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list Jan 28 2016 Written by

Top 20 West Coast Albums… Of All Time

Hip Hop West Coast Best Albums

What’s happening folks! Glad to have you back with me once again. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and responses with some of my most recent lists.  Well guess what folks? I have yet another list for you.

The West Coast has always been a very pivotal section in Hip Hop. Those that don’t think so are GREATLY playing themselves. There would be no icons like Dre, Cube, NWA, and some of today’s favorites like Kendrick, Game, and Vince Staples without the movement and influence of the West Coast. Some very influential landmarks and highly regarded masterpieces have come from the West, and this is the list devoted to them. As usual, this will likely be up for debate and conversation, but by all means, let’s begin.

west coast hip hop albums

20. Dr Dre - Compton: A Soundtrack By Dr Dre (2015)

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This list begins with one of 2015’s most triumphant albums. It marked the return of the almighty D-R-E, after a fourteen-year absence. With the overwhelming success of the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, Dre decided to make his own unofficial soundtrack to the movie and double it as his final recording as an artist.

This album showed that he still had the Midas touch, both for his hand in producing and in establishing new stars.  From vets like Eminem, Cube, Kendrick, Game, and Xzibit to new jacks like Anderson.Paak, King Mez, and Justus, Dre had lots of assistance in this retirement album, and sonically this album stands as a giant among albums of today.

19. Cypress Hill - Black Sunday (1993)

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The kings of brooding, blunted Hip Hop became official stars with their monstrous sophomore album, which was the follow-up to their very impressive self-titled debut.

Bobo, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog, and B-Real had smashes upon smashes on this one and they also appealed to White suburban kids to further their star appeal. This new brooding sound provided by Muggs was appropriate to the aura of this album, and the results were crazy and also resulted in nearly quadruple platinum status.

18. The Game - The Documentary 2/2.5 (2015)

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One of the more vital contributors in the renaissance of the west was Jayceon Taylor, otherwise known as The Game. His debut, which will be covered later, served as a big glimpse into the future he would have, but after a few decent albums, the need for him to return to his hungry beast mode was evident, and it returned in spades with this double release.

Seen as one of 2015’s hottest releases, The Game went back to the drawing board and crafted one of the best West Coast albums in years. Production-wise, it was very hard to find an album that was as wall-to-wall potent as this one was, but with cuts like the 2Pac dedication with Scarface “When’s The Last Time” and the insane title track, this was Mr. Taylor at his finest since his debut.

17. Ice-T - Power (1988)

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Seen as a very pivotal piece in early “gangsta rap”, Ice provided a gritty, gripping piece of work that still holds up today. With major hits like “I’m Your Pusher”, “High Rollers”, and the subtle LL dis “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.”, this ranks very high in the discography of Ice (not to mention the provocative cover with then-girlfriend Darlene Ortiz didn’t hurt matters).

16. Too $hort - Life Is...Too $hort (1988)

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The residential pimp himself had a breakout album in ’88 with this one, which to this day is his best selling album, hitting double platinum units. Not lacking at all in funky instrumentals, this album also contained his signature rhymes of women, money, hood life, and his ever eloquent choice of words (peep the ever wonderful “Cusswords” for an example).

This album became the signature album to which all other $hort Dawg records would be based and officially put Oakland on a worldwide level.

15. The Game - The Documentary (2005)

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When we first were introduced to the Compton native, he was riding with 50 and G-Unit, but Dr. Dre was so very high on this kid that we knew there was something about him. When he finally dropped his G-Unit/Aftermath debut, not only did it meet our expectations, it surpassed them. This album single-handedly put the West as a big threat again to counter the bubbling South. While his aforementioned sequel is a highly enjoyable companion, this still remains his most complete album to date.  Hit after hit after hit, this was an album that has developed into certainly classic status.

14. 2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)

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Okay, okay, okay. Let the heat come towards me due to the placement of this album. I don’t truthfully see the problem, especially what’s to come on the list. Regardless, this was THE album for the iconic Shakur. We already heavily intrigued and compelled by the man, but once he got let out of jail and signed with Deathrow, we knew we were in for his official crossover mega smash. We were completely right. Obviously, the anthemic “California Love” was the spark for what would become the explosion All Eyez On Me.

