100 Essential West Coast Hip Hop Albums: [West Coast Hip Hop refers to Hip Hop artists who originate from the West Coast region of the United States. While there is no single defining sound, many different styles exist that developed from the sub-regions of the area. An early landmark of the genre was in 1981 when Duffy Hooks launched the first West Coast rap label, Rappers Rapp Records, with its first act being the duo of Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp with their debut single “Gigolo Rapp“. Unlike their East Coast counterparts, the sound emerging from the West Coast was more fast-paced and influenced by electronic music as exemplified by acts such as World Class Wreckin Cru and Egyptian Lover in the early to mid-1980s. This could be largely credited to the fact that the early local West Coast Hip Hop scene revolved more around DJing than rapping.
The late 1980s saw the rise of gangsta rap as a response to the East Coast’s hardcore Hip Hop with the seminal act N.W.A and rapper Ice-T focusing on life and adversities in South Los Angeles. This subgenre began to dominate radio play and sales during the early 1990s with the birth of G-Funk and the emergence of Dr. Dre’s Death Row Records. Around this time, the Mobb Music style of production was developing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento popularized by artists including Too $hort and E-40 with a strong G-Funk influence and similar subject matter to gangsta rap. Many underground West Coast Hip Hop scenes emerged during the 1990s that provided an alternative to the gangsta-themed lyrics prevalent in the mainstream, most notably the Hieroglyphics collective in Oakland and the freestyle scene associated with Freestyle Fellowship and the Project Blowed crew in Los Angeles.]
In this piece, you will find 100 Hip Hop albums – no mixtapes, no EPs – we consider to be essential works to come out of the West Coast, not ranked but presented in release year order. Also, check the honorable mentions section at the end – it was hard to limit this list to ‘just’ 100 albums. Some of the albums in the HM section barely missed the cut, and all are worth listening to. What do YOU think? Are your favorite West Coast Hip Hop albums here? Do you think any essential records are missing? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Too $hort - Born To Mack (1987)
Too Short is a pioneer, one of the originators of West Coast Hip Hop. In the early 1980s, Too Short along with high school friend Freddy B, produced custom songs (called “special requests”) locally on cassette for people in Oakland and the Bay Area. In 1985, Too Short started his solo career and released his debut project Don’t Stop Rappin’. Two more tapes – Players and Raw, Uncut & X-Rated – followed swiftly.
Born To Mack is Too Short’s major-label debut (originally released in 1987 via Dangerous Music but re-released in 1988 by Jive Records/RCA) and his first ‘official’ album, cementing the sexually explicit ‘pimp and hustler’ formula that would make him a key player in the West Coast rap scene for decades to come – and with the classic “Freaky Tales” as its centerpiece.
Ice-T - Rhyme Pays (1987)
Even with a sometimes uneven production and an Ice T who hasn’t quite reached the peaks of his lyrical skills yet this album is an undeniable classic. Very influential, it was one of the very first albums with ‘gangsta rap’ themes (although with limited profanity). In 1987 the gangsta theme still had originality and authenticity, which makes Ice T a true O.G. & a bonafide Hip Hop icon. Rhyme Pays needs to be on this list on the strength of epic tracks like “Squeeze The Trigger”, “Pain”, and of course “6 N The Morning” alone.
N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
This album was a game-changer; for better or for worse. It is one of the first real ‘gangsta rap’ albums, and one of the most successful, going multi-platinum without any radio play. It influenced and changed the direction of Hip Hop, producing countless clones for decades to come. The difference between all the clones and this album is the originality and authenticity of Straight Outta Compton; combined with the revolutionary & flawless production by Dr. Dre and the raw energy and at the time shocking lyrical imagery of Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy E.
King T - Act A Fool (1988)
King Tee is a West Coast legend, a pioneer alongside the likes of Ice T, Toddy Tee, and Too Short. Act A Fool is his debut full-length recording, and arguably his best album, with classics on it such as “Act A Fool”, “Bass”, “The Coolest”, and “Ko Rock Stuff”.
Ice-T - Power (1988)
Power, Ice-T’s second studio album, is an excellent follow-up to his 1987 debut Rhyme Pays. Dope beats & lyrics, and carried by Ice-T’s personality – this is a classic album that definitely has stood the test of time. One of the best album covers (front and back) in Hip Hop history too.
Eazy-E - Eazy-Duz-It (1988)
Eazy E‘s debut album really is a veiled N.W.A. album. The lyrics are written by Ice Cube, The D.O.C., and MC Ren, who also makes a few appearances. The production is handled by Dr. Dre & DJ Yella– this clearly is a group effort. A little less consistent than N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton – released in the same year – this album is a bonafide (West Coast) Hip Hop classic anyway.
Too $hort - Life Is... Too Short (1988)
Our favorite Too Short album from his extensive discography. Already a Hip Hop veteran by 1988, Too Short really came into his own on this album – with his trademark explicit lyrics and his typical laid-back flow. Life Is… Too Short is one of his most consistent ones and it contains a few classic Too Short tracks, such as “Life Is…”, I Ain’t Trippin'”, Nobody Does It Better”, and “Cusswords”.
The D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better (1989)
On the heels of the explosive success of N.W.A‘s Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre turned out another flawlessly produced album. The D.O.C. proved to be a talented emcee who was able to complement Dre’s beats perfectly. The D.O.C. didn’t need gangster posturing to show and prove he was the man – he had the skills and the confidence to carry this album and to make it an all-time Hip Hop classic. Out of all the essential albums on this list, this one of the ‘most essential’ ones.
Ice-T - The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech... Just Watch What You Say (1989)
Ice-T‘s grittiest album, but one with great variation lyrically as well as sonically. From the epic, ominous intro “Shut Up, Be Happy” (featuring Jello Biafra and brilliantly interpolating Black Sabbath’s classic “Black Sabbath”) to the all-out fun “My Word Is Bond” – this album has something for everybody.
The chilled-out album opener “The Iceberg”, the dope 9-minute posse cut “What Ya Wanna Do”, the personal “This One’s For Me”, the gangster tale “Peel Their Caps Back”, the thought-provoking “You Played Yourself”, the multi-layered noise on “The Hunted Child” and “Lethal Weapon” – this album is packed with dope tracks.
The album’s most important theme – as evidenced in the album’s subtitle and the song “Freedom Of Speech” – is the PMRC censorship that was being imposed on Hip Hop artists at the time. The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say! is a tight album, one of Ice-T’s best and the one that established Ice-T as one of Hip Hop’s most prominent and authentic personalities.
Paris The Devil Made Me Do It (1990)
Why this album is hardly ever mentioned when discussing best-ever Hip Hop albums is a mystery. Everything about this album is DOPE. Production is great, Paris is a fine emcee with a dark, menacing tone of voice and the subject matter is thought-provoking. Powerful and intelligent, controversial and political – Paris’ debut is a straight-up Hip Hop classic.
Ice Cube - AmeriKKKas Most Wanted (1990)
Young, hungry, and angry. Ice Cube hit his peak after leaving N.W.A with this album. Creatively it is truly outstanding. Recruiting the Bomb Squad for an East Coast sound on the production resulted in a sonically epic album. Lyrically Cube murders every track on the album. Raw, hard, and unapologetic, Ice Cube dropped a bomb on the (Hip Hop) nation when it was released. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a unique blend of political, socially conscious, and gangsta rap, Ice Cube at his best, and a true Hip Hop classic.
Digital Undergrond - Sex Packets (1990)
Best known for two of Hip Hop’s most famous party jams – “The Humpty Dance” and “Doowutchyalike” – this album still sounds as fresh as it did when it came out. Funky and funny, creative and crazy, great beats and samples – Digital Underground dropped a unique album with Sex Packets. RIP Shock G.
Above The Law - Livin' Like Hustlers (1990)
One of the earliest N.W.A./Dr. Dre ‘sponsored’ acts, Above The Law debuts with a straight-up (West Coast) Hip Hop classic. Slammin’ west coast gangsta funk beats, produced by ATL themselves, Laylaw, and Dr. Dre. This is one of those rare albums where you don’t have to skip a track, and stand-outs like “Murder Rap”, “Ballin’”, “The Last Song”, and “Livin’ Like Hustlers”.
Too $hort - Short Dog's In The House (1990)
After dropping a few self-released tapes and two ‘official’ albums; this third Too Short album did exactly what we came to expect from Oakland’s rap pioneer. Explicit tales with some consciousness sprinkled in here and there – Too Short’s tales from the hood always hit; and this is one of his best albums.
Del The Funky Homosapien - I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991)
Co-produced by DJ Pooh and Del‘s cousin Ice Cube, this is not your typical early 1990s West Coast album. Quirky, humorous, and fun – Del always had his own style. Much like a West Coast version of Masta Ace, he was always able to constantly reinvent himself and turn his talent into a decade-spanning career full of creative highlights. This album was a great start to that career.
