Gangsta rap, where have you gone?
About 20 years ago at this time we were in the middle of an unprecedented run of gangsta rap greatness, with Death Row, Bad Boy, Ruthless, Rap-A-Lot and others all functioning at high levels.
And while the songs and albums from this era continue to get shine, let's not forget the videos, which constitute some of the most visually arresting (and funniest) ever made.
Here are the 10 greatest videos from the gangsta rap era.
10) “Practice Looking Hard”
E-40 is arguably the most underrated rapper in history. In fact, there's not even really an argument.
“Practice Looking Hard” is a good testament to why he deserves better. The ominous tone and the faded tint are cool, as is the fact that E-40 is chilling with Boots Reily of The Coup, and, um, Tupac.
9) “Keep Their Heads Ringing”
We’ve seen house parties and block parties, but leave it to Dr. Dre to take things to the next level with a plane party.
This is probably not the kind of thing we can ever expect to see again, post 9/11.
8) “Damn It Feels Good to Be A Gangsta”
Just about everything here works, except for one thing:
We do not necessarily suggest rapping on the stand as the best way to defend yourself in court.
7) “We Want Eazy”
Live via satellite from prison comes one of the most memorable visuals of the gangsta rap video era. If you look carefully, Eazy's real life Crip compadre Joe D makes an appearance, lifting up the jail blanket to reveal the “hook-up.” (Is that a fax machine?)
“We Want Eazy” is funny, it's silly, it's got a populist tone, and it's still kinda freaky. Everything that made Eazy great in a nutshell.
6) “Let Me Ride”
This video works on multiple levels. But it also represents a moment of gangsta rap history.
Years after he'd left NWA and traded insults with Dre and the rest of the crew, Ice Cube made a surprise cameo in “Let Me Ride.” (Just past the five minute mark.) It was an announcement of their truce, and their partnership continues to bear fruit, as they're co-producers on the Straight Outta Compton biopic.
5) “Tha Crossroads”
“Tha Crossroads” was such a glorious, larger-than-life song, it's hard to imagine a video that could be as powerful and over the top. But with its church setting, funeral motif, and, yes, a hologram, this video comes close.
4) “California Love”
Tupac, featuring Dr. Dre
The Hype Williams directed “California Love” has to be the most expensive, elaborate music video of the gangsta era.
The sci-fi imagery makes it unlike just about everything else of its time. But seeing Tupac in gladiator gear (or whatever) makes it all worth it.
3) “Straight Outta Compton”
Banned from every major video outlet until the group’s momentum got too big to avoid, NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” set the bar for gangsta rap visuals, to match the emerging gangsta rap sounds of Schooly D and Ice-T who came before them.
2) “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)”
Snoop Doggy Dogg
Yes, this is a video where people morph into dogs and party.
It’s a testament to Snoop's coolness that he could make this concept work.
1) “Nuthin But a 'G' Thang”
Dr. Dre, featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg
One of the most played videos in MTV history, “Nuthin But a 'G' Thang” is also one of the best parties ever committed to film.
But more than anything, it simply did a perfect job of capturing the environment of Compton, swap meets, low riders, and the g-funk mentality generally. Everything that made gangsta rap great.