A History of L.A. Rap in 750 Words
Ignore the conventional narrative. The simplistic and linear hip-hop hagiographies compressed into 30-minute VH1 specials or records from the Game. You know: N.W.A and Straight Outta Compton “kicked open the doors” for the “West Coast Gangsta Sound,” blah blah blah, letters from the F.B.I., etc., with the pattern emerging in easy evolution: Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Dre’s The Chronic. Snoop’s Doggystyle. Warren G’s Regulate ... G Funk Era. Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food and 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me.... Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
It was always about more than just Death Row’s platinum plaques. Sure, natural selection favors you when you drop singles like “Nuthin’ But a G Thing,” “Gin and Juice” and “Regulate” (released on Def Jam, but whatever). But the post-riots rebirth belonged in equal parts to DJ Quik’s greasy, hydraulic grind; and Ruthless Records’ D.O.C. and Above the Law, whose 2Pac and Money B–featured “Call It What U Want” was alleged to be the first G-Funk single. There was also the body-rotting realism of Compton’s Most Wanted and South Central Cartel, equipped with protégés Young Murder Squad, whose 1996 single “How We Livin’” remains a forgotten gem.
The Maad Circle marauded out of Compton and Inglewood, with a not-ready-for-prime-time Coolio, and WC, who would later form Westside Connection with Mack 10 and Cube. Meanwhile, a flush-pocketed Eazy-E stalked the scene, diversifying Ruthless’ roster to include Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Atban Klann (the first incarnation of the Black Eyed Peas) and even a mutton-chopped pair of Jewish Valley kids known as Blood of Abraham. Plus, Eazy remained filthy enough to deliver the classic EP It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa, featuring one of the genre’s most searing salvos, the Dre-targeted “Real Muthaphukkin’ G’s,” and one of its most obscene sex raps in “Gimmie That Nutt.”
Simultaneously, a granola-and-incense enclave erupted in Leimert Park, revolving around the Good Life Café, and Project Blowed — whose progeny include the Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, Abstract Rude, Busdriver and Jurassic 5. Imbibing on the periphery were the King Tee–mentored Tha Alkaholiks, a rowdy bunch of booze hounds whose 1993 debut, 21 & Over,remains one of the better party-rap records ever and featured the first appearance of a teenage Madlib (rhyming with Lootpack). Additionally, their Likwit Crew yielded a preride pimping Xzibit and underground staple Defari.
Also barbecuing at the backyard boogie, a quartet of local one-hit wonders dropped some of the era’s defining singles, including Ahmad’s “Back in the Day,” Skee-Lo’s “I Wish,” Domino’s “Getto Jam” and Paperboy’s “Ditty.” Not to ignore the litany of Death Row and Row-affiliated artists like the Lady of Rage (“Afro Puffs”), Sam Sneed (“U Better Recognize”), Mista Grimm (“Indo Smoke”), the Twinz (“Round & Round”) and the Dove Shack (“Summertime in the LBC”).
Centered in South Gate and East Los Angeles, a vital Hispanic rap scene thrived, with Kid Frost and Mellow Man Ace paving the way for the nasal, narcotic nods of Cypress Hill and lesser-known but relevant outfits like Lighter Shade of Brown, Funkdoobiest and the Herb Alpert–sampling Delinquent Habits.
Abruptly, in an avalanche of bullets, the L.A. Golden Age ended in 1996 on a September night in Las Vegas, with 2Pac snuffed out by unknown assailants — a grim portent. For various reasons (increasing industry corporatization, money, vanity, etc.), the quality of product declined, eventually dwindling to a trickle during this desolate decade. The quality hip-hop that did exist seemed confined to the underground — with the rise and fall of Dilated Peoples and Jurassic 5, Stones Throw’s quiet maturation into hip-hop’s finest label and Murs’ emergence as the Living Legend to watch. And while lacking in originality, the Game’s nostalgic West Coast revivalism deserves praise for the quality of its replication.
But something’s changed lately. It’s premature to claim that the West is back, but for the first time in over a decade, its vital signs are stable. The four artists profiled here represent some of the first new rappers in years that this town can rally behind. Moreover, they aren’t the only game around, with Diz Gibran (co-owner of Fairfax’s Diamond Supply Co. Skate Shop), the Cash Money–signed Watts native Glasses Malone and Long Beach’s Crooked I similarly bubbling. Added up, it might not yet amount to another Renaissance, but at least we can rejoice that the plague is over.
The Knux: “It Ain’t Bragging if You Can Back It Up.”
“Genres are for pussies,” says Rah Almillio, nee Alvin Lindsey, one half of New Orleans group the Knux, with a half-joking, half-mocking smirk, his older brother Kintrell “Krispy Kream” Lindsey nodding on in approval. Adds Almillio: “It’s for people who don’t have enough balls to do their own shit, so they latch onto these minigenres and hope that it’s going to be a movement.”