DJ Quik - Quik Is The Name (1991)
Quik Is The Name is a West Coast classic. It established DJ Quik as one of the game’s top producers and as one of the godfathers of the P-Funk/G-Funk sound – his production work is always incredibly smooth and funky. He may not be the best emcee ever, but he more than holds his own on the mic. An important album, one of the cornerstones of the rise to dominance of West Coast Hip Hop in the early 90s.
Ice T - Original Gangster (1991)
Ice-T’s masterpiece. Original Gangster is a long album, but it is put together PERFECTLY. It feels and flows JUST RIGHT. You can just feel the love and the energy that went into the making of Original Gangster. It is one of those albums that feels as fresh today as it did when it was released, an album you can keep on constant rotation because it never gets old.
Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill (1991)
Cypress Hill’s highly original debut record. DJ Muggs’ funk-laced and bass-heavy production filled with creative sampling, combined with the typical voices of emcees Sen Dog and especially B-Real, created Cypress Hill’s instantly recognizable, signature sound. “Hand On The Pump”, “The Phuncky Feel One”, “Pigs” and especially “How I Can Just Kill A Man” are the obvious centerpieces, but the whole album is fire.
WC And The MAAD Circle – Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed (1991)
WC or Dub C is a West Coast Hip Hop veteran who did many interesting things before he started West Side Connection with Ice Cube and Mack 10. This is his second project, after the excellent debut album We’re In This Together he did in 1989 with DJ Aladdin as Low Profile. WC and The MAAD Circle s another interesting collaboration because members include the likes of Sir Jinx and Coolio. Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed is a very solid West Coast early gangsta rap album before that genre turned into a total cliche. The album is actually kind of upbeat, with some political and social commentaries worth listening to, not at all negative and stupid as most gangsta rap would later become. Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed is a West Coast classic and definitely worth adding to your collection.
Ice Cube - Death Certificate (1991)
Still angry, still hungry. Ice Cube picks up where he left things with his classic debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and even takes things a bit further. Raw and uncompromising, Death Certificate was highly controversial in its subject matter. Ice Cube pulls no punches and spares no one in his examinations of early 90s American society, which can make it an ‘uncomfortable’ listen at times for some.
Sonically, there is nothing wrong with Ice Cube’s and Sir Jinx’s production – although the funk-laced beats on Death Certificate may be a little less appealing than the Bomb Squad’s stand-out work on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – but this album is all about the lyrical content. Widely considered Ice Cube’s best work (together with AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted), Death Certificate is an important album in Hip Hop history.
N.W.A - Efil4ziggan (1991)
After the incredible success and impact of N.W.A‘s game-changing debut album Straight Outta Compton – and after the departure of the creative intelligence of Ice Cube – N.W.A. came back with Efil4ziggan. Efil4ziggan is hard to review. Sonically, Dr. Dre reaches near perfection on the production side of things. If only for the beats, this album could have been an all-time Hip Hop classic.
Lyrically however the album is a firm step back when compared to N.W.A’s epic debut. Gone is the authenticity and raw intelligence of Straight Outta Compton, what’s left are dumbed down and sometimes downright silly lyrics on some songs – serving more to shock and cause controversy than anything else. The album is also let down by two rather annoying Eazy E tracks and some dumb skits (“To Kill A Hooker” – really?). But even taking into account these negatives, the album still is an entertaining listen, mainly because of Dr. Dre’s stellar work behind the boards.
Dr Dre - The Chronic (1992)
The Chronic is one of the most influential Hip Hop albums of all-time. A 1990’s masterpiece that is about the production first and the lyrical content second. Dr. Dre‘s production on this album is just INCREDIBLE. Often imitated, never duplicated. It also showed us the full potential of Hip Hop’s next superstar – a young Snoop Dogg. Along with lyrics from a host of other talented rappers and Dr. Dre himself, The Chronic is filled with the ‘standard’ gangsta themes (violence, sex, drugs, parties) – difference from most of the copy cat others is that on this album it sounds GOOD.
Compton's Most Wanted - Music To Driveby (1992)
Compton’s Most Wanted’s third and best album. Also one of the best-produced albums of 1992. MC Eiht’s signature style and lyricism complement the beats perfectly. It never achieved the same legendary status that the seminal release of the year – Dr. Dre’s The Chronic – reached, but Music To Driveby is one of the best West Coast ‘gangsta rap’ albums of the era, and perhaps all-time, nevertheless.
The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)
With gangsta rap becoming the dominant thing on the West Coast in the early 90s, these guys were a breath of fresh air. Highly original, humorous, fun, and not afraid to show their vulnerable sides – The Pharcyde was never concerned with gangster posing and tough-guy-posturing but were more like a West Coast version of ATCQ or De La Soul.
Spice 1 – Spice 1 (1992)
Straight-up West Coast gangsta rap – Spice 1 does it better than most on his eponymous debut album. What makes this album better than most of the generic gangsta rap albums of the era is the quality bass-heavy production and Spice 1’s skills as a rapper, his style is versatile and his rhyming is tight. Songs like “Welcome To The Ghetto”, “In My Neighborhood, “Peace To My Nine”, and “187 Proof” are classic Spice 1. This is West Coast essential, just like the two follow-up albums – – which should have been on this list as well.
Ice Cube - The Predator (1992)
Ice Cube’s third solo album is another banger. It may lack a bit of the hunger, the anger, the urgency of his first two and it may contain a few filler tracks – but it also contains Cube’s biggest hit single(s). His last classic album.
Too $hort – Shorty The Pimp (1992)
“If it ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it”. Never was this saying more applicable than to Too Short and his formula. By 1992, he’d be in the game making music for ten years already – Shorty The Pimp being his fourth studio album. We knew what to expect by then and that’s what we got: Too Short’s (x-rated) stories over bumping beats. This is one of his best albums, with a couple of classic Too Short songs on it like “In The Trunk”, and “So You Want To Be A Gangster”.
Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)
In the pre-internet and Social Media days, when music promotion was a whole different ballgame, there have been few albums that were as hyped and anticipated as Snoop Doggy Dogg‘s solo debut. Having made an incredible impression with his unique style on Dr. Dre‘s “Deep Cover” single and later as the top emcee on Dre’s monumental The Chronic, Snoop was hailed as Hip Hop’s next superstar.
With mentor Dr. Dre on the boards, Doggystyle managed to meet the crazy high expectations. An all-around Hip Hop classic, on the West Coast arguably only surpassed in ‘classic-ness’ by N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and Dre’s The Chronic, Doggystyle is and always will be Snoop Dogg’s magnum opus.
Freestyle Fellowship - Innercity Griots (1993)
The follow-up to their dope but somewhat rough around the edges debut To Whom It May Concern. With this sophomore effort, Freestyle Fellowship really deliver the goods. The jazzy production provides the atypical backdrop for a West Coast album, but perfectly complements the lyricism – and that’s what this album is all about. Conscious, humorous, clever, versatile: emcees Mikah 9, P.E.A.C.E., Self Jupiter, and Aceyalone bring it all. This highly original album is a slept-on lyrical masterpiece.
Souls Of Mischief - 93 'Til Infinity (1993)
Together with Hieroglyphics‘ 1998 group album 3rd Eye Vision, this album is the crown jewel in Hieroglyphics’ all-around excellent catalog. Souls Of Mischief – part of the Hieroglyphics collective – succeeded in dropping a West Coast album without the gangsta cliches, and that is what makes it a classic Hip Hop album that sounds as fresh today as it did when it came out. Amazing, rapid-fire wordplay by Opio, Phesto, A-Plus, and Tajai, who flow together really well with intelligent, funny, and clever lyrics. Dope beats, dope rhymes – dope album.
MC Ren - Shock Of The Hour (1993)
Like most of MC Ren‘s solo work, Shock Of The Hour is underrated. Lyrically diverse (with lyrics that may be hard to digest for some) and sonically consistent (dark, eery, and atmospheric) from start to finish – this is more than a solid album from N.W.A.’s ruthless villain.
Mac Mall – Illegal Business? (1993)
E-40’s cousin’s debut album is a West Coast classic, a typical product of the Bay Area of the early/mid-90s. Mac Mall (incredibly just 15 years old at the time of recording of this album) is on point lyrically with his tales of life on the streets, but what makes this album really stand out is the production. Producer Khayree gave Mac Mall an album full of amazing beats and deep bass, sounding as fresh today as it did when it was released.
Cypress Hill - Black Sunday (1993)
Cypress Hill has always been an act with massive crossover- and commercial appeal and this is the album that introduced them to new (non-Hip Hop) audiences all over the world. For Hip Hop purists perhaps not as enjoyable as their classic self-titled debut album is, but Black Sunday is an entertaining listen nevertheless, with a few classic tracks on it.
Warren G - Regulate... G Funk Era (1994)
One of the best G-funk albums ever. This album captures the sunny summertime vibe of Los Angeles like few others ever have. Warren G never was the best rapper out there, but he has a nice and mellow flow (reminiscent of Snoop Dogg’s) that suits his own excellent G-funk beats nicely. Short but sweet at a little under 40 minutes, Regulate…G Funk Era is a definite West Coast classic.
