How the West Was Won: The 20 Best Left Coast Albums of All-Time

Let the debate begin! The 20 best West Coast Hip-Hop albums of all-time.

Even with the success of Hip-Hop superstars like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and 2Pac, West Coast Hip-Hop as a whole has often faced an uphill battle.  Whether, in its early days, playing catch up to compete with its East Coast contemporaries and/or then not being embraced once success was achieved, rap music in the west for a long time did not get a fair shake.

Fortunately, times have changed though.  Dr. Dre, a pillar of West Coast Hip-Hop, is the wealthiest person in all of rap.  The anticipation for the follow-up to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city continues to grow by the day.  Loyal members of YG’s fan base protested outside of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles earlier this month to show their disapproval of My Krazy Life being snubbed for a Rap Album of the Year nomination at the upcoming ceremony.  And last but not least, today, January 18, 2015, marks the 10-year anniversary of The Game’s blockbuster debut album, The Documentary.

So out of respect for the past, recognition of the present, and anticipation  for the future of West Coast Hip Hop, has put together a list of it’s 20 best albums.

Hate it or love it, here are instances of when the underdog came out on top.

20). Kizz My Black Azz (1992) by MC Ren: Ren is a an incredible artist.  As one of the rappers for N.W.A and the group’s head writer, he proved to be one of the most skilled guys in the game.  This six song EP proved that he even after the end of the group, he hadn’t lost his stride.  If only the project were longer, because the villain is as ruthless as ever here and it’s great to see a once sometimes under appreciated emcee be in a space where is his talent is truly undeniable.

19). Cypress Hill (1991) by Cypress Hill: With their eponymous first album, Cypress Hill continued to bridge the gap between rock and rap.  Also, their pro-marijuana stance was emphasized in the fact their actual music sounded stoned too, like the tracks themselves inhaled a cloud of smoke before they were all mixed and mastered.

18). 21 & Over (1993) by Tha Alkaholiks: In addition to his work as a rapper, another thing that King Tee deserves credit for is the assembly of the Tha Alkaholiks.  On their debut, 21 & Over, they create ten songs of infectious material that perfectly suits the spirit of good times.  Quality over quantity wins again.

17). ’93 ‘Til Infinity (1993) by Souls of Mischief: A-Plus, Tajai, Opio, and Phesto, created a much needed change of pace for California Hip-Hop at the time of this release.  Their subject material was similar to the stuff on gangsta rap albums, but it was far less menacing and explicit.  The title track may have stalled at No. 72 on the charts back in the day, but its influence looms larger than ever now.  J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T., just to name a few, have rhymed over the instrumental.

16). Above the Rim Soundtrack (1994) by various: In addition to being the soundtrack to a great movie, this is also one of the best compilations to ever emerge out of the urban music scene.  And now thanks to digital music libraries, “Pain,” “Loyal to the Game,” and “Mi Monie Rite” aren’t restricted to just the cassette tape versions like they once were.

15). In a Major Way (1995) by E-40:  To paraphrase a line from “Sprinkle Me”: In a Major Way is hipper than a hippopotamus.

14). Quik is the Name (1991) by DJ Quik: Quik’s career behind the boards is iconic, but the props for his offerings as a solo artist have yet to surpass the buzz he created with this debut.  Like N.W.A, he was from Compton  and took pride in it (“Born and Raised in Compton”).  But he was seemingly determined to be more about chilling than killing.  Mission accomplished.  Almost a quarter of century later, “Tonite” can still get a party going.

13). Born to Mack (1987) by Too Short: This album is as much of an old-school classic as the Cadillac car on its cover.  After a few independent releases, Short Dog used his Jive debut to shine a national spotlight on Oakland’s pimp culture.  When I spoke with him in 2012, he said, “I feel that somewhere along the line I had always intended for it [rap] to be a mixture of funny sh*t, ignorant sh*t, social commentary type sh*t- just a reflection of me.  But somewhere down the line, people liked the dirty stuff a little better.”  Don’t hate the player; hate the game.

