Finally, the hip-hop pendulum is swinging back to the West Coast. After roughly a decade of Southern rappers dominating the charts, the rise of Kendrick Lamar and a handful of other rappers in LA, and the burgeoning success of the Bay Area’s own Iamsu and Sage the Gemini, are creating momentum that California rappers have not experienced since the 1990s.
The resurgence is punctuated with Tyga headlining City National Civic on April 26 with Problem. Both artists give us a glimpse of where hip-hop’s next generation is headed.
Like Kendrick Lamar, who was nominated for eight Grammys this year, Tyga and Problem claim Compton as point of origin, a city made famous as a hip-hop hotbed when NWA broke into the mainstream in 1988 and launched the careers of Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre.
The momentum continued in the early ’90s with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic at Death Row Records with Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Warren G and Tupac. The death of Tupac in 1996 signaled the end of an era in West Coast gangsta rap when infighting and shady business practices led to the eventual demise of the record label. Though Compton hasn’t consistently churned out notable rappers since the fall of Death Row, the city is experiencing a recent resurgence thanks to the work of Tyga, Problem and other Left Coast artists who grew up on the Death Row sound.
Tyga rides in on the success of club smash “Rack City,” a minimal track propelled by booming 808 bass, and a string of other hits, including his just-released track, “Senile,” with Young Money labelmates Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. His mainstream success snagged him a recent feature with Justin Bieber and he’s also worked to diversify his output, including launching fashion line Last Kings and Rack City XXX, an adult film that earned him three AVN nominations.
Problem’s first big break was a guest verse on E-40’s 2012 summer hit, “Function,” also featuring Iamsu and YG. His solo breakout single, “Like Whaaat,” channeled an energy similar to E-40’s hit, pairing a lazy synth line with a driving bassline.
As both artists show, the West’s recent output borrows from high points of Bay Area success. This new mainstream sound takes from the Bay Area’s signature hip-hop pace, specifically the hyphy movement of the mid-2000s. While it stalled in the mainstream at the time, it’s been an underground influence in the ensuing years.
However, the sound gained a heavy co-sign when superstar Drake released “The Motto” with Lil Wayne and Tyga, a song most famous for coining the term, “YOLO (you only live once),” yet also notable for containing one of the most visible shout-outs to late Bay Area rap legend Mac Dre (also see Memphis rapper Yo Gotti’s “Act Right”).
With music more accessible than it’s ever been, regional styles are becoming less pronounced. It’s evident in the often ambiguous sonic distinctions between artists from the Bay and LA at the moment. Instead, Tyga, Problem and company seem to be sowing the seeds for a more uniform West Coast sound.
In addition to Tyga and Problem, here are five more West Coast artists to look out for:
Another Compton rapper, YG experienced his first success with the 2010 hit “Toot It and Boot It.” March release My Krazy Life has gained plenty of critical and commercial praise, earning raves from Pitchfork, Spin and XXL and debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 thanks to hits “My Nigga,” “Left, Right” and “Who Do You Love.” Some say he and frequent collaborator DJ Mustard are helping lay the foundation for the new West Coast sound, and there could be more to come after Mustard announced this week that he and YG are forming their own record label with LA rapper Ty Dolla $ign.
Sage the Gemini
Fairfield rapper Sage the Gemini first made waves when “Gas Pedal” became a national hit, reaching No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. His studio debut, Remember Me, came out last month and features Jay Ant, IAmSu, August Alsina—and Justin Bieber, who hopped on a “Gas Pedal” remix (listen above). With a recent inclusion on fellow HBK Gang member IAmSu’s new single, “Only That Real,” which includes a verse from current feature king 2 Chainz, the Gemini looks to be next up from the Bay.
Snow Tha Product
Rapper Snow Tha Product’s rapid-fire delivery recently earned her a contract with Atlantic Records. Though now based in Houston, Snow was born in San Jose and continues to rep the Bay in her music. Recent mixtape Good Nights & Bad Mornings 2: The Hangover included features from XXL Freshman Dizzy Wright, Ty Dolla $ign and Tech N9ne. Her debut studio release is expected later this year.
A bilingual group of Panamanian descent, Oakland natives and cousins Raka Rich and Raka Dun are evidence of hip-hop’s multicultural pull. After we last checked in with the duo for a cover story in July, Los Rakas signed to Universal Music Latin Entertainment for their double album El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo, bringing big-money backing to group’s already strong DIY approach and underground following.
DJ Mustard (whose moniker spoofs on his given name, Dijon McFarlane) is the sonic architect for much of the LA club rap sound. He started as fellow Angeleno YG’s secret weapon and later crafted hits for two other locals, Tyga’s smash “Rack City” and Kid Ink’s “Show Me,” featuring Chris Brown. Mustard has since gone on to produce for T-Pain, Trey Songz, Will.i.am and J-Lo.