In a post-YouTube world, the music video has become an unquestionably accepted form of art. But prior to the widespread permanency and accessibility of the Internet, music videos had a relatively short life span. Twenty years ago, even after the MTV Video Music Awards has existed for over a decade, music videos were treated by record labels as four-minute commercials for albums. They stayed in rotation for a few months, then were seldom seen again.
For hip-hop — which even in 1995 seldom got a real budget for videos — these limitations resulted in some of the most inventive and unforgettable short films to hit picture tubes in the '90s. Thanks to the glorious way-back machine that is the Internet, we present to you five classic West Coast rap videos that turn 20 in 2015.
Coolio “Gangsta’s Paradise”
Rap’s biggest hit of the year also happened to have one of its most memorable videos. Coolio’s L.V.-assisted “Gangsta’s Paradise” gave us his iconic, shadowy face-to-face with Michelle Pfeiffer, both promoting the film Dangerous Minds and showing us Coolio's more serious side, proving his range stretched far past “Fantastic Voyage.” “Gangsta’s Paradise” went on to win the MTV Video Music Award for Rap Video of the Year and had several of its shots further immortalized in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody “Amish Paradise.”
Dr. Dre “Keep Their Heads Ringin'”
Over the course of the gangsta rap movement, the “party video” escalated to larger and larger affairs. From the house party to the block party to the country club party, it seemed every video upped the ante. Once Dr. Dre got a check to promote his single from the Friday soundtrack, we got a party in a giant airplane. Dr. Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin'” remains one of the coolest, goosebumps-inducing videos in the rap canon. Years before he was selling headphones, Dre was the coldest outlaw with the biggest budget in the rap game. If there was one clip that ever captured Dre at his commercial, extravagant peak, this is it.
The Pharcyde, “Drop”
It’s the video that continues to blow college freshmen’s minds! All kidding aside, the Spike Jonze-directed “Drop” clip is one of rap video’s finest moments. The prep work and creativity on display in the clip (The Pharcyde had to memorize their verses backwards) makes it one of the few '90s masterpieces that’s every bit the classic fans suggest it is. One of the two immortal singles from the group's sophomore album Labcabincalifornia, “Drop” is also arguably Spike Jonze’s finest hour as well.
WC and the Maad Circle featuring Ice Cube and Mack 10, “West Up”
The most underrated west coast MC not named E-40, Westside Connection member WC has been fiercely consistent, spanning generations of ever-evolving West Coast sounds. The video for 1995’s “West Up” is perhaps his finest, with some of the hardest bass to ever slap in a funky jam, and a video that's basically car porn. In the fine tradition of Cali rap videos making you desire to be a part of their parties, “West Up” is “Nuthin' But a G Thang” on steroids: a massive party with an absurd number of fun cameos, and WC leading the way.
Luniz featuring Spice 1, Shock G of Digital Underground, Dru Down, E-40 and Richie Rich, “I Got 5 On It (Bay Ballas Remix)”
Few videos capture a moment of a coast united like the Bay Ballas remix of the Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It.” In a clip full of cameos and charisma, this fun remix showcases just what a diverse breeding ground of talent the West Coast was in 1995. Perhaps controversially, we prefer this version to Luniz’s original classic. Hearing so many different styles tackle the beat and concept brings us back to that everyone’s-different-take-on-a-record competitiveness that the art of MCing originally emerged from.