16 of the Best West Coast Rappers To Ever Hold a Mic
We’ve already looked at the best East Coast rappers so we thought it was time to show the West Coast some love. Predominantly originating in California, West Coast rap has gone through many changes over the decades. From the old school legends like Tupac Shakur and Ice-T to modern-day superstars like Kendrick Lamar and YG, West Coast rappers have been at the forefront of the genre for decades.
West Coast rap introduced listeners to a new form of hip-hop: gangster rap. This subgenre told what life was like on the streets of 80s Los Angeles, describing the violence, poverty, and police brutality impacting the community. Drug use and gang violence became lyrical currency as the gangster era of the 80s transformed into G-funk in the 90s. Pioneered by Dr. Dre, this style of hip-hop still contained gangster rap lyrics but combined 70s-influenced psychedelic beats that gave the music a more accessible quality.
The 00s found West Coast rap trading expletive-filled tales of gang warfare and drug dealing for club tracks about getting laid and having a good time. Ratchet rap became a thing as alternative and conscious rap also began impacting the charts, with artists such as Too Short, G-Eazy, Tyler, the Creator, and Ab-Soul making waves.
These days West Coast rap is thriving, with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Saweetie, Jay Rock, and Aminé flying the flag. In celebration of these tremendous artists and in no particular order, here is a look at some of the best rappers who hail from the West Coast.
16 of the Best West Coast Rappers To Ever Hold a Mic
1. Tupac Shakur
One of the most influential and respected West Coast rappers to ever do it, Tupac Shakur is a hip-hop legend. Known for his socially conscious lyrics and raw storytelling, Tupac’s impact on hip-hop culture can still be felt today.
Signed by Suge Knight to Death Row Records, he tackled heavy topics such as police brutality, abortion, racism, drug use, and poverty, and his music remains a powerful commentary on the issues facing society. He was also a key instigator in the West Coast v East Coast rap beef that included Biggie, Puff Daddy, and several other high-profile rappers.
Sadly, 2Pac embodied much of what he rapped about, resulting in his drive-by shooting death while visiting Las Vegas in 1996. Despite his untimely demise, Tupac remains a visionary who continues to inspire both rappers and fans all over the world.
2. Kendrick Lamar
The heir to Tupac Shakur’s throne, Compton lyricist Kendrick Lamar is arguably the greatest MC of the modern era. Signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar released his debut album Section.80 in 2011 and quickly came to the attention of hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. The two hit the studio and a year later Lamar dropped Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, landing at number two on the Billboard 200 and earning five Grammy Award nominations.
Known for his poetic and introspective lyrics that focus on the black community and the struggles they face, along with his own challenges as a successful black rapper, his following three albums – To Pimp a Butterfly, Damm, and Mr. Morale & the Big Stepper – have all debuted at number one and earned Lamar 17 Grammy Awards. A generational talent who is lyrically unmatched, Lamar helped put the West Coast back on the map.
N.W.A, or Niggaz Wit Attitudes, was a pioneering gangster rap group from Compton, California that emerged in the late 1980s. The group was made up of members Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, with Arabian Prince departing the band just as they broke out.
Known for their expletive-filled and aggressive lyrical content addressing life on the streets, the group quickly gained a large following, with their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, becoming a massive hit and one of the pioneering gangster rap albums. The song “Straight Outta Compton” was also a massive hit, while “Fuck tha Police” caused all sorts of controversy that followed the band around as they toured.
The group eventually went their separate ways in the 90s after falling out over money, with Cube and Dre going on to have successful solo careers while Eazy-E tragically passed away from AIDS-induced pneumonia in 1995 at the age of 30. The group’s legacy, however, has endured, and they are regarded as one of the most influential and important groups in hip-hop history whose impact is still being felt today.
4. Dom Kennedy
While most up-and-coming rappers dream of signing to a major label, Dom Kennedy has made a career as an indie rapper. Signed to Other People’s Money (OPM), Kennedy has been consistently releasing mixtapes and albums since 2008. Possessed with a laid-back flow and relatable lyrics, Kennedy has quietly built a large following on the West Coast that extends from South Central Los Angeles to San Francisco and beyond.
Although not as big as some other West Coast rappers, Kennedy has a loyal following and continues to release music that challenges you, with his latest album, 2021s From the Westside with Love Three, an underrated gem.
