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Top 20 Greatest L.A. Rap Albums Of All Time: The Complete List

Top 20 Greatest L.A. Rap Albums Of All Time: The Complete List

Editor's note: In conjunction with our music issue we rolled out the top 20 L.A. rap albums of all time this week, as picked by Ian Cohen, Rebecca Haithcoat, Jeff Weiss and Ben Westhoff. But the list was broken up into four posts, which can get a bit unwieldy, so we've compiled the full list below. Enjoy!

The party waits for no man. So while we watched the tubes for Detox, Los Angeles quietly won the West, for the first time in a quarter-century. This has happened through the efforts of experimentalists like Odd Future and the purveyors of Low End Theory, now cultural arbiters to the country writ large. Surprisingly, it occurred largely without the efforts of Dr. Dre, the Asklepios of local rap, whose fingerprints fall upon nearly half the albums in our Top 20. After all, no music issue could be complete without dialing his beeper number.

In our infamously splintered city, all-inclusiveness is impossible. So everyone from Xzibit to Above the Law is absent. You could argue all day. But L.A. is both the army of Uncle Jamm and Chronic at picnics. It's bong-ripping backpackers, gangsta rap and granola. It's a place where the Golden Age always glimmered in blood red and marine blue. So let's just dedicate this to those down since day one. You'd really better ask somebody. -Jeff Weiss

20. Madlib

Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to Dilla

This isn't Madlib at his most psychedelic. That's his mushroom-motored Quasimoto character. Nor is Otis Jackson at his jazziest on Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6. See Yesterday's New Quintet. His most influential record might have been the Jansport-igniting Soundpieces: Da Antidote, and you can't ignore the mossy dank of Madvillain. But Vol. 5-6 finds Madlib at his most powerful, alchemizing elegiac teardrop soul from Swisher Sweets and molten wax. It's officially a tribute to the just-fallen producer J Dilla, but it also beautifully distills the Stones Throw aesthetic. Those who forget the past are doomed to not listen to anything this good. -Jeff Weiss

19. Blu & Exile

Below the Heavens

Producer Exile once said he wanted to make classic albums for the West Coast; with Below the Heavens, his 2007 collaboration with Blu, he did just that. His shimmering, soulful samples reach back for decades, and his soundscapes often recall a '40s speakeasy. For his part, Blu demonstrates why he's one of the city's most slept-on underground MCs. With a gentle, smoky voice that massages words instead of assaulting them, he delivers layered, honest rhymes that buck typical rap braggadocio. In the end, it's a shining example of how thematically and structurally sound an album can be when only one producer touches it. -Rebecca Haithcoat

18. Kool Keith

Sex Style

It all depends on how you define an L.A. rap album, no? Kool Keith isn't actually from here, but Sex Style couldn't have come from anywhere else. It's too libertine for New York, too smutty for Miami, too fun for Detroit. For the record that simultaneously created and perfected pornocore, Keith had the good sense to take his DreamWorks advance and, um, perfect his craft in a vast array of strip clubs, shitty motels and back alleys all up and down Sunset and La Brea, leading to self-explanatory and eternal life lessons such as "Don't Crush It" and "In Your Face." -Ian Cohen

 

17. Eazy-E

Eazy-Duz-It

Eazy-Duz-It, released a little more than a month after Straight Outta Compton, features Dr. Dre and DJ Yella's funked-up, cruise-friendly production. But it gets its comically lewd edge from the writing team of Ice Cube, MC Ren and D.O.C. While the day-in-the-life lyrics and spare beat of "Boyz n the Hood" (custom-made for cars with booming systems) make it Eazy's musical legacy, "No More ?s" says that, although he might have been the group's worst rapper, he had mojo and chutzpah to spare. -Rebecca Haithcoat

16. Tyler, the Creator

Goblin

You know who I envy? Three-year-olds. More specifically, hip-hop fans who will be 13 in 2021. Let me explain. The recently released Goblin was expected to "save hip-hop," but the work's very long, very weird and very troubling transmissions from a 20-year-old who already feels life doesn't have much to offer anymore have made it basically radioactive to anyone but the most staunch contrarians. A record this idiosyncratic and disturbingly absorbing deserves far better, but it's going to take about 10 years for it to lie in wait and become what it was always supposed to be: a classic. Goblin won't save the game in 2011, but it just might for impressionable teens, many years from now. -Ian Cohen