Above The Law - Uncle Sam's Curse (1994)
Above The Law‘s classic debut Livin’ Like Hustlers will forever be their magnum opus. But this third effort is another excellent Above The Law album and definitely a level above most of the other gangsta rap being released at the time. The lyrics are not just the generic gangsta stories, but also sometimes politically fueled and socially conscious. Additionally, Cold 187um’s production is always top level. A true West Coast G-funk innovator, he was never scared to experiment on the boards. Deep bass, whiny synthesizer sounds, smooth and funky – this is G-funk at its best, with classic Above The Law tracks like “Black Superman”, “Concrete Jungle”, Kalifornia”, and “Gangsta Madness”.
The Coup – Genocide & Juice (1994)
The Coup has released a string of excellent albums with socially conscious and clever rhymes, and this sophomore effort arguably is their best with dope cuts such as “Fat Cats”, Bigga Fish”, “Taking These”, and “The Name Game, and “Pimps”. Funky, fresh production, intelligent rhymes by Boots, E-Roc & DJ Pam the Funkstress: another slept-on The Coup masterpiece.
Tha Alkoholiks – Coast II Coast (1995)
Classic West Coast underground Hip Hop. No gangsta rap or G-funk, but fun, boom bap, party rap. Much like their equally excellent debut 21 & Over, Coast II Coast is an album to be remembered. Also notable for the early production work of Madlib (together with E-Swift and Diamond D).
2Pac - Me Against The World (1995)
2Pac’s best album. Although the follow-up All Eyez On Me may be the more popular album, Me Against The World is much more cohesive, balanced, and tight. Me Against The World is 2Pac’s third album and the one on which he reaches real maturity. He has not adopted the all-out thug persona yet and the album is better for it. On this album, he is able to show us all aspects of his tormented being, better than on any of his other albums.
Tha Dogg Pound - Dogg Food (1995)
Kurupt is a great rapper, who’s smooth style combined with Daz’s excellent production makes this album a timeless classic. If there’s a problem with this album it’s its length. Like a lot of albums of this era, it would have been better if they had made it a little shorter and tighter. Nevertheless, Dogg Food is a West Coast classic and a fan favorite to this day.
Brotha Lynch Hung – Season Of Da Siccness (1995)
Sacramento’s Brotha Lynch Hung is an incredibly underrated emcee, who deserves props as one of the pioneers of the horrorcore subgenre. Season Of Da Siccness is his (full-length) debut album, and like all albums on this list definitely not for the faint of heart. “Locc To Da Brain,”, “Siccmade”, “Rest In Piss”, “Welcome 2 Your Own Death” are just a few of the standout tracks on this album. Lynch’s great flow goes together perfectly with the dark and sinister beats, entirely produced by Lynch himself.
The album is filled with shockingly graphic violent stories and images, but it is intelligent and even sometimes emotional at the same time. Season Of Da Siccness may be hard to digest, but ultimately it has to be considered an all-around classic. Season Of Da Siccness arguably is Brotha Lynch Hung’s best and definitely his most essential album – but most of the rest of his catalog is dope as hell (pun intended) as well, especially his concept album trilogy (Dinner and a Movie (2010), Coathanga Strangla (2011) and Mannibalector (2013)) is more than worth checking out.
The Pharcyde - Labcabincalifornia (1995)
With their 1992 debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde this 4-men crew dropped a left-field West Coast classic. This follow-up is more mature and possibly even better (J Dilla was involved on the production side, so there you go).
DJ Quik - Safe + Sound (1995)
West Coast legend DJ Quik dropped another G-funk / P-funk gem with Safe + Sound, arguably his best album together with his debut Quik Is The Name (1991).
E-40 – In A Major Way (1995)
Bay Area pioneer and legend E-40 released A LOT of albums in his 30+ year career, this one arguably is his very best. Smooth and funky, and with a load of star guest rappers – like 2Pac and Spice 1 – guarantee a great listening experience. Not everybody digs E-40 rapping style, but there’s no denying the greatness of this particular album.
2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)
2Pac is one of the most iconic artists in the history of Hip Hop. He is one of the highest-selling artists too, with more monumental songs than anyone in the game. The reason 2Pac is widely considered one of the GOATs has everything to do with his personality, his charisma, his star power, his poetic flair, his unique voice, the strength of his singles, and the manner and time of his death; and less with his lyrical skill or the quality of his albums. Of the five albums completed during his life, not one is flawless. Me Against The World (1995) comes closest, but All Eyez On Me – his most successful and most celebrated album – is far from perfect.
Because of its impact and success, AEOM is seen as one of the biggest classics in Hip Hop ever, but at 27 tracks and 2 hours & 12 minutes, the album simply is way too long. Way. Too. Long. Especially the second part of the album just goes on and on with what seems to be the same track over and over again, a ridiculous amount of filler really. 2Pac’s subject matter on this album is limited (too much thuggery, not enough of the soul and intelligence still in evidence on his first three albums), and the endless list of guest vocalists don’t help things either (especially 2Pac’s Outlawz buddies are mediocre rappers at best), it makes the whole album feel more like a compilation album than a 2Pac solo album.
Except for “Whatz Ya Phone #” there are no really terrible songs on All Eyez On Me (although the remix of the classic “California Love” is far inferior to the original), but half of the tracklist is kind of generic and forgettable. That half should have been left on the cutting room floor. AEOM could have been excellent if 2Pac had released the best half as a single album.
Keep “Ambitionz As A Ridah”, “Got My Mind Made Up”, “How Do You Want It”, “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted”, “No More Pain”, “Heartz Of Men”, “Life Goes On”, “Only God Can Judge Me”, “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”, “Can’t C Me”, “Picture Me Rollin’”, “All Eyez On Me”, and maybe one or two more tracks – and that’s a tight album. All Eyez On Me as it is is not.
Lots of people get butthurt when 2Pac isn’t religiously praised, acting as if not blindly celebrating everything he has ever done is disrespectful. That’s bullsh*t, of course. You could turn that around and say it’s disrespectful to the dozens of artists in Hip Hop history to ignore the fact they had better albums than 2Pac had. Make no mistake: we love 2Pac and his music – we just contend that this album, while good, is not as good as is often contended. All that said: of course All Eyez On Me IS an essential piece of music despite its shortcomings.
Xzibit – At The Speed Of Life (1996)
With At The Speed Of Life West Coast legend Xzibit drops a dope album with a definitive East Coast feel. Dark beats, creative loops, and excellent lyrics and lyricism. The album could have done without the interludes, but overall this is an excellent – and underrated – debut album.
Westside Connection – Bow Down (1996)
Hard-edged, uncompromising gangsta rap over banging beats, by three of the West Coast greats: WC, Mack 10 & Ice Cube, with especially WC taking center stage. An essential album for those who are into gangsta rap, with standout tracks such as “Bow Down”, “The Gangsta, The Killa & The Dope Dealer”, “King Of The Hill”, and “All The Critics In New York”.
E-40 – Tha Hall Of Game (1996)
E-40 is one of the most prolific artists in the Hip Hop game. He garnered a strong following and legendary status, especially in his home region: the Bay Area. Tha Hall Of Game is one of his strongest albums, arguably second only to 1995‘s In A Major Way. You can love or hate his typical, unique style and slang – but you can not deny E-40 is a West Coast legend.
Ras Kass - Soul On Ice (1996)
One of the most lyrical albums in West Coast Hip Hop ever, by one of the most underrated lyricists. A classic if only for the controversial 8-minute tour-de-force “Nature Of The Threat”.
2Pac (Makaveli) - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Released just a few months after 2Pac’s death (and the last album completed during his lifetime), The Don Killuminati The Seven Day Theory turned out to be extremely prophetic with so many references to (his own) death it’s chilling. The album features some of the best instrumentals Pac ever got to work with and lyrically it’s 2Pac at his most angry and harsh, yet emotional and poetic best. Too many feature appearances from The Outlawz and others on a few filler tracks bring the album down some – but because of 2Pac’s iconic status, this is an essential album nonetheless.
Suga Free – Street Gospel (1997)
A forgotten but dope album, that deserves to be mentioned when West Coast gems are talked about. This is a super-smooth album with that signature DJ Quik sound (DJ Quik produced the whole album). Suga Free is a great emcee whose humorous hood tales perfectly complement Quik’s funked-out beats. Critically acclaimed, but sadly overlooked.
Styles Of Beyond - 2000 Fold (1998)
This album from Los Angeles underground crew Styles Of Beyond is a forgotten gem. Originally released in 1998, it suffered from lack of promotion and several re-releases, which meant it never really got any spotlight. The album stands heads and shoulders above most other albums released in the late nineties, however. Ryu, Takbir, DJ Cheapshot & producer Vin Skully, with help from DJ Rhettmatic, DJ Revolution, Divine Styler, Emcee 007, and Bilal Bashir showcase great synergy, plus the album has excellent production, creative sampling, clever rhymes, and dope wordplay from start to finish. 2000 Fold – one hour of music, and only one throwaway track (“Muuvon”): this album is an underground classic.