12). Power (1988) by Ice-T: Gangsta rap frequently prides itself on “keeping it real,” but the realness of what’s being discussed (sex, drugs, violence) often reaches caricature-like proportions.  Ice-T, however, is a pioneer who had his own brand of reality rap.  Instead of glorify the stories of the streets, he used them as cautionary tales.  This album has some of the best examples.  Clearly, this album has more of a purpose than what LL Cool J claimed in “To Da Break of Dawn.”

11). No One Can Do It Better (1989) by The D.O.C.: With this album, The D.O.C. made himself the Rakim of the West with his exemplary lyricism and flow.  Sadly, a car crash not long after this dropped severely damaged his vocal chords.  He is also yet another example of Dr. Dre’s incredible talent for finding talent.

10). Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992): The production on this album is amazing, and there is no filler on it at all.  Plus, “Passing Me By” is one of the greatest rap songs ever made.

9). The Documentary (2005) by The Game: Game’s alignment with 50 Cent and G-Unit helped make The Documentary a highly-anticipated release.  Fortunately, Game’s skills lived up to the hype and then some and the album revived West Coast Hip-Hop after years on the back burner.  And while his connection with Fif was short lived, the music they made together is timeless.  “I take all the credit for putting the West back on the map / If you ain’t feeling that, guess I’m Guerrilla Black.”

8). Bow Down (1996) by Westside Connection: The title track for this release is a metaphor for the entire project.  Three skilled emcees asserting their dominance atop heavy bass and synths.  Additionally, the sampling of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and the borrowing of the melody to The Beatles’ “A Little Help From my Friends” on two other respective tracks make the “Worldwide Westside” that’s laid out in the album intro sound very appealing.

7). good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012) by Kendrick Lamar:  On an album where Kendrick rapped over a beat CD in “Backseat Freestyle,” collaborated with MC Eiht on “m.A.A.d city,”and had a 12-minute epic with “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” it’s clear the then 25-year old was wise beyond his years.  This was a narrative album for the ages which solidified his spot as one of the best emcees of his generation.

6). The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996) by 2Pac: The last album that 2Pac recorded in his lifetime, under the name Makaveli, is his most powerful collection of songs.  The passion in the delivery of his words, for better or for worse, is undeniable.  “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me / Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to getting p***y.”  It’s the realest s**t he ever wrote.

5). Death Certificate (1991) by Ice Cube: In ’91, Cube put out one of the best albums of his entire career.  In just over an hour, among other things, he foresaw the L.A. riots as a result mounting tensions (“Black Korea”), spoke on the plight of the underprivileged (“A Bird in the Hand”), and put a mirror up to his own community (“Us”).  The balance between hardcore and conscious rap that Ice Cube achieved here was flawless and remains unmatched to this day.

4). All Eyez on Me (1996) by 2Pac: Mr. Shakur’s first Death Row release doesn’t just epitomize the “Thug Life” tattoo on his stomach, but it also represents West Coast rap  to the fullest in terms of sight, sound, and style.  This is one of only seven rap albums that have gone diamond.  After just one listen to it, it’s easy to hear why.

3). Doggystyle (1993) by Snoop Doggy Dogg: While there were certainly gangsta rap elements to this album, Snoop wasn’t always angry like so many of his contemporaries.  And because of that, it broadened Doggystyle’s audience.  Instead of the listener feeling like they were along for the ride on a drive-by shooting, it was if they were attendees at the coolest house party in the neighborhood.

2). Straight Outta Compton (1988) by N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton forever changed the look and sound of not just Hip-Hop, but all of popular music.  The sequencing of the 13-tracks could be better in spots.  However, that’s just a minor misstep when compared to how millions of people started rooting for the bad guys because of these “n****z with attitude.”

1). The Chronic (1992) by Dr. Dre: Dr. Dre ushered in G-Funk with N.W.A (“Alwayz Into Somethin’”), but it wasn’t until his solo debut that he perfected it.  The way in which he fused those soundscapes, Snoop’s flow, and the aggression of inner-city California all together created a masterpiece.  Hardcore Hip-Hop never sounded so clean.

What’s your favorite West Coast album?  Please let us know in the comments section!