15. Suga Free

Street Gospel

How do you speak pimp? Let Suga Free learn you something. Imagine if Katt Williams could rap like E-40 and had beats from DJ Quik at his absolute apogee. Then picture the parchment-skinned Pomona player, all crisp linen suits, with a flow as dizzyingly aerial as a paper plane in a monsoon. Suga Free would never hit a woman but he'd slap the shit out of a bitch. He is L.A.'s Iceberg Slim. Even if the stories aren't pretty, Suga Free is, and he will let you know as much. You'd be better off listening to Street Gospel than reading The Game. -Jeff Weiss

 

14. Ice Cube

Amerikkka's Most Wanted

After the contentious breakup of N.W.A, Ice Cube decamped to New York and enlisted Public Enemy's producers the Bomb Squad for his debut, Amerikkka's Most Wanted. On the work he seems fueled by the change of scenery and invigorated by the fast-paced funk production; having mostly eschewed overt political commentary with N.W.A, he changes course on this album, narrowing his anger, focusing his lyrics and criticizing both black and white America for the inner city's problems. "Once Upon a Time in the Projects," meanwhile, is a searing, sobering look at what it means to be black and broke. -Rebecca Haithcoat

13. Dr. Dre

2001

What's the best-selling Dr. Dre album, again? Oh yeah, 2001, which may not have defined the keys-and-chronic aesthetic like its predecessor, but it damn near perfected it. Now 12 years old, the album sounds nothing like other best-sellers from its bloated era, but rather like an endless string of perfectly conceived trash-talking anthems. The dream team of Dre, Eminem, Snoop, D.O.C., Xzibit, Kurupt and Nate Dogg (along with the oddly ubiquitous Hittman) effectively walks the line of menacing and comical, demanding their respect from the critics (and ladies) who'd deny it. -Ben Westhoff

12. The Game

Doctor's Advocate

Dr. Dre's presence looms so large over this list that he's responsible for one of its entries despite not showing up for it. The Game was alienated from just about everyone responsible for his multiplatinum (and far less interesting) debut, The Documentary, and thus Doctor's Advocate finds him going all Falling Down on the rap game. Believing that he hasn't got shit to lose, he offers up an absolutely frightening and joyless spree of vengeance. Equally suited to '64 Impalas or doctoral dissertations for psychology students, it's the single greatest album entirely about one man's abandonment issues. -Ian Cohen

 

11. Ice-T

O.G. Original Gangster

One of the weirdly undervalued albums of the pre-Chronic gangsta rap era, Ice-T's O.G. Original Gangster is every bit as intelligent, lyrically articulate and socially commendable as Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet or Ice Cube's Death Certificate, and somehow possibly less offensive (compare "Ed" to "Meet the G That Killed Me" or "Givin' Up the Nappy Dugout"). Unfortunately, Ice-T ceased to make even a lick of decent music immediately after this album, and spent the rest of the '90s doing everything possible to incinerate his artistic legacy. Fortunately, O.G. holds up and is every bit as shocking today as it was in 1991. -Ian Cohen

10. Freestyle Fellowship

Inner City Griots

Reimagining the West African storyteller tradition as jazzy juking bullies of the block, no quartet ever rapped this well. Freestyle Fellowship's lone 4th and B'way release Inner City Griots blazed a third way for West Coast hip-hop. It reinvented lyricism as more than just a vehicle for guns and grams or freak fests with everlasting bass. Suddenly, Leimert Park percolated with park bench poems about homelessness, stab-happy Vincent Price horror plays and surrealist flights to Fantasy Island -- "zorked and zany as a Zulu zombie." Backed by the syncopated swing of live band the Underground Railroad, Griots pairs the delirious cool of Central Avenue jazz with Artesian boom-bap. The L.A. subterranean tradition starts here. --Jeff Weiss

9. D.O.C.

No One Can Do It Better

Though raised in Dallas, D.O.C. became one of the most vital stylists of Los Angeles gangsta rap, helping shape the personalities of West Coast hip-hop's most memorable characters. (His ghostwritten verses for Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Snoop Dogg are all over this list.) But it was on his debut masterpiece, 1989's No One Can Do It Better, that his dexterous, authoritative flow finally got the spotlight. The platinum work's Dre-produced tracks like "D.O.C. and the Doctor" and "The Formula" are perfectly paced, supremely pleasurable brags, and less hard-edged than those D.O.C. composed for others. -Ben Westhoff

 

