y the time the 1990’s rolled around, hip-hop’s foundation in Los Angeles—largely built by mobile DJ crews like Uncle Jam’s Army and various talented poppers and lockers—had fully transformed into a nationally recognized scene. It’s a style that lives on today through the work of Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples and Kid Ink, buoyed by a relentless drive to progress the genre through haunting lyrics and melody-laden production. If one thing is for sure, it’s that this new eye-opening sound could only have come out of the turmoil that engulfed LA’s toughest neighborhoods, attracting the attention of the world in the process.
Boosted by legendary hip-hop station 1580 KDAY, artists such as NWA, Ice Cube, Ice-T, DJ Quik, King Tee and CMW had gone from being local success stories to bonafide rap stars. Listening to the music itself was akin to watching a classic gangster flick. Contrary to the direction of contemporary rap, these emcees embraced the real life struggles of the hood that dominated LA’s streets. For better or worse, NWA, Quik, Ice-T and MC Eiht, among others, introduced LA’s tough and uncompromising culture to the world with vivid story-telling and an ear for killer hooks (techniques that would be re-visited on modern albums including Kendrick’s seminal Good Kid M.A.A.D. City).
Along with the shift in tone came a transition that would define West Coast rap for years to come: Ice Cube leaving NWA to go solo and Dr. Dre following suit a couple years later to form Death Row Records with Suge Knight. Cube would go on to release a string of projects that solidified him as one of the greatest to ever touch the microphone, while his former partner would release back-to-back classics in The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s debut Doggystyle. These two albums would reach far beyond the confines of southern California, exposing the LA story to audiences from NYC to Paris as never before.
Dr. Dre’s little brother Warren G also contributed in a big way: The Chronic’s synth-heavy vibe was expanded upon with a signature sound palette for the burgeoning LA scene, dubbed G-Funk. His debut—Regulate…G Funk Era—is widely credited as the project that saved a then-struggling Def Jam, while simultaneously boosting the national profile of the area’s go-to vocalist, Nate Dogg. Both artists would be instrumental in smoothing out the rougher edges of G-Funk for a more mainstream, R&B-centric market; one that has found dedicated contemporaries in singer-rappers such as Kid Ink, Frank Ocean and Miguel.