Way too many hits to name, this may not be critically considered his magnum opus (stay tuned), but this was commercially his highest selling effort, and this album became the start of his immortal status in Hip Hop.

13. Ras Kass - Soul On Ice (1996)

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This is sincerely one of Hip Hop’s true lyrical masterpieces.

When this treasure dropped in ’96, he already caught a buzz with underground cuts “Remain Anonymous” and “Won’t Catch Me Runnin'”, but when this album was released, he achieved immediate acclaim for his groundbreaking, intricate and incredibly intelligent rhymes.

While not considered one of the most stellar production works ever heard on a consistent level, it’s also not a total waste of MPC equipment. There are moments like “Reelishymn” and “Evil That Men Do” that are especially dope and in the latter’s case, paints a true story of when he was involved in a fatal car accident that took the life of the other car and the jail sentence he had to serve.

The climax is “Nature Of The Threat”, which is still considered one of the most talked about and controversial records ever heard on wax. This is one of the most revered, yet slept-on, releases to ever emerge from the left coast and in all of the game, and deserves its place in history.

12. 2Pac - Me Against The World (1995)

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If there was ever a soul-baring, confessional, depressing album that was so incredible to deny, it was this one. Seen as the most pivotal and revered album in his discography, the late icon pinned a melancholy, dark masterpiece with Me Against The World. Released while in jail on a sexual assault charge, Shakur gave us his soul in all its pain and blues on this album.

Of course, we’re familiar with Hip Hop’s most touching ode to mothers “Dear Mama“, but the extremely powerful and gripping “So Many Tears” and the cautionary “Death Around The Corner” feel like we got a glimpse of his morbid diary.

A very influential album, this album still remains not just his best, one of the music’s truly special moments.

11. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)

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Compton’s prodigy, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, was widely known in the underground and the indie scene with celebrated releases like Overly Dedicated and especially the incredible Section.80.

He later caught the eyes and ears of the good Doctor and signed him through TDE to Aftermath. The buzz was immediate for him to drop his Aftermath debut, and MAN did it deliver. Not since The Documentary had a debut been this amazing to hail from the left coast. From the concept of the album to lyrics to instant head-nodding production, this album became an immediate classic and we saw Hip Hop’s new star.

10. Ice-T - O.G.: Original Gangster (1991)

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While Iceman was steadily increasing his star power within Hip Hop with his first three albums, including the aforementioned Power album, this was the album that firmly solidified his position in the game.

Brutal, unrelenting, and in your face, this album became Ice-T‘s benchmark, an album that he would never be able to outdo or even duplicate. Grittier than anything he had done prior to this, Ice showed that he truly was an O.G.

9. Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990)

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When N.W.A. lost its most lyrical member, buzz was reaching climatic levels about Cube‘s solo album, and when it hit, it did just that, HIT.

Every bit as socio-political and gangsta as we thought it would be, this was the official birth of O’ Shea Jackson. Linking up with Public Enemy‘s production team, The Bomb Squad, for the majority of the album, this sounded like a more gangsta Public Enemy album, with just as much rage and authority as anything he was doing his groupmates.

Widely acclaimed for his content and the lyrical venom of it all, Cube went platinum after only two weeks, thus showing his importance to the group he left behind and the Hip Hop scene at large. With cuts like the title track, “The Nigga You Love To Hate”, and the Chuck D-featured “Endangered Species”, the west legitimately caught its first complete glimpse of its next power mover.

8. N.W.A. - Niggaz4Life (1991)

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Two years after their trailblazing debut, an Ice Cube-less N.W.A. dropped a more vicious and misogynistic album that aimed to shock more than educate and anger. There are many that consider this album better than their debut, but in any case, everyone will agree Dr. Dre’s production stepped up even more with this release.