Xzibit - 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz (1998)
Xzibit‘s At The Speed Of Life was a great debut and on this sophomore effort, X-to-the-Z displays even further growth, both lyrically and in his raw flow. A great album from a West Coast giant. Also, the banging single “What U See Is What U Get” is supported by one of the best Hip Hop videos ever.
Jurassic 5 - Jurassic 5 (1998)
Jurassic 5 is the debut album by Jurassic 5, the well-respected Los Angeles underground crew. The material from the 1997 Jurassic 5 EP plus a few additional tracks was repackaged as an album and released as Jurassic 5 in 1998. Tight tag-team old-school flavored rhymes backed up by dope beats, with an air of positivity and fun – this is Hip Hop as it’s supposed to be.
Daz Dillinger – Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back (1998)
Daz Dillinger was one of the first signees of Dr. Dre’s Death Row Records, and one of the most underrated producers of gangsta rap and g-funk beats in the 1990s. (He was responsible for the majority of the production on Death Row classics like Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food, and 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me.) His best solo album Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back doesn’t get talked about nearly enough – this is another flawlessly produced album with Daz Dillinger’s stamp on it. Like Dogg Food and All Eyez On Me, Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back is too long (which almost inevitably means there are a few filler tracks), but the bass, synths, keys, and percussion on this album are as good as it gets – in fact, Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back is one of the last great albums in the West Coast g-funk gangsta rap niche.
Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision (1998)
This supergroup – consisting of Del (The Funkee Homosapien), Pep Love, A-Plus, Tajai, Opio & Phesto (from Souls Of Mischief), Casual, Domino, Jay-Biz, Toure & Extra Prolific – brings together so much talent that the product of their cooperation has to be epic, right? Right! This album is pure Hip Hop, from one of the best collectives in the game.
People Under the Stairs - The Next Step (1998)
The Next Step is the independently released full-length debut by Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs, the first in a string of excellent albums. PUTS always comes with that authentic, real boom-bap Hip Hop and this first effort is a slept-on gem, with classic tracks such as “San Francisco Knights”, “Los Angeles Daze”, “Time To Rock Our Sh”, and “The Next Step II”.
Kurupt – Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha (1999)
Kurupt’s second and best solo album. The subject matter is that typical nineties g-funk/gangsta sh*t, but the production on this album is on point, and Kurupt is a better rapper than most. A must-have for fans of that original West Coast g-funk gangsta rap.
Dr. Dre - 2001 (1999)
The excellent follow-up to Dr. Dre’s epic classic The Chronic. Not quite as revolutionary as The Chronic was – but a definitive reaffirmation that Dre still was the West’s top-producer, even after a seven-year hiatus between albums (under his own name that is – of course he produced a whole lot of classic music for others in the meantime).
Whereas The Chronic changed the face of (West Coast) Hip Hop, with 2001 Dr. Dre just holds it down. Superior production from start to finish – the only criticism could be that the album contains a few misses (“Let’s Get High” most notably) and that it could have done without the pointless, irritating skits. Other than that: 2001 simply is another Dr. Dre classic.
Blackalicious - Nia (1999)
The Sacramento-based duo of producer/DJ Chief Xcel and lyricist The Gift of Gab drop an excellent (full-length) debut album with Nia. Progressive, soulful, stylistic and inventive production and exceptional lyricism by Gift Of Gab, truly one of the most underrated and poetic emcees in the Hip Hop game. Nia is a gem.
Dilated Peoples - The Platform (2000)
This is one of those ‘underground’ albums that are underrated as hell. Dope rhymes by Rakka-Iriscience and Evidence, with guest spots from B-Real, Aceyalone, Defari, Likwit Crew, Planet Asia, and Everlast, over banging beats provided by DJ Babu along with Alchemist, E-Swift, Joey Chavez, Ev, T-Ray, and Kutmasta Kurt – you can bet the result is real Hip Hop through and through, with top tracks like “Work The Angles”, “Right On”, “Triple Optics”, and “Shape Of Things To Come”.
Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (2000)
Perfectly capturing that throwback Hip Hop vibe, this Californian crew is all about flawless emceeing over dope instrumentals. Chali 2na, Mark 7even, Zaakir, and Akil can flow and harmonize with the best of them. while DJ Nu-Mark and the legendary DJ CutChemist add value with the beats and cuts they provide. Much needed upbeat Hip Hop in times when materialism and violence of gangsta wannabes dominated the mainstream.
Quasimoto - The Unseen (2000)
Experimental and left-field, this first album from Madlib’s alter ego Quasimoto is sure to satisfy the taste buds of those who are into layered, metaphorically, and musically complex compositions. Mindblowingly creative, filled with jazzy loop and breaks, short songs, interludes, and Lord Quas’ off-the-wall high-pitched rhyme style, The Unseen feels more like a musical tapestry than a conventionally structured album. The Unseen probably is a hate-it-or-love-it kind of affair, but there is no denying Madlib’s particular brand of genius.
Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030 (2000)
Simply brilliant. One of the best concept albums ever created, this collaboration between producer Dan the Automator (as The Cantankerous Captain Aptos), rapper Del the Funky Homosapien (as Deltron Zero/Deltron Osiris), and DJ Kid Koala (as Skiznod the Boy Wonder) is as timeless a piece of music as it gets. A challenging listen maybe, but ultimately extremely rewarding – a milestone not just for Hip Hop, but for music in general.
Ugly Duckling - Journey To Anywhere (2000)
Journey to Anywhere is the first full-length studio album by Long Beach, California trio Ugly Duckling, bringing a sound that was very atypical for West Coast Hip Hop at that time, or in fact ever. The group’s style is primarily a throwback to Golden Age Hip Hop, using a lot of drum breaks, loops, scratches, and sampling. Like fellow Californians Jurassic 5, Ugly Duckling is all about Hip Hop tradition and this excellent debut album is fresh, entertaining, and fun – a tribute to Hip Hop and its origins.
Dilated Peoples - Expansion Team (2001)
“Worst Comes To Worst” is the biggest attraction of Expansion Team, but this album has more to offer. Expansion Team is one of the best Dilated Peoples albums, an essential part of their catalog.
Busdriver - Temporary Forever (2002)
Weird, but wonderful. Los Angeles’ Busdriver has never made a straightforward or accessible album, and like all of Busdriver’s work, Temporary Forever is an acquired taste without a doubt. Busdriver’s unorthodox and wild flows and his general abstract and experimental style will leave many heads spinning, but those who allow themselves to be swept away by Busdriver’s eccentricity and by the beats that perfectly gel with his lyrical antics will soon count this underground classic as one of their favorite albums.
Temporary Forever is Busdriver’s second album, and although he would go on to release a couple more great projects (especially Fear of a Black Tangent (2005) and Perfect Hair (2014) are must-haves too), this one stands as his absolute masterpiece.
People Under The Stairs - O.S.T. (2002)
Los Angeles duo People Under The Stairs never missed. O.S.T. is the third album and one of their best, with some of their most famous songs – “Acid Raindrops” and “The L.A. Song” – as its centerpieces.
Murs - Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition (2004)
In his 25 years in the Hip Hop game, Murs has released a whole bunch of excellent albums – solo as well as collaborative efforts. This is one of his best, the first collaboration album he did with producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder. Murs is another one of those rare personalities in Hip Hop who is always completely real. No fronting, no posing – just honesty and real emotion. The collaboration with 9th Wonder comes off perfectly – the soundscapes 9th Wonder provides all serve to enhance the strength of Murs’ intelligent lyrics.
Standouts include the Phonte-featuring “The Animal”, “Bad Man”, “And This Is For…”, “The Pain”, and especially the genius “Walk Like A Man”, which has three different beats to match the mood of the deep and insightful story told. But it is all good – at 10 tracks the album is short but there are no weak spots.
The Game - The Documentary (2005)
Though there’s always been a debate about whether or not 50 wrote the album (he did write about 60% of the hooks), there is no denying the power behind this album and what Game brought back to the game for the West. With aggressive lyrics, booming production that ranged from murderous to upbeat to soulful to despondent at times, Game gives us an album that is beyond what any of us expected. Singles like “How We Do”, “Dreams”, and “Hate It Or Love It” really made the album what it is today: one of the best-selling Hip Hop albums of the decade, with over 5 million units sold worldwide.
Zion I - True & Livin' (2005)
True & Livin is the third album from Oakland’s duo Zion I, the first album on their own label LiveUp Records. Zion and Amp Live expand their creative and experimental sounds on the album, featuring a wide range of musical styles, laced with intelligent, socially conscious lyrics. Amp Live’s head-nodding beats are laced with jazzy and elegant musical backdrops, and Zion’s thoughtful and expressive lyrics complement the soundscapes beautifully. Guests like Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, and Gift of Gab only add to the quality of the album.
