Straight West Coast Sound: Has the West Lost its Gangsta Sound

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Let’s rewind to the days when Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy E, N.W.A, Tupac, and Too Short represented West Coast hip-hop. Even though West coast hip-hop had its start back in the 70s, in the late 80s and early 90s it really took off. In fact, August 8, 1988 N.W.A released “Straight Outta Compton” which spoke of the real struggle of growing up in Compton. That album has been viewed as the pioneering record of gangsta rap with its ever-present profanity and violent lyrics. It has been considered groundbreaking by music writers and has had an enormous impact on the evolution of West Coast rap. The events surrounding the release of that album will play out on the big screen in theaters this summer.

Tupac is said to have been the West Coast spokesman until he died. He contributed a great deal to the rap game with tracks like Brenda’s Got A Baby, California Love, Hit ‘Em Up, Dear Mama, and Keep Ya Head Up. His lyrics were explicit and controversial. His life was “thug” as tattooed on his stomach, and that came out in his music.

When speaking of ol school hip-hop, we would all agree that its sound was hard hitting and its lyrics were violent and angry.

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Now fast forward to modern day West Coast hip-hop. The Game was said to have brought back West Coast gangsta rap. His first album, The Documentary, debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 in 2005. He spoke of real life struggles growing up in the hood we know as Compton.

Another face of modern West Coast hip-hop is Kendrick Lamar. This young rapper from Compton has sold millions of albums. Of Lamar, the New York Times says “Part of what sets Lamar apart is pure lyrical agility… Lamar does indeed have a [Bob] Dylan-like ability to pivot from playful to mystical, to reframe quotidian details as profound revelations, and he has an instinct for swirling, rhapsodic metaphor.”

Modern West Coast hip-hop may not be as hard hitting as it was back in the day, so can it still be called “gangsta”? Back in the day West Coast rappers were in gangs and spoke about rebellion against cops and selling drugs. Nowadays, West Coast rappers, such as Kid Ink, focus their lyrics on girls and popping off in the club. It’s undeniable that the content of West Coast rap has changed.

By: Antonette Henry

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