5. Ice Cube
As one of the founding members of N.W.A., Ice Cube helped make gangster rap successful and led the West Coast rap charge in the 80s. A skilled lyricist with a knack for portraying how black men and women who lived in Los Angeles felt during the 80s and early 90s, Cube established himself as a West Coast great.
After leaving N.W.A. he had a tremendous solo career, releasing the political and social LPs AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted in 1990, Death Certificate in 1991, and The Predator in 1992, with all three being critically reviewed. It was also during this time that he began to transition into Hollywood, starring in Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning, and Friday. While he continues to sporadically release albums, with his last being 2018’s Everything Corrupt, Cube is more focused on his acting and the Big3 basketball league he established.
6. Mac Dre
The Bay Area is home to several high-profile rappers, but few are as influential as Mac Dre. The Californian MC was known for his unique style that appealed to the youth of the 90s. His 1993 debut album, Young Black Brotha, following on from the 1990 EP of the same name, was a big hit around the Bay Area and helped define the smooth flow and engaging lyrics that became the Bay sound.
Sadly, Dre had many personal problems and served four years behind bars for conspiracy to commit a bank robbery just as he was breaking out. When released in 1996, Dre went back to making music and released an album a year up until his tragic death in 2004. Dre was killed in a drive-by shooting and the murderer was never caught, although Mac Dre’s legacy lives on.
7. King T
King T, or King Tee as he was first known, is another rapper from Compton who made his bones during the 80s and 90s. While he might not be on the level of some of the other West Coast rappers on this list, King T is considered a legend around Los Angeles. Getting his start with the hip-hop group Breeze Chill, it didn’t take long for King T to go solo, releasing the single “Act a Fool” and the album it’s named after to much acclaim in 1988.
As well as his own career, King T helped push Tha Alkaholiks into the spotlight while also influencing the Notorious BIG, whose deep voice and smooth flow are very similar to Tees. While he hasn’t released an album in over two decades, King T still runs his own record label and is actively involved in the local LA hip-hop community.
8. Vince Staples
Long Beach has produced some awesome rappers, including Odd Future associate Vince Staples. For 15 years Staples has been delivering thought-provoking raps over a mixture of different beat styles. A member of the XXL 2015 Freshman Class, Staples has released five albums, with his most recent, 2022s Ramona Park Broke My Heart, arguably his most poignant album yet. Named after the suburb (Ramona Park) he grew up in, the album is an introspective look at Staples’ life thus far that addresses many issues impacting society today.
Not one to keep his opinions to himself, Staples is known to provide quality commentary on Twitter and is in the process of developing his own TV show for Netflix.
9. MC Hammer
It’s hammer time! It might be hard to believe but MC Hammer and his happy pants were hugely popular in the 90s. Starting out in a Christian rap group, Hammer started his own record label that he ran out of his basement. A pro marketer who is a great hustler, Hammer managed to get his records played on the radio and soon found himself with a record deal, signing with Capitol Records.
His debut album, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, came out in 1990 and was the first hip-hop album to achieve diamond certification, selling over 10 million copies in the United States. Incorporating a range of styles, genres, and dance routines into his live performances, Hammer’s Rick James sampling “U Can’t Touch This” sent him to the top of the charts.
The Grammy Award winner followed up with several more successful albums before accusations of being a sellout led to Hammer releasing the more aggressive albums The Funky Headhunter, Inside Out, and Family Affair, LPs that tanked and resulted in the rapper filing for bankruptcy in 1996. The good news is Hammer has managed to recover from this setback and is now a successful entrepreneur who still performs and was recognized for his achievements when inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame in 2019.
10. Snoop Dogg
West Coast icon Snoop Dogg has had one of the most enduring careers in hip-hop. Breaking through in the 90s thanks to his debut album Doggystyle, featuring hits “Gin and Juice” and “What’s My Name?,” Snoop has remained relevant throughout the years, releasing chart-topping singles and collaborating with everyone from Dr. Dre and Katy Perry to Calvin Harris and Future.
With 19 studio albums to his name, along with countless singles and guest appearances, Snoop has achieved it all in the music world. This has seen him branch out into other areas, creating his own e-Sports league, Gangsta Gaming League, releasing a line of cannabis products, Leafs By Snoop, and starring in both blockbuster movies Training Day and B-grade fare such as Soul Plane and Bones.
11. Nipsey Hussle
American rapper Nipsey Hussle never got the chance to fulfill his talent. At the age of 33, he was fatally shot by Eric Holder after the two had gotten into an argument earlier in the day. Another needless death, Hussle was just beginning to break through when he was murdered in 2019, with his debut studio album debuting at number four on the Billboard 200 and receiving critical acclaim.
The independent rapper had been gaining a large following thanks to his slew of mixtapes, with Jay-Z known to be a fan. Along with rapping, Hussle started the Marathon Clothing store and was a vocal advocate for community development and entrepreneurship in downtown Los Angeles, working to provide resources and opportunities for underprivileged youth. While he was taken way too young, his spirit lives on in the indie rap scene of LA.
12. Warren G
The step-brother of Dr. Dre is a talented rapper from Long Beach who first came to fame thanks to his hip-hop group 213 alongside Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg. Best known for the hit song “Regulate,” a smooth slice of g-funk featuring the vocal talents of Nate Dogg, Warren G blew up with the release of the song in 1994.
While he never achieved the same success again, Warren G has had a steady career that’s seen him release six solo albums, appear in several video games, and collaborate with the likes of Dre, Tupac Shakur, Wiz Khalifa, and even Peter Andre.
13. Tyler, the Creator
First finding fame with the hip-hop collective Odd Future, a group that also included Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, Syd the Kid, Hodgy, and many others, Tyler, the Creator has cemented himself as one of rap’s most underrated artists. After his 2009 mixtape, Bastard, got people talking, the Hawthorne rapper released several more hit songs, including “Goblin,” “Wolf,” and “Cherry Bomb,” that got the then-young upstart radio play and critical acclaim.
His most recent album, Call Me If You Get Lost, has received rave reviews, with Ryan Rosenberger of The Line of the Best Fit saying, “Time will tell exactly where this album lands in Tyler, The Creator’s discography, but Call Me If You Get Lost is yet another memorable record from Wolf Haley himself, one that only further cements his status as one of the best artists of his generation.” Decent review.
As well as making music, Tyler, the Creator is a fashion designer, filmmaker, and producer whose talent knows no bounds. As far as modern West Coast hip-hop artists go, Tyler, the Creator is at the top of the list. A true inspiration.
14. Schoolboy Q
A member of the hip-hop ensemble Black Hippy alongside Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q is an award-winning artist with several big hits to his name. The former gangbanger has turned his life around thanks to rap, with all five of his albums helping Q become a West Coast favorite.
While the versatile rapper hasn’t released any music since 2020, he remains a fixture of the West Coast hip-hop scene who never disappoints when he takes to the mic.
15. The Game
While he’s fallen off of late, there’s no denying The Game’s debut album is a hip-hop classic. Mentored by Dre and inspired by Tupac Shakur, The Game’s first album, The Documentary, is a hit-filled journey through early 00s Los Angeles. The record is chock full of hits, from the 50 Cent collaborations “Hate It or Love It” and “How We Do” to solo tracks “Dream” and “The Documentary,” it’s banger after banger.
Since then The Game’s albums have been hit and miss, but his presence in the LA hip-hop scene continues to inspire a new generation of rappers. Never far from controversy, The Game has flirted with retirement for several years but has yet to officially put down the pen.
Most people point to N.W.A. as the originators of gangsta rap, but Ice-T was just as important in the success of the genre. The American rapper-turned-actor combined lethal lyrics with thumping beats, conveying the feelings of many black Americans during the 80s. Similar to N.W.A., Ice-T spat aggressive raps that spoke about the situation facing those living in the poor areas of LA, with songs like “Power,” “O.G. Original Gangster,” and “Body Count” all big hits for the MC.
Ice-T branched out into other genres, forming the hip-hop/metal band Body Count a decade before nu-metal became a thing. Along with rapping, the man born Tracy Lauren Marrow got into acting, first starring in the hit 90s flick New Jack City before becoming a series regular on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Ice-T’s influence on hip-hop and popular culture has been significant, and his contributions to the genre have helped to shape the sound and style of contemporary rap music.
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