The singles “Soo Tall”, the Talib Kweli featuring “Temperature” and especially the excellent “Bird’s Eye View” are immediate standouts, and cuts like the abstract “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay” (with Aesop Rock), “The Bay”, “Stranger In My Home” (with Gift Of Gab) and the jazzy “Doin’ My Thang” also bang – but there are no weak tracks on this album. True & Livin’ flew way under the radar in 2005 – if you missed it somehow it definitely deserves your attention.
Busdriver - Fear Of A Black Tangent (2005)
Together with Temporary Forever (2002) and Perfect Hair (2014), Fear Of A Black Tangent is Busdriver’s best album. It’s a Busdriver album, so it’s experimental and DIFFERENT, and definitely not for everybody. To say Busdriver is unconventional is an understatement. Musically as well as lyrically Fear Of A Black Tangent is as quirky as is to be expected, but it’s arguably slightly more accessible than some of Busdriver’s other albums. Smart and hilarious rapid-fire flows over innovative production, and features by fellow Project Blowedians Abstract Rude, Rifleman Ellay Khule, Mikah 9, and 2mex, make for one of the most unique and original Hip Hop albums released in 2005.
People Under The Stairs - Stepfather (2006)
People Under The Stairs have put together a truly excellent catalog over the years, starting in 1998 with The Next Step and ending in 2019 with their final album Sincerely, the P. Stepfather is the fifth album by the Los Angeles duo – and one their best. Stepfather is a long but totally cohesive album filled with dope beats and rhymes – a testament to the fact that culturally positive Hip Hop will prove to have longevity, much more than the dumbed-down crap that was (and is) dominating the mainstream. An album like Stepfather will still be listened to decades from now, whereas the bubble-gum rap that may peak for a moment will soon be forgotten.
The Game - Doctor's Advocate (2006)
Not on par with his classic debut The Documentary (2005), but a good follow-up nevertheless. Dr. Dre’s magical touch is missing here, but the beats are solid enough and The Game’s personality and charisma are enough to raise this album way above average.
Blu & Exile - Below The Heavens (2007)
Record sales don’t make an album a classic. A classic album is timeless, one that will still sound good decades from the date of its release. A classic album can be played again and again, without having to skip tracks. Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens is such an album. Consistent quality throughout – Exile’s soulful production is perfectly complemented by Blu’s introspective and intelligent lyrics. The album was well-received by real Hip Hop heads and critically acclaimed, but it never got the sales or mainstream attention it deserved. This is real Hip Hop and a true underground classic.
Johnson&Jonson - Johnson&Jonson (2008)
Johnson & Jonson is the collaborative debut studio album from Johnson & Jonson, better known as Blu and Mainframe. Following on Blu & Exile’s low-key classic Below The Heavens (2007), this album went virtually unnoticed – unfortunately, because this project is dope as f too. Owing to Mainframe’s production Johnson & Jonson is totally different from Below The Heavens in style, but not in quality. Blu is on fire with his wordplay here, and Mainframe beats are innovative and different. Johnson & Jonson is one of the most under-appreciated Hip Hop albums released in 2008.
Grip Grand – Brokelore (2008)
Six years after a distinctly mediocre debut, Bay Area producer/emcee Grip Grand returns with this truly excellent sophomore album. Brokelore is the most surprising album of the year. Excellent rhyming – lyrics and flow – and smooth, infectious beats from beginning to end. The album has a couple of great, well-placed guest appearances too, especially NYC legends Percee P and A.G. steal the show with their features. This is a near-perfect album, expertly blending traditional West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop sounds and adding a unique contemporary vibe. The mark of a classic? Endless replay value and no skips – Brokelore is such an album.
Fashawn - Boy Meets World (2009)
Great beats, great lyrics, great hooks. The beats provided by Exile prove to be a fine foundation, but it is Fashawn’s deep and personal lyricism that makes his debut album Boy Meets World the modern classic it is. Fashawn comes off like a seasoned vet, commanding every track with ease. Boy Meets World is an awesome debut by a great talent (Fashawn was just 21 at the time of its release), and it still is his best work to date.
Kendrick Lamar - Section.80 (2011)
Section.80 is the official debut album from Kendrick Lamar, released after he already made a name for himself with a string of mixtapes. At 16 songs and an hour of playing time, this is a project with substance. Although it would take another year before Kendrick would really blow up with good Kid M.A.A.D. City, Section.80 is a really strong album in its own right. Sonically more straightforwardly Hip Hop than his more eclectic later albums, on Section.80 Kendrick’s talent as an intelligent lyricist is already on full display. The production style on Section.80 nicely complements Lamar’s laid-back flow and his contemplative storytelling, and together with Kendrick’s rhymes, the musical backdrops ensure an entertaining (if at times depressing) listen all the way through.
Section.80 may have a couple of weaker songs (like “Blow My High”), but it also contains a bunch of classics such as “Keisha’s Song”, “Ronald Regan Era”, “Poe Man’s Dreams (His Vice”, and “Hol Up”. This is Kendrick Lamar’s third-best album of the decade, after TPAB and GKMC.
Thurz - L.A. Riot (2011)
Thurz’s L.A. Riot was massively slept on when it was released in 2011. L.A. Riot‘s central theme is the Los Angeles riots in 1992, sparked by general discontent and the dissatisfactory outcome of the trial of the four police officers responsible for the Rodney King beating (on March 3, 1991).
The album starts out strong with “Molotov Cocktail”, but it’s the second track that is the absolute highlight of the album: “Rodney King” is a 5-minute tour-de-force, re-enacting the assault from the point of view of Rodney King. The musical backdrop is incredibly impressive and the lyrics hit hard. One of the best Hip Hop songs of the 2010s, if not of the best Hip Hop songs ever. Yes, it’s that good. The next two tracks – “F*** The Police” and “Colors” are evident nods to the West Coast Hip Hop classics by N.W.A. and Ice-T, and Thurz doesn’t let up after that. A special mention goes out to another stand-out track, “Riot”, which has Black Thought as guest emcee. L.A. Riot is one of the best albums of 2011 and one that deserves far more shine than it got.
Murs - Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation (2011)
Love & Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation is a smooth and solid playthrough from start to finish: dope beats provided by Ski Beatz and with Murs’ trademark clever lyrics. Murs is great at letting emotion show – just check the single “Remember 2 Forget”, about ex-girlfriend woes or the poignant album closer “Animal Style”, a tale of a closeted high school homosexual that ends tragically – and at storytelling too: the tragic-comic story of a trip gone wrong in Tuscon, Arizona on “67 Cutlass” is a great example. Other highlights are his tribute to the legacy of West Coast Hip Hop on “Eazy E”, the Ab-Soul and D.I.T.C. rapper O.C. assisted “Life & Time”, and his criticism on the music industry on “316 Ways”. Overall, Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation is another fine album in Murs’ extensive body of work.
Ab-Soul - Control System (2012)
This is a fantastic album, one of the best released in 2012. Control System does everything well: it has style, versatility, great beat selection, and worthwhile lyrical content – if you can decipher Ab-Soul’s often dense and abstract wording. “Track Two”, “Bohemian Grove”, “Terrorist Threats”, “Pineal Gland”, “Double Standards”, “Mixed Emotions”, “Showin’ Love”, “Beautiful Death” – no shortage of great songs on Control System – but this album is worth the price of admission alone because of the absolute stand-out “The Book Of Soul” – one of the deepest and most emotional Hip Hop songs ever, and one of the best songs of the decade.
“The Book Of Soul” is as much beautiful spoken word poetry as a rap song, this heartbreaking track has to be among the most poignant, personal narratives ever recorded. Ab-Soul tells us about the rare virus (called Steven-Johnson Syndrome) he contracted as a child, which would hinder his vision and cause a skin condition that would render his lips very dark. He relates how this caused much teasing in his adolescent years, but how he found true love anyway – only to see this love ended tragically after a 7-year relationship. “Seven whole years, seven whole years / It was supposed to end with our grandkids / Luckily for me I’m used to being cut short / But I’m such a nice guy, why Lord? / Why Lori? Why’d you have to take her from me? / I guess He needed your angel face for all of heaven to see / Your picture’s still on my mirror, and it’s so scary / I swear, I still ain’t looked at your obituary…”
Control System is Ab-Soul’s best album to date and a modern classic.
Death Grips - The Money Store (2012)
Death Grips is a trio from Sacramento, California, that has created a whole separate niche for itself by pushing the boundaries of Hip Hop – their music may be rooted in Hip Hop, but it is blended with noise, industrial, electro, punk rock, and other alternative elements. The Money Store is Death Grips’ 2012 debut studio album, and arguably their best (even if their whole catalog is consistently strong).
