The West Coast has produced some of the biggest stars in hip hop. From Los Angeles to the Bay Area, west coast rappers have made an enormous impact on hip hop music and culture. Here are 17 of the best rappers representing the West Coast.
Jump into 17 Best West Coast Rappers
Arguably the most iconic west coast rapper, Tupac Shakur skyrocketed to fame in the early 90s with hits like “California Love” and “Hit Em Up.” The son of Black Panther activists, Tupac’s music blended thug life imagery with socially conscious lyrics and emotional depth. His rivalry with Biggie Smalls took on an East Coast vs. West Coast tone. Tragically killed at just 25 years old, Tupac remains one of the most celebrated rappers in history.
As a member of N.W.A., Dr. Dre helped put gangsta rap on the map in the late 80s. He went on to become a legendary producer, launching the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem and others. His 1992 album The Chronic established the laidback G-funk sound that would come define West Coast hip hop. Dr. Dre’s combination of production skills and solo work make him an undisputed West Coast rap kingpin.
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Few rap personas are as recognizable as Snoop Dogg. Bursting onto the scene on Dre’s The Chronic, Snoop’s flow and flavor have kept him reigning for decades. From early hits like “Gin and Juice” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name)” to later crossover success, Snoop has maintained his relevance through countless reinventions. Representing Long Beach, Snoop remains a West Coast OG.
After rising to fame with N.W.A., Ice Cube embarked on a hugely successful solo career. His 1990 debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is considered one of the best West Coast albums ever. Cube went on to conquer other media like film and TV, but his hard-hitting music left an undeniable mark. Songs like “It Was a Good Day” and “Check Yo Self” remain classics. Though busy with Hollywood projects, Cube is still an influential West Coast great.
The king of Bay Area hip hop, E-40 has been an ambassador for Northern California rap since the early 90s. His rapid-fire flow and unique slang are trademarks. Albums like In a Major Way and Charlie Hustle: The Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire proved his mainstream appeal. E-40 also nurtured the next wave of Bay Area rappers through his Sick Wid It Records. With an untouchable catalog of indie hits, E-40 helped put NorCal on the rap map.
Before E-40, Too $hort was the original hip hop star of the Bay. Since 1983, he has been famous for his explicit, pimp-themed lyrics and funky production. Though never a mainstream giant, Too $hort has enjoyed longevity as a West Coast underground legend. Tracks like “Blow the Whistle” and “Gettin’ It” cemented his status as a forefather of Bay Area hip hop and an overall West Coast pioneer.
Perhaps the most acclaimed West Coast rapper in recent years, Kendrick Lamar is considered one of the greatest MCs of his generation. After building buzz with mixtapes like Overly Dedicated, he exploded onto the mainstream with 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, full of vivid storytelling and conscience. Albums like To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN. have led to countless accolades, including 13 Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize. Hailing from Compton, Kendrick continues to push West Coast hip hop forward.
Though tragically killed in 2019 just as he achieved mainstream success, Nipsey Hussle was an inspirational figure in West Coast hip hop. Early mixtapes like Bullets Ain’t Got No Name spread his name through mixtape hustle and entrepreneurial vision. His studio debut Victory Lap earned him a Grammy nom and critical acclaim. Respected for his authenticity and community activism, Nipsey motivated other West Coast artists to connect with their roots.
Among West Coast DJs and producers, DJ Quik stands as one of the most decorated. Beyond his slick production, his rapping brought technical skills and stylistic originality. 1990’s Quik is the Name showcased his talents and helped pave the way for the G-funk era. Later successes like “Tonite” and “Pitch in Ona Party” kept him relevant. With ability in both the booth and behind the boards, DJ Quik is a hip hop renaissance man.
After rising to fame with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent, The Game carved his own path as a West Coast hitmaker. His 2005 debut The Documentary announced his arrival on the national scene. A model of consistency, The Game has churned out hits like “How We Do” and “Hate It Or Love It” for nearly two decades. Though a Blood, he often links with West Coast artists across gang divides. The Game remains one of LA’s flag bearers.
Before becoming a pop culture TV host, Xzibit was a standout West Coast rapper in the late 90s and early 2000s. Tracks like “What U See Is What U Get” first put him on fans’ radars. His critical breakthrough came with the classic album Restless and hits like “X” and “Front 2 Back.” Xzibit’s gruff vocals and lyrical skills earned him acclaim as both a solo artist and featured collaborator.
One of the best lyricists on the West Coast in the 90s, Ras Kass never achieved commercial success on par with his skills. Yet critically revered albums like Soul on Ice cemented his status as a true MC’s MC. Known for an intricate rhyme style, Ras Kass established himself as a fountain of hip hop knowledge. Later works like Van Gogh continued to satisfy his loyal hip hop head fanbase, regardless of sales.
As a founding member of N.W.A., Eazy-E played an important role in popularizing gangsta rap. His unique high-pitched delivery made him an iconic voice on songs like “Boyz-n-the-Hood” and “8 Ball.” Following disputes with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, Eazy established his own successful solo career with albums like Eazy-Duz-It. Tragically passing from AIDS in 1995, Eazy’s legacy as the “Godfather of Gangsta Rap” lives on.
Mack 10 emerged in the mid 90s with his loopy flow and humorous G-funk songs. As a founder of Westside Connection with WC and Ice Cube, he repped West Coast gang culture. Tracks like “Foe Life” and “Bow Down” connected with mainstream pop audiences. