The 30 best G-Funk tracks of all time
Taking inspiration from the synthesizer-driven funk of George Clinton, G-Funk brought an electrifying new sound to gangster rap, welding squealing leads and squelching basses to West Coast street stories. Max Bell and Torii MacAdams pick the sub-genre’s defining tracks, from Snoop Dogg’s ubiquitous ‘Gin And Juice’ to DJ Quik’s ‘Tonite’ and beyond.
G-Funk was inevitable. The unrepentant militancy of groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A. could only sustain itself and remain engaging for rap fans for so long. The technically innovative rhymes of Rakim and Big Daddy Kane were only fresh until the arrival of imitators. You could only sample James Brown so many times. In the racial and socio-economic tumult of Southern California, G-Funk helped continue to give a voice to beleaguered communities. It was groovy, pissed off, jocular, lurid and as complex as the neighborhoods which birthed it.
The bouncing, upbeat records of funk icons such as Parliament and Zapp, which had played in Los Angeles roller-rinks in decades past, were sampled by producers like Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Warren G, and Battlecat and backed by bass built to test the strength of your car’s rearview mirror. Rappers prioritized partying over politics, but they never lost sight of the latter. G-Funk soundtracked house parties, barbecues and Sunday cruises as much as it did rallies. Of course, some of the music fueled Los Angeles’s unending gang war; glinting synths, sub-rattling bass lines, and warm, melodic instrumentals were often paired with narratives which in reality were scored by gunshots, screams, and sirens. It’s perhaps these juxtapositions and contradictions that make the sub-genre so compelling.
Given the brevity of this list and the desire for diversity, we had one central rule: one song per album. The result is that, while there are glaring omissions – we could have easily presented a list of just DJ Quik tracks – there’s more room for acts that have been unfairly glossed over. Additionally, there are artists whose absences will undoubtedly incite rage, but it’s worth noting that G-Funk, a derivation of gangster rap, is essentially a sub-sub-genre. There are West Coast legends who didn’t partake: 2Pac, a rapper without a home, made half of a G-Funk album under the bloodyminded glare of Suge Knight, and Cypress Hill eschewed G-Funk almost entirely, as did MC Eiht. Still, if you want to if you want to burp invective in the comment section, or on Twitter, we understand.
30. Yo-Yo (feat. Ice Cube)
‘Bonnie & Clyde Theme’
When Ice Cube wanted to call Yo-Yo a “bitch” on ‘The Bonnie & Clyde Theme’, she firmly and unequivocally refused. Although Yo-Yo’s strong feminist bent was somewhat rare in Los Angeles in the early ‘90s (the rap scene nurtured misogyny like it was an essential facet of jheri curl maintenance), it garnered her more regional hits than any other woman of her era. Unlike the sunny day cookout positivity of her breakout ‘You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo’, ‘Bonnie & Clyde Theme’ is a foul-mouthed G-Funk track that indulges in a time-honored storytelling trope: romance-fueled robbery and murder.
The Rodney King riots are the first event mentioned when discussing Los Angeles circa 1992, and rightfully so. Each year, as the injustices that ignited the rebellion persist, local newspapers re-examine the rubble. Yet little is said of the Watts gang truce, which occurred the day before the King verdict and its subsequent fallout. Kam, whom many know for his appearance on DJ Pooh’s Ice Cube diss record, ‘Whoop Whoop’, articulates all of this in ‘Peace Treaty’.
Over thundering drums and a sample of G-Funk staple ‘Atomic Dog’, Kam vividly articulates the particulars: the graffiti signaling the armistice, the peace gang members upheld throughout the riots, the OGs so overjoyed that they broke out video cameras to document the sit-down between prominent members on both sides of the bandana. At a time when nearly 60% of LA homicides are gang-related, ‘Peace Treaty’ – and everything it details – merits perennial celebration.
28. Warren G (feat. Jah-Skillz)
‘Super Soul Sis’
(Violator Records, 1994)
Despite the stated rule of “one song-per-album”, ‘Super Soul Sis’ receives a pass. Regulate… G Funk Era is, by definition, a Warren G album, but he used the project to highlight his stable of artists and occasionally relinquished rapping duties. ‘Super Soul Sis’, on which Jah Skillz is the sole vocalist, should have launched her career – she’s excellent, unfurling high-pitched couplets over a flip of One Way’s ‘Don’t Stop (Ever Loving Me)’. Instead, the song (and the album) affirmed Warren G’s brilliance: the maestro molded his lightly-regarded artists into a masterful G-Funk symphony.
27. The Lady of Rage
(Death Row, 1994)
The only female rapper featured on both The Chronic and Doggystyle, Lady of Rage has never received her proper due as a trailblazer. The East Coast had already seen a proliferation of female rappers (Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa) in the male-dominant genre, but apart from Yo-Yo, the West Coast was noticeably bereft. The irony that Rage hails from Farmville, Virginia was lost on Dr. Dre and all who heard her shout out her hometown on her breakout single, ‘Afro Puffs’.
Appearing on 1994’s Above the Rim soundtrack, the track is an opening salvo of the highest order. With a booming delivery, sharp assertions of mic supremacy and varied cadences, Rage deftly rides a menacing Dre beat that’s punctuated by Zapp synth riffs. The track ends with Snoop telling other women, though not all rappers, to “back down and bow down”. At the time, earning the respect of her peers was far closer than most women mentioned in the G-Funk canon came to gender equality. The skills and mentality necessary to earn that distinction deserve celebration.
(Tommy Boy, 1994)
The twin successes of Coolio’s melodramatic ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ and Weird Al Yankovic’s subsequent parody ‘Amish Paradise’ cast a near-absurd pallor over the rapper’s career. But, before the Dangerous Minds soundtrack single became one of the world’s biggest rap songs to-date back in 1995, Coolio had already cemented his place in the G-Funk canon with ‘Fantastic Voyage’.
Compared with his Compton peers, the Medusa-braided rapper was a ray of sunshine: expedition guidelines for his fantastic voyage advise packing a gat with an extra clip. No set trippin’, naturally. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ helped launch a career that’d include a Grammy win, the theme for Nickelodeon’s Kenan & Kel, and a song about PornHub.
25. Vontel (feat. Roger Troutman & Na-Na)
(Fo Life Records, 1998)
We know very little about Vontel, the Arizonan behind what is arguably G-Funk’s most overlooked gem, 1998’s Vision of a Dream. The important thing to note about the album, which may or may not have been self-released via the short-lived Fo Life Records, is that it features top-tier production from West Coast beatmason Battlecat and several appearances from G-Funk deity Roger Troutman.
On ‘Say Playa’, both Battlecat and Troutman bolster Vontel’s smooth, laid-back tales of mack proficiency. Battlecat’s suite bounces to the pulse of rubbery bass and crisp percussion and as usual, Troutman’s talkbox warbling gives the song an added warmth. Vontel only released one single after Vision of a Dream, and it’s easy to see why. When you’ve made an album’s worth of songs like ‘Say Playa’ without major label backing, your rap fantasy has already been realized.
24. Above the Law
(Ruthless Records, 1994)
There’s some murkiness surrounding the creation of G-Funk. The accepted story is that Dr. Dre, aided his stepbrother, uncredited sample hound Warren G, created it. However, Above the Law’s Cold 187um claims that it’s he, not Dre, who created the bouncing synth sounds essential to G-Funk, and that a young Warren Griffin slept on his floor.
It’s plausible – Above the Law’s debut, Livin’ Like Hustlers, was co-produced by Cold 187um and Dr. Dre, although objectively apportioning responsibility for the instrumentals is probably impossible. The responsibility for ‘Black Superman’ however is less contentious; after Dre left Ruthless Records, Cold 187um took control of the group’s production. The track itself is a paean to a blunt-chomping anti-hero too explicit for DC Comics.
23. Penthouse Players Clique (feat. AMG, DJ Quik & Eazy-E)
‘Trust No Bitch’
(Ruthless Records, 1992)
In an alternate universe, Eazy-E signed DJ Quik to his Ruthless imprint. In our universe, Profile wouldn’t let Quik out of his contract. In both, Quik still produced the singles from Penthouse Players Clique’s only album, 1992’s Paid the Cost. Among the three singles, ‘Trust No Bitch’, with the highest ratio of “bitches”-per-minute, is the standout.
Employing the writhing synths of the Ohio Players’ ‘Funky Worm’, Quik does his best G-Funk rendition of the breakbeat-heavy production style featured on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique – he told Vibe as much.
Predictably, Quik and Eazy steal the show, their combined charisma and chauvinism overshadowing both AMG and PPC’s very own Playa Hamm. You don’t have to listen to the song to glean its message, but it’s interesting to hear the operative derogative occasionally applied to both genders. While the other half of PPC, Tweed Cadillac, doesn’t make an appearance, it’s fair to assume his would-be verse can be distilled to three choice words. Though fundamentally sound rappers, PPC’s short-lived career was predictably short on nuance.
22. Kurupt (feat. Daz Dillinger)
‘Who Ride Wit Us’
(Antra Records, 2000)
For fervent West Coast rap fans, the billing of “Kurupt featuring Daz Dillinger” might seem unusual. During the heyday of Death Row Records, the two were almost inseparable; Snoop Dogg ceded them (and Rage) an entire song on Doggystyle (‘For All My Niggaz & Bitchez’), and the duo formed Tha Dogg Pound shortly thereafter. Dogg Food, their debut, was led by the lustful, silken ‘Let’s Play House’ and ‘New York, New York’, an obtuse diss record that doesn’t mention a single rapper by name.
The potent combination of Daz’s production and Kurupt’s smooth, self-assured rapping wasn’t enough to stop the collapse of Death Row. Come 1999, Daz and Kurupt were separate, solo entities. Thankfully, this didn’t stop them from releasing a hit single: the Fredwreck-produced ‘Who Ride Wit Us’, was, and remains, a mainstay of Los Angeles rap radio.
‘Round & Round’
(Def Jam, 1995)
‘Round & Round’ is one of the most inoffensive songs on this list. Play it at an all-ages barbecue and only parents wholly devoid of cool would balk. The Long Beach duo of Trip Locc and Wayniac even performed ‘Round & Round’ (the radio edit, we assume) on ‘90s Nickelodeon staple All That. The occasional expletives notwithstanding, Warren G’s proteges argue for exposure, shout out their hometown and maintain allegiances to their clique with endearing affability.
Of course, it’s Warren G’s shimmering keys and woozy bassline and the breezy vocals of Nanci Fletcher – one G-Funk’s unsung heroes – that elevates the Twinz’s relatively boilerplate rhymes to canonical stature. Like a significant portion of the G-Funk canon, ‘Round & Round’ is best enjoyed, not analyzed.
20. WC And The Maad Circle
(London Records, 1995)
When assembling this list, there was some disagreement about which track from WC and the Maad Circle’s wildly underrated Curb Servin’ was more deserving: ‘West Up’ or the titular ‘Curb Servin’’.’West Up’, with its instantly recognizable George Duke sample, won out. The trio of WC, Ice Cube, and Mack 10 had previously joined forces to diss Common on ‘Westside Slaughterhouse’, and ‘West Up’ served as both a reunion and a preview of things to come. After the dissolution of WC and the Maad Circle (former members include Sir Jinx and Coolio), WC, the group’s undisputed leader, progenitor of the beard-braid and first ballot C-Walk Hall of Famer, formed Westside Connection with his once-and-future co-conspirators.
19. King Tee
Car culture is an intrinsic part of Los Angeles. In a city fractured by sprawling freeways, one where driving five miles can take you fifteen minutes or fifty, this is obvious. And, if you’re going to spend a lot of time in your car, why not trick it out? King Tee’s ‘Dippin (Remix)’ is an ode to cruising in vibrantly-colored, gravity-defying lowriders with shimmering wire rims. Initially pioneered by Mexican-Americans living in East LA, the hydraulic art pieces were eventually adopted by Angelenos of every ilk and popularized by G-Funk.
Here, Tee begins a hot Sunday by prepping his ride for its procession from Compton to the beach. The route is carefully planned, monitored for traffic, rival gangs, and law enforcement. Though Tee mentions the potential for violence as he drives, all ends well by the water. When the car is in motion, cruising affords him an escape from what could go awry at any given stoplight. It’s a cognitive balancing act that, like a three wheel turn, takes time to perfect.
(Outburst Records, 1993)
In 1992, leaders of the Bloods and Crips gathered at the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts to broker a ceasefire. The goals were simple: to foster a sense of unity and to stop young black men from killing each other. The pact, unfortunately overshadowed by the Rodney King verdict the following day, begat a reduction in gang violence and, unintentionally, Bloods & Crips, a multitudinous, shifting group of gangbangers clad in both blue and red. Some of those assembled for the album Bangin’ On Wax would go on to have notable careers in rap. DJ Battlecat, Tweedy Bird Loc (see ‘Fu’k the South Bronx’, a particularly strong riposte in the East-West beef), Big Wy, and Domino all emerged from the truce legitimized artists.
When Genuine Draft, a Rolling 20s Crip, changed his name to Domino, a change of style was in order, too. Gone was hard-hitting gangster rap, replaced by a hyper-melodic flow that split the difference between Montell Jordan and Snoop Doggy Dogg. ‘Getto Jam’, produced by Battlecat, is ‘This Is How We Do It’ for the Sunday lowriding set. Tales of lipstick lips ‘n dicks sound more innocent when they’re sung.
17. Nate Dogg (feat. Warren G)
‘Nobody Does It Better’
(Breakaway Entertainment, 1998)
Nate Dogg was G-Funk’s glue and, as far as hooks are concerned, the GOAT. If you look at his run between 1995 and 2000 (the unofficial end of the G-Funk era), no one appeared on more significant West Coast (or G-Funk) rap songs and albums. Listing them is futile – name one and he’s on it – and would take up too much space. His resonant baritone somehow both softened and accentuated his (and his peers’) coarser lyrics.
As is evidenced by this list – Nate Dogg appears as a featured artist five times – collaboration was his métier. ‘Nobody Does It Better’ is the abridged tale of how he got to his solo debut, 1998’s G-Funk Classics, Vol. 1-2. While Nate dominates the track, it’s his chemistry with Warren G that serves as the jumping off point. For him, their back-and-forth prompts poignant reminiscence (“Do you remember back on the east side?”) and hardened braggadocio.
Here, perhaps more than on any other song, you hear his full range. At its best, his voice was somewhere between gospel and the blues, between rapture and despair. It was the glimmer of the Cali sun and the glint at the bottom of the Henny bottle. Imitators crop up often, but nobody has filled the void since his passing in 2011. Nobody ever will.
16. Mista Grimm
Only three Mista Grimm songs were ever released for public consumption. His first, ‘Indo Smoke’, ended up on the Poetic Justice soundtrack, his second, ‘Situation: Grimm’, on the Higher Learning soundtrack, and the third, ‘Steady Dippin’’, supposedly got his album shelved. This single – easily Grimm’s best in an uncrowded field – is both an absolute classic and a puzzlingly brief, premature peak for the West Covina rapper.
The story starts with Warren G: After uncredited appearances on The Chronic and being jilted by the Death Row camp, G was back living on his sister’s floor and making beats. A chance meeting with Poetic Justice director John Singleton and A&R Paul Stewart landed ‘Indo Smoke’ on the film’s soundtrack. Not only was it Mista Grimm’s first single, but Warren G’s, too, who produced, rapped, and ghostwrote Grimm’s verses. The two had an unspecified falling out shortly thereafter; Warren G became a legend, Grimm became a trivia answer.
15. The Dove Shack
‘Summertime in the LBC’
(Def Jam, 1995)
Three groups with Long Beach ties have forever overshadowed The Dove Shack: Tha Dogg Pound, Tha Eastsidaz, and 213. In reality, Dove Shack’s debut, This is the Shack is the best of the bunch. Arguably the most talented of Warren G’s proteges (see: The Twinz and Jah Skillz), the trio of C-Knight, Bo-Roc, and 2Scoops made a markedly cohesive album that encapsulated the complexities of Long Beach. Bolstered by warm, slowed production and Bo-Roc’s soulful crooning, ‘Summertime in the LBC’ is a celebration of that life on one hot summer day.
Every detail of King’s Park is vividly rendered: lowriders and Wrangler Jeeps, water balloon fights, girls in Daisy Dukes, ribs smothered with barbecue sauce and the long line for free lunch. The latter, though evidence of the LBC’s still-prevalent socioeconomic disparity, is somehow an equally joyous occasion. It’s the kind of perspective we all hope to achieve in our everyday lives, and one of the many reasons ‘Summertime in the LBC’ is eternal.
14. Shade Sheist (feat. Nate Dogg & Kurupt)
‘Where I Wanna Be’
(London Records, 2000)
‘Where I Wanna Be’ made Shade Sheist a star in Los Angeles, then it ruined his career. The song itself is less notable for Sheist’s presence than it is for its guests – Kurupt and the late Nate Dogg, whose verse and chorus over a Toto sample were some of his finest work. ‘Where I Wanna Be’ effectively belongs to the crooner, whose voice glimmers like orange sunbeams on the filthy Port of Long Beach.
Unfortunately for Shade Sheist, the making of, and publicity for, ‘Where I Wanna Be’ was more fraught than it should have been. Chuck Phillips, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter, wrote that Sheist’s executive producer, Damion “Damizza” Young, doubled as a programming executive at Power 106, Los Angeles’ most popular rap station. The label Sheist was signed to, Baby Ree Entertainment, was owned by Emmis Communications, who also owned Power 106. Perhaps most damningly, Phillips reported that the station was playing Sheist’s music at a rate that both far outstripped other stations outside Los Angeles and the rapper’s own weak record sales. With ‘Where I Wanna Be’, Shade Sheist opened the Ark of the Covenant directly in front of his own face and his career never recovered.
13. Tha Dogg Pound
‘Let’s Play House’
(Death Row, 1995)
In 1995, Daz Dillinger had a fundamental misunderstanding of marital sexual dynamics. Newlyweds notwithstanding, few married couples pelvic slide on the living room floor. If they do, ideally the kids aren’t home and said floor is well-carpeted. But that adolescent enthusiasm (read: horniness) is what makes ‘Let’s Play House’ a classic. Who among us hasn’t made or received the “my parents aren’t home” call (or text)? Kurupt might’ve used Daz’s smooth, languid instrumental to play brothel, but the sentiment remains the same. And Nate Dogg, though his contribution is minimal, does his best to make “house” sound like a howl, like a dog(g) just looking for a, well, you know.
12. Tha Eastsidaz
Tha Eastsidaz of ‘G’d Up’ weren’t the original Eastsidaz, but a second attempt by Snoop Dogg to mastermind a G-Funk group. In place of former members Crooked I and Lil’ C-Style, Tha Doggfather substituted Long Beach’s Tray Deee and Goldie Loc, part-time collaborators from his period on No Limit. Producer DJ Battlecat was drafted in to handle the majority of the band’s self-titled album.
Few figures in West Coast rap have a discography as impressive as Battlecat’s. The South Central producer was old enough to catch the tail end of the electro scene, releasing a single, ‘DJ-N-Effect’, on Macola in 1988. Electro was an immense influence on gangster rap – many of the characters simply traded frilly shirts for Raiders jackets and recycled their Zapp vinyl for samples instead of DJ sets.
On ‘G’d Up’, Goldie Loc rhymes, “It’s goin down, motherfuckers, like that / Sound like Battlecat been upstairs with Zapp.” The influence of the Ohio electro-funk act on Battlecat’s production is clear: his instrumentals thump and draw color from the supposedly cold synths that East Coasters turned their noses up at.
11. Suga Free
‘Why U Bullshittin’?’
There’s no conceivable way to justify the sexual politics of a Suga Free song. ‘Why U Bullshitin’’ is no exception. At best, women are respected and unharmed. At worst, women are called bitches or hoes, smacked, and exploited for the money made from selling their flesh. You’ll find this blatant, sometimes violent sexism in varying degrees throughout G-Funk history, both on record and off (see the incident between Dr. Dre and Dee Barnes).
The line between reality and Mack mythos was often blurred, but Free was Pomona’s Iceberg Slim. You believe him. His art, apart from chronicling the world’s oldest profession, was seamlessly submerging illicit activity in lush DJ Quik suites, cloaking the heinous in loquacious rhythms, ribald jokes (“She used to work down there at the Sperm Bank / See, she got fired for drinkin’ on the job”) and eloquent self-appraisals (“Perm silkier than Charlotte’s web, waves deep as Redondo beach”). Backed by Quik’s sitar funk, Free made regressive sexual politics palatable. Almost.
10. DJ Quik
‘Dollaz + Sense’
In the half-decade battle between DJ Quik and MC Eiht, ‘Dollaz + Sense’ was the shocking coup de grace. During the two year hiatus between Quik’s 1992 album Way 2 Fonky and the Murder Was The Case soundtrack, Eiht turned a rivalry that began with a locally distributed mixtape (Quik’s The Red Tape) into a public flogging. While Quik was producing and struggling with his label, Profile Records, Eiht released three separate disses on Compton’s Most Wanted’s Music To Driveby and ‘Def Wish III’ the third in a string of songs directed at Quik, on his own We Come Strapped.