The Money Store is in-your-face, visceral, abrasing, and alienating, but layered and thought-provoking at the same time – this is an awe-inspiring ride of exquisitely produced experimentation and raw energy. The wall of noise and the gory, horrific lyrical imagery The Money Store unleashes on the listener will not be for everyone – no doubt Death Grips is an acquired taste, but when you allow yourself to be ‘gripped’ by them their music is amazing.
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
Arguably the highest profile release of 2012, Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album – and major-label debut – deserves to be heralded as a modern classic. Billed as a “short film by Kendrick Lamar” on the album cover, GKMC is a concept album that follows the story of Lamar’s teenage experiences in the gang- and drug-infested streets of his native Compton.
GKMC is a total experience and not just a collection of songs. A perfect example of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not to say the individual songs on the album are lacking in anything – in fact, there are plenty of classic cuts on this one. The singles “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are easy favorites of course, but tracks like “Money Trees”, “m.a.a.d. City” (with MC Eith), “Compton” (with Dr. Dre), and the 12-minute epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” are awesome too – as is the production of the album from start to finish.
The album cover and the inside sleeve work in harmony with the narrative of the album, which is a great touch. GKMC is a balanced and cohesive piece of work, that needs multiple listens to fully appreciate its intricacies and Kendrick’s talent and skill.
Earl Sweatshirt - Doris (2013)
Doris is the excellent debut album from one of the biggest talents out of the Odd Future camp. Doris is part confessional, part coming of age, and it reaffirmed Earl’s prodigious talent after disappearing from the scene for a while (a forced stay in a Samoan boarding school for troubled youths) after the release of debut mixtape, Earl in 2010. Doris showcases Earl’s talent as a lyricist, with his complex rhyme schemes and his poetic flow. Doris is an impressive debut and the perfect stepping stone to Earl’s even more cathartic sophomore album I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside (2015), his best project to date.
Dilated Peoples - Directors Of Photography (2014)
Directors of Photography is the fifth studio album by Los Angeles trio Dilated Peoples, and their best. Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience, and DJ Babu all brought their A-game, as did the production team consisting of 9th Wonder, The Alchemist, Bravo, Diamond D, DJ Premier, Jake One, Oh No, and Twiz The Beat Pro along with DJ Babu and Evidence themselves. The album runs for 55 minutes, which is long enough to keep the guest rappers – Vince Staples, Aloe Blacc, Catero, Gangrene, Sick Jacken, Krondon, Fashawn, Rapsody, Domo Genesis, Vinnie Paz, and Action Bronson – from overcrowding proceedings. Directors of Photography is executed flawlessly – this is matured underground boom-bap at its finest.
clipping. - CLPPNG (2014)
clipping is an experimental Hip Hop trio from Los Angeles, California, consisting of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. CLPPNG is clipping’s debut studio album, following their midcity mixtape of the year previous. Daveed Diggs’s lyrics are dense, disturbing, and captivating – he explores the feelings of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the gangbangers. The harsh and distorted production is as dense as the rhymes are – abrasive and atmospheric in equal measures. There’s not as much earpiercing ‘noise’ on CLPPNG as on some of their other releases – arguably making this their most accessible project.
ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron (2014)
Los Angeles native ScHoolboy Q released five albums in the 2010s. Setbacks (2011) was a solid debut, but it’s the middle three that are his best. It’s hard to pick the stand-out from Habits & Contradictions (2012), Oxymoron (2014) and Blank Face LP (2016) – they all are excellent albums (best not to talk about the disappointing Crash Talk (2019)).
Oxymoron arguably is ScHoolboy Q’s very best. It was his major-label debut, and according to himself his most personal up till then. – an album on which he didn’t need to compromise. The beats on Oxymoron are universally dope and different enough from the standard fare to remain interesting and guarantee replay value, but it’s Q’s lyrics that elevate Oxymoron to modern classic status. Just listen to a track like “Hoover Street” to learn where Q is coming from. ScHoolboy Q shows his versatility by switching between different topics and styles. Guests like labelmates Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, as well as heavy-hitters such as Tyler The Creator, Kurupt, and Raekwon, complete a well-rounded project.
YG - My Krazy Life (2014)
The gangsta rap has been played out for a long time, and outside originators like Ice T, N.W.A, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and their like in the late 80s and early 90s few have really ever added anything new or interesting to the genre. YG’s debut studio album My Krazy Life is an exception to the rule. Even though most of the lyrical content is the same old standard gangsta fare, YG manages to add a vibe of authenticity, making it sound interesting. It also helps his gangsta cliches are backed by banging instrumentals. It’s clear YG and his production team were inspired by genre classics like The Chronic, mixing a G-funk vibe with sonic influences from Bay Area and Southern gangsta rap, all the while staying far enough away from this decade’s trap-trappings to deliver a distinctive album that has the possibility for longevity.
Busdriver - Perfect Hair (2014)
Perfect Hair is Los Angeles-based Busdriver’s best album, together with his Temporary Forever cult-classic (2002). It’s a Busdriver album, so Perfect Hair is not an easy, accessible listen – but those with an affinity for off-the-wall left-field Hip Hop will be amply rewarded by this challenging but engaging album.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
This album is special, in a once in a generation kind of way. To Pimp A Butterfly is like this generation’s version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (1971), or Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988).
With good kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar (2012) had already released a near-flawless project, but this follow-up turned out to be even bigger and better. To Pimp a Butterfly is a grandiose achievement: both a soul-bearing confessional and a compelling state of the nation address – this album’s cultural significance can not be overstated. There’s nothing easy or straightforward about the instrumentals either: TPAB features a potent blend of live instrumentation, neo-soul, stripped-down jazz fusion, occasional funk, and Hip Hop to give the album a vast historical musical appeal – it’s an amalgamation of 70 years of Black music. Kendrick Lamar’s narrative thread and the vast cast of guests appearing on the album only underline its expansive scope and ambitions.
This is not an easy, straight-forward listen, but it is an important one. To Pimp A Butterfly is a timeless genre-blending masterpiece that will forever reside in the highest echelons of the Hip Hop pantheon.
Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Sh*t, I Don't Go Outside (2015)
I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside is one of the darkest albums released in 2015. Following on Doris, his excellent debut album, this depressing and highly introspective album serves as Earl’s coming of age album – giving us listeners an insight into the issues he has been dealing with, such as depression, substance abuse, and the death of his grandmother. Besides the emotion on display, the strength of this project is that Earl’s narrative is driven by excellent production that emphasizes the intensity in the darkness of the lyrics. I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside is Earl Sweatshirt’s most personal and best album, even if at barely 30 minutes it is too short to be considered a proper LP.
Vince Staples - Summertime '06 (2015)
After winning acclaim with a series of mixtapes and his Hell Can Wait EP (2014), and gaining some notoriety by being dismissive about 90s Hip Hop in a high-profile interview, Compton rapper Vince Staples made a big splash with Summertime 06, his official full-length debut. Summertime 06 is one of the most impressive debuts of the decade, the kind of album that needs a few playthroughs to fully appreciate. The production (mostly by Chicago’s No ID) is brilliant, and every track is original – a great feat on an hour-long, 20-track album. Summertime 06 was a big step ahead for Vince Staples since his mixtape days, and it remains his best project to date.
The Game - The Documentary 2/2.5 (2015)
Coming off a bunch of mediocre albums, The Documentary 2/2.5 is a definite return to form for The Game. The first The Documentary (2005) was one of the major rap albums of the 2000s, and an undisputed West Coast classic. The Documentary 2 (and its companion album The Documentary 2.5) doesn’t quite reach the level of the classic namesake, but it is great enough. Musically the album is excellent, one of the best-produced albums in what arguably was the best year for Hip Hop in the decade. Lyrics-wise there’s nothing new here, but Game and guests like Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Ab-Soul, and Q-Tip bring what can be expected to the table. Overall, this is not a classic (a bit too long at 75 minutes, with some inevitable filler tracks), but it is a banger and The Game’s best effort since his debut.
ScHoolboy Q - Blank Face LP (2016)
After Oxymoron, his excellent and highly successful third album, expectations were high – and with The Blank Face LP ScHoolboy Q did not disappoint. With this album, ScHoolboy Q solidified his prominent spot amongst the new breed of rappers from the West Coast, along with TDE label mates such as Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Isaiah Rashad. ScHoolboy Q’s charismatic flow shines on this project with a nice assortment of varied production resulting in well over an hour of psychedelic gangsterism that perfectly fits into that new wave of Los Angeles street rap with tons of mainstream appeal.
Ryu - Tanks For The Memories (2016)
Tanks For The Memories is the most slept-on album of 2016. You may know Ryu as one-quarter of Styles Of Beyond, a Los Angeles crew who dropped an underground classic in 1998 with their debut album 2000 Fold. Almost 20 years later Ryu surprises with Tanks For The Memories. With work on the boards from West Coast legend Divine Styler, Ryu dropped this gem of an album to little or no fanfare. That’s a shame because Tanks For Memories is awesome. Ryu brings the boom-bap back – the album is a near-perfect modern interpretation of 90s Hip Hop, using the beat-structures of Hip Hop classics from Gangstarr and Big Daddy Kane on two of the stand-out tracks, sampling Public Enemy on another, and bringing back the Funky Drummer break too – especially people who know their classics will enjoy this album. Ryu is a great lyricist too, with dope flows and clever wordplay. Tanks For The Memories is a throwback and homage to Golden Age Hip Hop, one that belongs in your collection if you’re into that vintage boom-bap sound.
