking cocaine into the U.S. through his connection to a Nicaraguan drug dealer, later-turned DEA agent. Freeway Ricky Ross is currently locked in a trademark infringement lawsuit with rapper Rick Ross over the use of his name. He recently won a hearing against Warner Bros. and is preceding forward to trial against Warner and deposing Sean Combs and Lyor Cohen.