In October 1994, Quik placed ‘Dollaz + Sense’ on Death Row’s soundtrack for Murder Was The Case, a short film/vanity project starring Snoop Dogg. It’s glorious, and of the most brutal, mean-spirited songs ever recorded. In reference to Eiht’s turn in Menace II Society, Quik calls his rival a “movie script killer”; claims Eiht ran away from him at the airport and changed his pager number to avoid him; says he’s going to piss in Eiht’s face before he cums in his mouth; and, for the final twist of the knife, rapped, “Givin’ your set a bad name wit your misspelled name / E-I-H-T, now should I continue? / Yeah you left out the G cause the G ain’t in you.” Quik told Complex’s David Drake, “In hindsight, I was really angry at that point. I started to get a little bit bitter.” No shit.
9. Ice Cube
(Priority Records, 1991)
“I’ll never have dinner with the president.” This is arguably the most damning diss on Ice Cube’s 1991 N.W.A./Ruthless Records carpet-bombing. That’s why Cube chants it three times. Sitting down with the president, let alone Reagan acolyte George Bush Sr., was antithetical to Eazy-E and N.W.A.’s anti-government, anti-establishment ethos.
That said, every other molotov lobbed at his former compatriots is a close second. Cube attacks Eazy-E’s size, Dre’s skills as a rapper, and, most importantly, the financial quagmire with the group’s manager Jerry Heller. As even white people in the midwest who accidentally bought tickets to Straight Outta Compton know, Cube was aware that Jerry Heller had been stealing from the group. This remained a sensitive issue after Cube acrimoniously decamped, and ‘No Vaseline’ undoubtedly aided Dre’s eventual decision to leave Ruthless. Cube’s incessant homophobic and racist epithets hurt, but little hurts more than being swindled by a supposed friend.
8. DJ Quik
As DJ Quik explained to the LA Leakers for The Audio Biography of David, ‘Tonite’ was his coming-of-age record. “This record was when I said, I’m an adult, and it’s great to be an adult. I’m taking charge of my life, and I’m grown now […] I was only fuckin’ 19 […] This record will never play out because every day, around the world, there’s somebody turning 19, somebody realizing that they’re an adult.”
This duality – a suddenly rich 19-year-old operating in an adult world – is what makes ‘Tonite’ great. The song captured both Quik’s nascent genius and his callowness; the beginning of adulthood as he saw it was having the financial independence to soak in the bath and spray on cologne before drinking Olde English. Similarly, Quik Is The Name, which features ‘Tonite’, functions as something of a midpoint: aggressive, youthful gangster rap shares space with the lush, refined G-Funk that’d come to define Quik. He entered adulthood a teenager smelling of Xeryus cologne, clutching a 40, eager to prove his mettle.
7. Eazy E
‘Real Muthaphukckin G’s’
(Ruthless Records, 1993)
Eazy-E is the best rapper who never should’ve been. He didn’t write his lyrics, and he had significant difficulty performing those written for him. It was his style, charisma and voice that accounted for what should’ve been career-damning deficiencies.
So it goes that Eazy didn’t write his Billboard-charting Dr. Dre diss, ‘Real Muthaphuckkin’ G’s’ (also known as ‘Real Compton City G’s’). Instead, he calmly regaled Dresta with tales of Dre’s flirtation with eyeliner pre-N.W.A., showed him checks from The Chronic album sales (Eazy was purportedly paid 25 to 50 cents per album), riffed on Snoop’s wiry frame, and asked him to write. Eazy wasn’t fazed by ‘Dre Day’, but he knew controversy sold records.
The consummate businessman, he also used Rhythm D’s sinister synths and booming drums to spotlight new Ruthless signees, B.G. Knocc Out and the aforementioned Dresta, both of whom had nothing to do with the feud. Eazy wouldn’t be around to revel in the success of the siblings’ debut. Fortunately, he was able to patch things up with Dre and Snoop before he passed.
6. Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, & Kurupt)
‘The Next Episode’
Few sounds in rap are as recognizable as the brassy, bursting sample of David McCallum and David Axelrod’s ‘The Edge’ that opens ‘The Next Episode’. It’s a fanfare for uncommon men; a tremendous, loud, throbbing coronation for a G-Funk royal court. And, although the song technically features Kurupt (who has a single line) and Nate Dogg, they’re very much footmen to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. 2001 was the triumphant, almost poetic, reunion of the West Coast’s preeminent duo: the lithe, towering rapper whose flow tip-toed from line to line like Ben Vereen, and the scheming, deep-voiced producer whose samples defined G-Funk.
2001 bookended a tumultuous period for Dr. Dre’s career. In the seven years between albums, Dre had left Death Row, released ‘Been There, Done That’, a jiggy-era dud from a compilation that flopped (Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath); been prevented by Suge Knight from working with former accomplice Snoop Doggy Dogg (whose own second album, Tha Doggfather, had a lukewarm reception) and seemed to have lost his feel for a region he grew up in and a genre that he’d dominated both as a member of N.W.A. and as a solo artist.
But what could have been the pathetic, final flailing of an ex-superstar was a masterpiece. Dre, just as he had on The Chronic, knew who to enlist, how to utilize them, and how to ensure his own narrative primacy.
5. Warren G (feat. Nate Dogg)
(Death Row, 1994)
‘Regulate’ was so many things: affirmation for a then broke Warren G, who’d pulled samples for his stepbrother, Dr. Dre, on The Chronic and received no royalties and a snub from Death Row; the coronation of the late Nate Dogg as the West Coast’s preeminent rap crooner; and the G-Funk gateway drug for casual rap fans who might’ve initially felt Dre, Snoop, and Cube were too raw.
Originally appearing on the Above the Rim soundtrack, ‘Regulate’ doubled as the lead single for G’s 1994 Def Jam debut, Regulate…G Funk Era, which received two Grammy nominations and went triple-platinum by 1995. While the album is not without its merits (‘This DJ’, ‘This is the Shack’), ‘Regulate’ remains the best distillation of Warren G’s singular brand of G-Funk, one marked by lush chords, strings, and, of course, melody. The beat is as funky and dynamic as its source material (Michael McDonald’s ‘I Keep Forgettin’’), a veritable masterclass in the art of sampling.
Warren’s mellow rapping and Nate Dogg’s inimitable voice fortify the song’s muted tenor. In some places, Nate verges on rapping; in others, his melodic delivery almost sounds angelic. Yet both men retain their masculinity and bravado.
To this day, ‘Regulate’ is one of the most iconic narratives in rap history. In short, Warren G is jumped at a dice game, Nate Dogg saves him by exercising his Second Amendment rights, and all ends well at the Eastside Motel. In the hands of another duo, a song recounting such a events would be filled with punishing percussion and aggressive avowals of “being hard”. Warren and Nate proved that the “g” in G-Funk was sometimes best left uncapitalized.
4. Ice Cube
‘It Was a Good Day’
The same man who shouted “fuck the police” with an oomph that struck fear in the hearts of suburban babbittry from Simi Valley to San Diego has played a police officer in four separate films. The same man who made ‘Black Korea’ made ‘It Was A Good Day’. Ice Cube is a man of contradiction. His easy smile and rounded, welcoming features make him the perfect silver screen father, permanently mid-switch from lolling overconfidence to hangdog disbeliever and vice versa. His forked tongue and venomous fangs made him rap’s arch-Predator, whose street-savvy realpolitik alienated and delighted, depending on whether or not you or your demographic were on the receiving end of his imprecations.
‘It Was A Good Day’ is Cube at his most family-friendly. Unlike The Bomb Squad’s barely-contained, chaotic collages, DJ Pooh’s sample of the Isley Brothers is unhurried, uncomplicated, supremely smooth. It’s fitting – as the title suggests, ‘It Was A Good Day’ is about Cube having a really fuckin’ good day. His breakfast, adhering to the laws of Islam, which he’d then recently adopted, is free of pork. He wins at the peanut butter and jelly of low-skill vices, dominoes and dice, the Lakers beat the SuperSonics, and most importantly, none of the homies got killed. In true Cube fashion, the good times couldn’t last – the next song on The Predator is about the Rodney King beating.
3. 2Pac (feat. Dr. Dre)
(Death Row, 1995)
It should go without saying that ‘California Love’ is the unofficial state song of The Golden State. From Oakland to Inglewood to San Diego, everyone and their ever-sauced auntie knows at least one lyric. It’s been played on radio stations and in clubs up and down the coast with unflagging frequency since ‘95. I don’t know anyone, however, who can even hum a note of 1913’s state song ‘I Love You, California’.