Ab-Soul - Do What Thou Wilt (2016)
After a slightly disappointing album in 2014 with These Days…, TDE’s Ab-Soul came back strong in 2016 with this sprawling project. At over 75 minutes of playing time with some serious subject matter – from feminism to religion to drugs to modern societal woes – reflecting Ad-Soul’s deep and conflicted thoughts and feelings, this is not a breezy listen. Do What Thou Wilt was met with mixed acclaim upon its release, but is just about as good as Control System (2012), Ab-Soul’s best and most lauded album. Although it’s true that it can be difficult at times to decipher what Ab-Soul is exactly meaning to say, this album gives a fascinating insight into his mind. The atmospheric production adds to Soulo’s intriguing lyricism, making Do What Thou Wilt a project that deserves admiration, whether you can get with everything he’s saying or not.
The Game - 1992 (2016)
Coming on the heels of the surprisingly good The Documentary 2/2.5, The Game drops another quality album with 1992. The album’s concept has The Game looking back on his formative years, reflecting on his youth, the rise of gangsta rap, the L.A.riots, and more. Lyrically The Game is on point, and the vintage-sounding beats bang. This is one of The Game’s best albums.
Fun fact: The album’s artwork was done by Joe Cool, a visual artist who is most famous for co-designing the cover of Snoop Dogg’s classic Doggystyle album.
Jonwayne - Rap Album Two (2017)
La Habra, CA rapper/producer Jonwayne released one of 2017’s hidden gems with Rap Album Two – his fifth studio album, following a short hiatus from the music industry to battle alcohol addiction. With Rap Album Two Jonwayne drops a poignant mix of thoughtful deeply personal rhymes – happy and sad – over gentle-sounding lo-fi beats crafted by himself. Rap Album Two is a super smooth listen, a future cult classic without a doubt.
Tyler, The Creator - Flower Boy (2017)
Flower Boy is Tyler’s most complete, most cohesive, most consistent, and most accessible album. In typical Tyler fashion, Flower Boy is an amalgamation of musical styles – for the most part successfully executed this time, with a minimum of messiness and not a lot of over/underproduction. Lyrically, Flower Boy is also different from some of Tyler’s other works, more introspective and personal this time around. Tyler’s opening up on Flower Boy is a culmination of what he was building up to with his previous works. Because of his weirdness/authenticity, Tyler is a media darling and a fan favorite – but his music is an acquired taste, despite his popularity. Flower Boy probably is the album in his catalog that is easiest to get into.
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. (2017)
There’s no denying DAMN is an essential West Coast Hip Hop album, even if it is not a favorite of ours. For HHGA, this album signified a definite downturn for Kendrick Lamar after two straight classics, we feel DAMN is generally overrated. Thing is, Kendrick Lamar is like the 2010s version of 2Pac and Biggie as in that it seems forbidden to criticize him or not unreservedly like anything he does or releases – not 100% praising Kendrick will activate a stan-army to set any doubter straight (similar to what happens if you dare to opinion not everything 2Pac or Biggie have done is of the utmost brilliance). Upon DAMN‘s release, fans and critics alike were immediately screaming ‘instant classic’, ‘masterpiece’ and all that – like a Pavlov reaction because it’s Kendrick and so it has to be the best ever you know. But DAMN isn’t the best ever, it’s just OK.
Where TPAB was a conscious masterpiece focusing on political and social issues over an amalgamation of 70 years of black music history, and GKMC was a brilliant coming-of-age concept album, the common thematical thread DAMN is less clear. In fact, some songs on here just don’t seem to mesh together. Also, Kendrick takes some unfortunate steps on the mumble-trap-singing path (like on “LOVE”). But there are flashes of the customary Kendrick brilliance and some emotionally resonant lyrical nuggets to be found, and the production is outstanding in places (“DUCKWORTH” is all-around excellent, as is the banging “DNA”).
Now, all this may sound a bit more negative than it should – it is just meant to serve as a little counterweight to the blind Kenrick praise that seems obligatory these days. Even the Pulitzer people jumped on the ‘Kendrick is King’ bandwagon, showcasing their Hip Hop ignorance – there are a hundred Hip Hop albums that could or should have won a Pulitzer over this one, obviously they missed the significance of TPAB upon its release and decided to retroactively honor it by awarding Kendrick’s follow-up.
Because of its reduced scope and shaky sonic, lyrical, and thematic cohesiveness, DAMN can not stand side to side with his two previous masterpieces. It’s not a bad album at all, but it’s not a flawless classic either. Kendrick stans may want to throw a tantrum after reading this opinion, and that’s fine – we just think DAMN is far from Kendricks’s best work and not even a top 10 album released in 2017. DAMN is a fine album, nothing more, nothing less – but a West Coast essential even so.
- West Coast Crew – In The Mix (1985)
- N.W.A. & Posse – N.W.A. & Posse (1987)
- Sir Mix-a-Lot – Swass (1988)
- The 7A3 – Coolin’ In Cali (1988)
- JJ Fad – Supersonic (1988)
- Rodney O & Joe Cooley – Me & Joe (1988)
- Rodney O & Joe Cooley – Three The Hard Way (1989)
- Arabian Prince – Brother Arab (1989)
- Tone-Lōc – Lōc-Ed After Dark (1989)
- Young MC – Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989)
- Donald D – Notorious (1989)
- Oaktown 357 – Wild & Loose (1989)
- Mellow Man Ace – Escape From Havana (1989)
- Rhyme Syndicate – Comin’ Through (1989)
- Breeze – The Young Son Of No One (1989)
- Vicious Beat Posse – Legalized Dope (1989)
- Def Jef – Just A Poet With A Soul (1989)
- Low Profile – We’re In This Together (1989)
- King Tee – At Your Own Risk (1990)
- MC Hammer – Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (1990)
- CPO – To Hell And Black (1990)
- Boo-Yaa Tribe – New Funky Nation (1990)
- MC Pooh – Life Of A Criminal (1990)
- Compton’s Most Wanted – It’s A Compton Thang (1990)
- Kid Frost – Hispanic Causing Panic (1990)
- Compton’s Most Wanted – Straight Checkn ‘Em (1991)
- 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
- AMG – B*tch Betta Have My Money (1991)
- Digital Underground – Sons Of The P (1991)
- Freestyle Fellowship – To Whom It May Concern (1991)
- Hi-C – Skanless (1991)
- Yo Yo – Make Way For The Motherlode (1991)
- Yomo & Maulkie – R U Experienced (1991)
- Def Jef – Soul Food (1991)
- 2nd II None – 2nd II None (1991)
- Above The Law – Vocally Pimpin’ (1991)
- Da Lench Mob – Guerillas In The Mist (1992)
- DJ Quik – Way 2 Fonkay (1992)
- Sir Mix-a-Lot – Mack Daddy (1992)
- Paris – Sleeping With The Enemy (1992)
- Yo Yo – Black Pearl (1992)
- Insane Poetry – Grim Reality (1992)
- Penthouse Players Clique – Paid The Cost (1992)
- RBL Posse – A Lesson To Be Learned (1992)
- Too Short – Get In Where You Fit In (1993)
- Ice T – Home Invasion (1993)
- The Coup – Kill My Landlord (1993)
- Tha Alkoholiks – 21 & Over (1993)
- King Tee- Tha Triflin Album (1993)
- E-40 – Federal (1993)
- 2Pac – Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993)
- Above The Law – Black Mafia Life (1993)
- Digital Underground – The Body Hat Syndrome (1993)
- Kam – Neva Again (1993)
- Capital Tax – The Swoll Package (1993)
- Ant Banks – Sittin’On Somethin’ Phat (1993)
- Bloods & Crips – Bangin’ On Wax (1993)
- Del – No Need For Alarm (1993)
- Mac Dre – Young Black Brother: The Album (1993)
- Blood Of Abraham – Future Profits (1993)
- Ice Cube – Lethal Injection (1993)