This was a monster release, and it became their last group album. With Cube gone, Ren and Dre stepped up their game, to fairly favorable results. One can only imagine what would have happened if Cube would’ve remained.

7. Ice Cube - Death Certificate (1991)

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If it was even possible to be even more angry, hostile and vicious than AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Cube accomplished it, and then some, with this effort. There were no filters with this one, folks. This was one of the most raw album to ever get released to our ears. Filled with angst, this album covers everything from racism, gang violence, anti-establishment views, and even sexually transmitted diseases on the cautionary, yet hilarious, cut “Look Who’s Burnin”.

Even the cover is controversial with a body covered with an American flag with the toe tag naming the body as “Uncle Sam”, which was filled with symbolism. This album also contained the legendary N.W.A. diss “No Vaseline”. In times like these, this is one of the most important albums of our current state of affairs.

6. Dr Dre - 2001 (1999)

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After the landmark smash of The Chronic, the pressure was on for him to repeat that performance, even if it was damn near impossible to do.

Almost packing as big of a punch as his debut, he took his distinctive brand of G-funk to that era’s level of sound.  Also much like his debut, he showed off new stars like Eminem and others that were supposed to be stars such as Knoc-Turnal and Hittman. Despite the long list of tracks and the occasionally unnecessary skits, this was another home run for the infamous Doctor.

5. The D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better (1989)

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Dr. Dre‘s protege D.O.C. was hyped by Dre in the months leading up to his debut, and there was a lot of pressure as N.W.A.’s first outside artist.

The result: one of the most influential and eponymous debuts ever heard.  While not really a “gangsta” album, this was every bit a lyrical album that showed how impressive he could be. Cuts like “The Formula”, “Lend Me An Ear”, and the hellacious N.W.A.- collab “Grand Finale” exceeded every expectation placed upon him and his debut. Although a tragic accident halted what was sure to be an exceptional career, he can lay claim to having one of the game’s most fantastic moments.

4. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

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In this current age of trapping, incoherent/indecipherable lyrics, and pointless rap music, along came an album in 2015 that completely rewrote the rules of being a Hip Hop artist in terms of creativity and longevity.

When King Kendrick dropped his aforementioned good kid, M.A.A.D. City, we had an instant gratification of superb Hip Hop and artistic vision. We didn’t know it was possible to outdo that album. We were wrong on so many levels.

Seen and regarded as the most important and soulfully conceptual Hip Hop album of the past decade, Kendrick tapped into the Black experience in such a proud yet vulnerable and introspective way that he may very well be the leader of the new school of intelligent, conscious, important Hip Hop.

Using elements of live instrumentation, funk, jazz, soul and world music, this is an album that will be remembered for the next twenty years and over. The best word for it: generational.

3. Snoop (Doggy) Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)

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There wasn’t a more anticipated debut around ’92-’93 than the debut of Dre protege Snoop Dogg (then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg). His super dope lyrics and style a big part in what made Dre’s The Chronic such a worldwide smash, and then the hype was on. Once we heard his first single “What’s My Name”, the hydro smoke was in the air, and we knew it was coming, and it became a game changer.

As close to a flawless album as you will hear even in today’s standards, Snoop’s album sold over eight hundred thousand units in a week, which at the time was the fastest selling album for a Hip Hop album ever. Dre elevated his G-funk style of production previously heard on The Chronic and went to another level, as the album was heavily textured and layered.

This was an album that some say was even better than his mentor’s debut, but regardless, there’s no denying that this album is truly one of the most essential releases of all-time and helped redefine the entire west.

2. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988)

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This album became an entire movement in itself. Deemed one of the most important albums of any generation, five young cats (six if you include Arabian Knight) set out to start a revolution and it was like something we as a culture and as America would never recover from, and that’s a good thing.

Dre, Cube, Ren, Eazy, and Yella constructed an album that shook and rocked the music industry down to its uncomfortable core. Tackling everything from racism to freedom of speech to police brutality, this caught the attention of the FBI for the highly inflammatory “Fuck The Police” due to the rash string of police brutality incidents not just in Cali but everywhere.