The reasons for the ubiquity of ‘California Love’ are innumerable. There’s the souped-up Joe Cocker sample (first used by Ultramagnetic MCs), which sounds like it was banged out on the ivories and dusty floorboards of a Twilight Zone saloon. Strip the track of its vocals and you can imagine it playing as a drifter unloads on the corrupt sheriff in an alternate universe. There’s the assistance of the late Roger Troutman, who makes noises with the talkbox that should be illegal. If you’re from here, you know that each “baby” automatically releases an undetermined amount of serotonin; the robotic scatting and warbling warms your body like rays from the unrelenting sun. There’s the (first) music video; the Mad Max meets Burning Man dystopia brought to you via Hype Williams and a once-in-a-lifetime budget. There’s the fact that Dr. Dre may have never rapped better in his life.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s 2Pac, fresh from Clinton Correctional courtesy of a Faustian bargain with Suge Knight (Pac ostensibly owed Suge and Death Row three albums in exchange for his $1.4 million freedom). Overjoyed to be out and attending a party a Dre’s Calabasas Xanadu, Pac couldn’t stop himself from recording. After hearing Dre’s beat, he laid down the ode to his adopted home (2Pac had spent the majority of his short life on the East Coast) in less than 20 minutes.
While each element is inextricable, the latter feels especially poignant. Together, Dre and Pac captured a moment. They were young, free, and rich men at the height of their respective creative powers, surrounded by a bevy of beautiful, willing women. They didn’t have to be in California to know how to party, but it didn’t hurt.
2. Snoop Doggy Dogg
‘Gin And Juice’
(Death Row, 1993)
N.W.A. changed West Coast rap. Gangster rap was in, electro was out, mothballed and purposefully hidden, lest anyone discover their favorite rappers wore blindingly reflective suits. Then a young, pointy-faced jailbird, shaped like a railroad spike with the attitude to match, met Dr. Dre and West Coast rap changed again. George Clinton’s P-funk scatting, the synthesized whine of the Ohio Players’ ‘Funky Worm’, and the talkboxed intonations of Roger Troutman were in, and, after Dre’s abdication from the group, N.W.A. was out.
Surely, when Warren G introduced his childhood pal Calvin to his step-brother Andre, the cosmos must have given us a sign – a comet blazing through the light-polluted Los Angeles night sky, a house-sized meteorite bowing trees backward in the Siberian tundra, the moon appearing, for the briefest second, a Pendleton plaid. Something. A song for the Deep Cover soundtrack begat Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which had Snoop’s pawprints on each track, and The Chronic begat Doggystyle, solely produced by Dr. Dre.
No G-Funk song – save possibly ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’ – has borne witness to more youthful mischief and misadventure, more petty crime, and more gin-based mixed drinks than ‘Gin And Juice’. It’s blatantly, blithely disrespectful to those with precious sensibilities. It’s a bacchanalia of alcohol, weed and casual sex. It’s perfect.
1. Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg)
‘Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang’
‘Nuthin But a ‘G Thang’ was the calm after the storm. As LA recovered from the ‘92 riots (and all that had incited them), and gang members did their best to uphold their pre-riot truce, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg prescribed the sativa-coated analgesic.
Beaten only by Snow’s ‘Informer’ (yes, really) the first single from The Chronic reached number two on Billboard’s Hot 100. The culmination of all the time Dre spent behind the boards for N.W.A., the beat is “perfection perfected,” as Snoop raps. Twenty-three years after the fact, superlatives feel forced. You know the strings and synths, the bass and percussion. You know the feeling of hearing that first metallic rattle, the one that almost sounds like the recoil of spring doorstop. It’s the same one that continues when Snoop is at the door, making the banal act of counting to four somehow feel soothing and subversive.
In reality, there’s nothing all that profound said in ‘Nuthin But a ‘G Thang’. Snoop advocates safe sex and the consumption of “some of that funky stuff”; Dre advises novice smokers against choking and continues the gangster myth-making that Eazy-E and Ice Cube would challenge, if not undo. Yet, every line is indelible, each word impeccably placed. Together, Dre and Snoop made the creation of G-Funk seem as easy as it was fun and relaxing. It’s no wonder so many rappers tried to do the same, and no wonder so few came close.
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