- The Conscious Daughters – Ear To The Street (1993)
- Spice 1 – 187 He Wrote (1993)
- Spice 1 – AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare (1994)
- Dred Scott – Breakin’ Combs (1994)
- Thug Life – Vol. 1 (1994)
- Rappin’ 4-Tay – Don’t Fight The Feelin’ (1994)
- Coolio – It Takes A Thief (1994)
- Casual – Fear Itself (1994)
- Paris – Guerrilla Funk (1994)
- Kokane – Funk Upon A Rhyme (1994)
- MC Eiht – We Come Strapped (1994)
- Extra Prolific – Like It Should Be (1994)
- Saafir – Boxcar Sessions (1994)
- B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta – Real Brothas (1995)
- WC & The MAAD Circle – Curb Servin (1995)
- Cypress Hill – III (1995)
- King Tee – IV Life (1995)
- Too short – Cocktails (1995)
- Mack 10 – Mack 10 (1995)
- Spice 1 – 1990-Sick (1995)
- Skeelo – I Wish (1995)
- Aceyalone – All Balls Don’t Bounce (1995)
- Luniz – Operation Stackola (1995)
- The Nonce – World Ultimate (1995)
- The Grouch – Don’t Talk To Me (1995)
- Souls Of Mischief – No Man’s Land (1995)
- Chino XL – Here To Save You All (1996)
- Delinquent Habits – Delinquent Habits (1996)
- Too Short – Gettin’ It (1996)
- Lil 1/2 Dead – Steel On A Mission (1996)
- Mac Mall – Untouchable (1996)
- Insane Poetry – Blacc Plague (1996)
- MC Eiht – Death Threatz (1996)
- MC Ren – The Villain In Black (1996)
- Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather (1996)
- Brotha Lynch Hung – Loaded (1997)
- The Lady Of Rage – Necessary Roughness (1997)
- Del The Funky Homosapien – Future Development (1997)
- Tha Alkaholiks – Likwidation (1997)
- Latyrx – The Album (1997)
- South Central Cartel – All Day Everyday (1997)
- The Psycho Realm – The Psycho Realm (1997)
- Spice 1 – The Black Bossalini (1997)
- Murs – F’real (1997)
- Beat Junkies – The World Famous Beat Junkies Volume 1 (1997)
- Beat Junkies – The World Famous Beat Junkies Volume 2 (1998)
- The Coup – Steal This Album (1998)
- Rasco – Time Waits For No Man (1998)
- DJ Quik – Rhythm-al-ism (1998)
- Ice Cube – War & Peace, Vol 1 (The War Disc) (1998)
- Kurupt – Kuruption! (1998)
- Snoop Dogg – Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (1998)
- E-40 – The Element Of Surprise (1998)
- Cypress Hill – IV (1998)
- Above The Law – Legends (1998)
- The Colored Section — Bomb MC (1998)
- Andre Nickatina – Raven in My Eyes (1998)
- Delinquent Habits – Here Come The Horns (1998)
- WC – The Shadiest One (1998)
- Aceyalone – A Book Of Human Language (1998)
- Mac Dre – Stupid Doo Doo Dumb (1998)
- Ras Kass – Rasassination (1998)
- Ice Cube – War & Peace, Vol. 1 (The War Disc) (1998)
- Ice T – 7th Deadly Sin (1999)
- Snoop Dogg – No Limit Top Dogg (1999)
- Warren G – I Want It All (1999)
- Souls of Mischief – Focus (1999)
- Busdriver – Memoirs Of The Elephant Man (1999)
- Lootpack – Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)
- Andre Nickatina – Tears Of A Clown (1999)
- Mac Dre – Rapper Gone Bad (1999)
- Ice T – 7th Deadly Sin (1999)
- E-40 – Charlie Hustle: Blueprint Of A Self-Made Millionaire (1999)
- Peanut Butter Wolf – My Vinyl Weighs A Ton (1999)
- Foreign Legion – Kidnapper Van: Beats To Rock While Bike-Stealin’ (2000)
- Del The Funky Homosapien – Both Sides Of The Brain (2000)
- Zion I – Mind Over Matter (2000)
- Xzibit – Restless (2000)
- Snoop Dogg – Tha Last Meal (2000)
- Ice Cube – War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) (2000)
- Cali Agents – How The West Was One (2000)
- People Under The Stairs – Question In The Form Of An Answer (2000)
- The Coup – Party Music (2001)
- Declaime – Andsoitisaid (2001)
- Living Legends – Almost Famous (2001)
- Cypress Hill – Stoned Raiders (2001)
- Abstract Rude + Tribe Unique – P.A.I.N.T (2001)
- Aceyalone – Accepted Eclectic (2001)
- Blackalicious Blazing Arrow (2002)
- DJ Quik – Under Tha Influence (2002)
- Jurassic 5 – Power In Numbers (2002)
- DJ Babu – Duck Season Vol. 1 (2002)
- DJ Babu – Duck Season Vol. 2 (2003)
- Ugly Duckling – Taste The Secret (2003)
- People Under The Stairs – …Or Stay Tuned (2003)
- Hieroglyphics – Full Circle (2003)
- Paris – Sonic Jihad (2003)
- Lyrics Born – Later That Day… (2003)
- Haiku d’Etat – Coup De Theatre (2004)
- Living Legends – Creative Differences (2004)
- The Gift Of Gab – 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up (2004)
- Mac Dre – Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics (2004)
- Blue Scholars- Blue Scholars (2004)
- Visionaries – Pangaea (2004)
- Shock G – Fear Of A Mixed Planet (2004)
- Ugly Duckling – Bang For The Buck (2005)
- DJ Quik – Trauma (2005)
- Living Legends – Classic (2005)
- Mac Mall & Mac Dre – Da U.S. Open (2005)
- Blackalicious – The Craft (2005)
- The Jacka – The Jack Artist (2005)
- Quasimoto – The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas (2005)
- Kero One – Windmills Of The Soul (2005)
- Ice Cube – Laugh Now, Cry Later (2006)
- Kurupt – Same Day, Different Sh*t (2006)
- E-40 – My Ghetto Report Card (2006)
- Ice T – Gangsta Rap (2006)
- Chino XL – Poison Pen (2006)
- Blame One – Priest, Thief + Wizard (2006)
- Dilated Peoples – 20/20 (2006)
- Aceyalone – Magnificent City (2006)
- Murs – Murray’s Revenge (2006)
- Blue Sky Black Death – Blue Sky Black Death Presents The Holocaust (2006)
- Snoop Dogg – Tha Blue Carpet Treatment (2006)
- Cut Chemist- The Audience’s Listening (2006)
- Blue Sky Black Death – A Heap of Broken Images (2006)
- Oh No – Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms (2006)
- The Coup – Pick A Bigger Weapon (2006)
- Evidence – The Weatherman LP (2007)
- Blue Sky Black Death – Late Night Cinema (2008)
- Ice Cube – Raw Footage (2008)
- Planet Asia & DJ Muggs – Pain Language (2018)
- Del The Funky Homosapien – Eleventh Hour (2008)
- People Under The Stairs – Carried Away (2009)
- Ugly Duckling – Audacity (2009)
- Souls Of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (2009)
- Strong Arm Steady – In Search Of Stoney Jackson (2009)
- Hopsin – Gazing At The Moonlight (2009)
- Eligh- Grey Crow (2010)
- Ice Cube – I Am The West (2010)
- Rakaa Iriscience – Crown Of Thorns (2010)
- Hopsin – Raw (2010)
- Brotha Lynch Hung – Dinner And A Movie (2010)
- DJ Quik – The Book Of David (2011)
- Evidence – Cats & Dogs (2011)
- People Under The Stairs – Highlighter (2011)
- Ugly Duckling – Moving At Breakneck Speed (2011)
- Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them (2011)
- Brotha Lynch Hung – Coathanga Strangla (2011)
- Pac Div – The DiV (2011)
- Pac Div – GMB (2012)
- Planet Asia – Black Belt Theatre (2012)
- ScHoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions (2012)
- Oh No – Ohnomite (2012)
- Chino XL – Ricanstruction: The Black Rosary (2012)
- Dark Time Sunshine – ANX (2012)
- Styles Of Beyond – Reseda Beach (2012)
- Deltron 3030 – Event 2 (2013)
- Tyler, The Creator -Wolf (2013)
- Hieroglyphics – The Kitchen (2013)
- Hopsin – Knock Madness (2013)
- Brotha Lynch Hung – Mannibalector(2013)
- Dag Savage – E&J (2014)
- Damani Nkosi – Thoughtful King (2014)
- People Under The Stairs – 12 Step Program (2014)
- Semi Hendrix – Breakfast At Banksy’s (2015)
- Dr. Dre – Compton (2015)
- Hopsin – Pound Syndrome (2015)
- Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred (2015)
- Gangrene – You Disgust Me (2015)
- Fashawn – The Ecology (2015)
- Jay Rock – 90059 (2015)
- Sick Jacken – Psychodelic (2016)
- GQ – E14th (2017)
- Snoop Dogg – Neva Left (2017)
- Hopsin – No Shame (2017)
- Pawz One – Pick Your Poison (2017)
- MC Eiht – Which Way Iz West (2017)
- Intellect – Out Of Left Field (2018)
- Planet Asia – Mansa Musa (2018)
- Evidence – Weather Or Not (2018)
- A.J. Munson – Cigarettes & Coffee (2019)
- clipping. – There Existed An Addiction To Blood (2019)
- clipping. – Visions Of Bodies Being Burned (2020)
- Blu & Exile – Miles (2020)