More than anything else, gangsta rap is an attitude. It’s an anti-authority, anti-police, and pro-hustler style of music that reflects the lifestyles of the inner-city youth. Musically, gangsta rap pairs aggressive & violent lyrics with heavy bass and in-your-face beats that make a license plate rattle. Lyrically, the themes are straight from the streets: drugs, violence, gang affiliations, sex, & the outlaw lifestyle. It romanticizes the outlaw lifestyle, and has become one of the most popular styles of hip hop today.
Heavy bass, crisp snares, & high pitched melodies. Think “Rest in Piss” by Brotha Lynch Hung or “Still D.R.E” by Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg.
The History of Gangsta Rap Music
The history of hip-hop on the West Coast runs deep! There are several distinct periods in West Coast hip-hop, starting in the 1960’s and continuing today. Like many of the greatest movements in culture, its roots can be traced back to the Watts riots of 1965. A primarily black community near Compton and Los Angeles, Watts was a working class town that suffered from systemic & extreme poverty. As the economic & social situation got worse & wore for Watts residents, the constant beatings and killings by white police officers reached a tipping point and the residents revolted in what is now known as the “Watts Riots”. Over six days,
“At least 600 buildings were damaged by fires or looting. Two hundred buildings were destroyed. Almost 3,500 people were arrested, the majority on charges of burglary or theft.” – (source)
Amidst all the death & violence, several positives emerged, with one of the most influential being the Watts Writers Workshop in 1967. This workshop aimed to give the residents another outlet for their anger (mostly focused on corrupt police and the systemic racism in America). This group expressed themselves in the form of spoken word poetry over a backing track, which soon became the first west coast rap track.
Famous Gangsta Rappers
1986 – 1991: N.W.A.
Niggaz Wit Attitudez (abbreviated N.W.A.) is without a doubt, one of the most influential rap groups of all time, playing a huge role in increasing the popularity of the “Gangsta Rap” genre and putting the West Coast rap scene on the map. Although the group went through many changes, the most important members of the group were Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, & Easy-E.
N.W.A. hit the radio hard with funky beats and provocative lyrics – even the name of their group was offensive! They embraced the gangsta rap lifestyle and often referenced sex, drugs, guns, and violence in their songs. With the Watts Riots literally burned into their memory, they may not have aimed to glorify the “gangsta” lifestyle, rather they were documenting the lifestyle of low-income young black men in a gang-riddled neighborhood.
N.W.A blazed the path for future rappers, and their influence cannot be overstated. Some of their most famous beats:
Straight Outta Compton
1991 – 1997: Tupac
Tupac had a huge influence on sub genres (west coast & gangsta rap), but also on rap as a whole. Some of his most iconic beats:
Hit ‘Em Up
Late 1990s – early 2000s: Snoop Dogg
Buy the mid-1990s, gangsta rap on the West Coast was in full swing. Artists like Snoop Dogg (originally Snoop Doggy Dogg, then Snoop Lion, then back to Snoop Dogg) popularized the party lifestyle – weed, alcohol, and good times. Although Snoop Dogg’s roots are in gangsta rap (he was affiliated with the Rollin’ 20 Crips gang on the east side of Long Beach, CA), most of his tracks focus on smoking weed rather than violence. His first album, “Doggystyle”, hit the Billboard Top 200 Chart, and he’s released 12 full length albums since then. Some of Snoop Dogg’s Dopest beats:
Drop it like it’s hot
Gin & Juice