There's a song for every neighborhood in this sprawling octopus of a metropolis. The psychedlic folk of Topanga Canyon, the booty droppin' bass of Compton, and lonesome gristle of Silver Lake. This week, as a sonic portrait of Los Angeles, West Coast Sound presents: Songs for our City.
Los Angeles is a hotbed of hiphop culture. The images of rollin' in '64's, Raider's hats and Crenshaw Blvd. have become synonymous with the identity of the prototypical West Coast rapper. But finding the definitive L.A. rap song is much more challenging. There's the of hard-edged rant of N.W.A.'s “Straight Out of Compton,” Arabian Prince's pre-gangsta, electro anthem, “Let's Hit the Beach,” and, of course, Snoop's “Gin & Juice.”
Then there's Tupac. The often-cited hip-hop savant penned love songs for a city mired in strife. Few Tupac songs pack more social commentary and snapshots of life in South Los Angeles than “To Live And Die In L.A.”
Everybody got their own thang currency chasin'
World wide through the hard times worrying faces
Shed tears as we bury n-ggaz close to heart
What was a friend now a ghost in the dark
Cold hearted bout it, n-gga got smoked by a fiend
Tryin to floss on em'
Blind to a broken man's dream
A hard lesson–court cases–keep em guessin'
Plea bargain ain't an option now–so I'm stressin'
Cost me more to be free than a life in the Penn
Making money off of cuss words–writin' again
Learn how to think ahead–so I fight with my pen
Late night down sunset like in a sin
What's the worst they could do to a n-gga
Get me lost in hell–To Live and Die in LA.
This single from Tupac's final album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, confronted both the criminal justice system in L.A., which Tupac experienced first hand, and the prison industrial complex. The video for the song, filmed just a month before Tupac's death, contrasted the gravity of the lyrics by portraying South L.A. in a series of idyllic postcard-like images of Baldwin Hills-Crenchaw Plaza, Johnny's Pastrami, and the local churches that populated the landscape. The track may not the have the groove of “California Love” or other Tupac songs, but it is a stark view of Los Angeles his own words.
Previously on Songs for Our City:
Monday: Elliott Smith on Alameda Street
Wednesday: Weezer Endorses Surf Wax America.
What are some other quintessential hip hop songs of L.A.?
Let us know in the comments.