8. Cypress Hill

Cypress Hill

Though you might not be a fan of Cypress Hill's later work, their self-titled debut is the kind of record that doesn't feel like a classic until you realize that damn near every song on it is a total fucking classic. Sure, we can talk about the influence of DJ Muggs' production on both RZA and Dr. Dre, but this will remain in our hearts as long as it's still fun to sing along with "How I Can Just Kill a Man" and "Hand on the Pump." In other words, forever. -Ian Cohen

7. Ice Cube

Death Certificate

Briefly, being hard and being political were synonymous in rap. Though Straight Outta Compton was a street-level manifesto, Ice Cube's solo work attempted to spread his influence more broadly, and nowhere was he more successful than on 1991's Death Certificate. Unlike the conscious rappers of today, on the work he eschews platitudes in favor of hard lines on divisive subject matter. His statements on interracial sex and Korean-owned shops are abrasive, but the fact that the man had actual principles makes the work come alive. Plus, it fucking bangs. -Ben Westhoff

6. DJ Quik

Quik Is the Name

If Dre was the George Clinton of G-Funk, DJ Quik was its Roger Troutman, balancing extraterrestrial funk with everyday earthiness. Or, as he says on "Deep," "I kick this shit the critics debate to/but I still create the shit the brothers relate to." The packaging might have read Profile, but Quik Is the Name was essentially the rerecorded Red Tape that had made him a star on the swap-meet circuit. Born and raised in Compton, 19-year-old David Blake had it all from the outset: raw hydraulic groove, deep crates, a lariat flow, the experimental bent of a mad scientist and enough Olde English malt liquor to qualify for British citizenship. -Jeff Weiss

 

5. The Pharcyde

Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

If gangsta rap looked at life in L.A. through a grime-caked, cracked rear window, The Pharcyde took a bird's-eye view. Filled with jazzy horns, pianos and live drums instead of gunshots and squealing police sirens, their playful hip-hop offered an easygoing alternative to reality rap. On Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, producer J-Swift's beats are lushly layered, and balance well with the group's intricate lyrics. Still, the quartet skips through an album that seems written in Crayolas and broadcast in Technicolor. -Rebecca Haithcoat

4. Tupac Shakur

All Eyez on Me

For all its smirking, swagger and casual sex, Tupac's penultimate album, All Eyez on Me, is only hedonistic on the surface. His lyrics are laced with paranoia and fury, and he spits them with a determination that occasionally verges on delirium. Recorded immediately following his Suge Knight-assisted release from prison, the work was Pac's first on Death Row Records, and his trademark tenderness and vulnerability are replaced by mirthless, menacing chuckles. This is a portrait of a man who seemed to know the end was near. -Rebecca Haithcoat

3. N.W.A.

Straight Outta Compton

Like an overlooked stepchild, the West Coast demanded attention by stompin' Straight Outta Compton, and received it -- even without radio airplay. N.W.A reported their versions of reality in the CPT; drinking while ducking the LAPD, drive-bys and gold-digging girls. The album is indignant, but, due to Dr. Dre and DJ Yella's production and surprisingly sunny samples, also quite funky.-Rebecca Haithcoat

 

2. Snoop Dogg

Doggystyle

With so much drama in the LBC, somehow, some way, Snoop Dogg captured the craziest house party of all time. The true next episode after The Chronic, Doggystyle became the fastest-selling record ever. A bathtub of gin and juice and blunt smoke. What's his name? No one ever needed to ask again. The D-O-Double G. Slim with the tilted brim. Dre slipped through with condoms, the funk and the freaks from the city of Compton. Slick Rick covers, Sally from the Valley and murder cases. The Fabulous Dramatics harmonizing. Money is on everyone's mind, and no one's leaving till 6 in the morning. And when you do depart, you cruise home bumping W-Ballz. -Jeff Weiss

1. Dr. Dre

The Chronic

Sure, we considered other albums for No. 1. But we were kidding ourselves. The Chronic is the greatest L.A. rap album because it has the greatest singles, the greatest videos, the greatest skits and even the greatest cover art. But also consider "great" to mean big or immense; there's a good chance you've already divided this list into "pre-Chronic" and "post-Chronic" entries, as an involuntary reflex. Such is the absolutely seismic effect this record had on hip-hop: aspiring to Thriller levels of production fidelity, turning gangsta rap into the sound of pop, birthing a superstar in Snoop Doggy Dogg and setting in motion the commercial dominance of Death Row. In other words, it's the record that made Los Angeles the center of hip-hop's universe, and its impact hasn't diminished since. -Ian Cohen


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