Iconic careers emerged from this album and they became “The world’s most dangerous group” to boot. As powerful as anything Public Enemy would release during this time period, N.W.A. were the bad guys in the eyes of the upper class, stuck up middle class, the police, and the government. In short, they became the ghetto journalists of our time.

1. Dr. Dre - The Chronic (1992)

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Behold the official breakout West Coast album. The game was never the same from the moment this album dropped. Blending laid-back funk with easy riding melodies, the debut from Andre Young became the legitimate blueprint for all west coast albums to follows.

Although there was no real deep content, there didn’t need to be. This was a party. The kind that could turn violent if cats got out of line, but otherwise folks was getting high and groupies were getting smashed before all was said and done. The new benchmark for “gangsta rap”, Dre delivered an album that would etched into Hip Hop history and if there was a Mount Rushmore of Hip Hop albums, this would be on it.

Dre showed not only did he not need N.W.A., but that he would soar without them, and this was the proof. This one album took the power away from New York for many years and officially made the west equally as powerful and dominating.  We haven’t seen any West Coast album like it since.

Honorable Mentions

The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ryde To The Pharcyde Very unique, yet very lighthearted, album that still is among the most respected albums to this day.

Xzibit – 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz Excellent sophomore album that further propelled X’s career and is still seen as his overall best work.

Ice-T – The Iceberg: Freedom Of Speech Sorely slept and underappreciated, Iceman went deep with this one on many levels.

DJ Quik – Quik Is The Name Innovator David Blake branded his own G-funk sound and put the game on notice with this classic debut.

Warren G – Regulate: G-Funk Era We knew this album would be big, but nobody expected it to be this big, and continued to increase the west’s dominance.

Westside Connection – Bow Down Flammable and riotous, this highly divisive album was also one of Cube‘s biggest and most superb moments, and with the assistance of WC and Mack 10, this was a monster album and showed NY that they had a lot to say too.

King Tee – At Your Own Risk Underappreciated O.G. King tee had a west coast show stealer with this album that’s as funky as wekk old grits.

Compton’s Most Wanted – Music To Drive By Vicious and unforgiving, MC Eiht and the boys took us on an unrelenting ride through the bloody Compton streets in menacing yet excellent fashion.

Daz Dillinger – Retaliation, Revenge, and Getback The last significant Deathrow album that immediately became a smash critically.  Very reminiscent of the Chronic/Doggystyle days.

Souls Of Mischief – ’93 Til Infinity Refreshing and relaxed debut from three Oakland boys that created quite the cult following, though never getting the just due they deserved.

Casual – Fear Itself Another Hieroglyphics member with an incredible album that largely went slept on.

2Pac – Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Breakout album from Mr. Shakur and with hits like “I Get Around” and “Papa’z Song”, we knew he was on his way to becoming a big star.  We had no idea…

Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food Daz & Kurupt’s very solid debut was among the most heralded albums in all of ’95 and was another album that waged war against the entire east coast, plus a few others in the process

E-40 – Tha Hall Of Game His most known and acclaimed work, one of the forefathers of the bay area constructed a very personal, yet very stylish, album that made him more noticed on a commercial level.

Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 Amazing debut from Long Beach’s next to blow.

YG – My Krazy Life Arguably the hottest “gangsta” record from the west in years.

Aceyalone – Book Of Human Language Complex, yet astounding piece of work.

This was another hard list to compile, but much like my others this was fun to construct. The West has produced some major players and icons in the industry.

Here’s to the new up-and-comers such as Vince Staples, YG, and of course TDE. Keep waving the West Coast flag proudly. Other acts such as Dilated peoples, Tha Alkaholiks, Del, Spice 1, Above The Law, and Freestyle Fellowship greatly contribute to the West Coast’s legacy, whether commercial stars or underground, they’re still a mighty big force after all these years.

Until next time, everyone take it easy.

Written by

I'm a thirty-something underground/old school Hip Hop head with unspeakable passion. I've followed Hip Hop culture since I first got introduced to it when I was a mere seven years of age. Among the albums that hav…

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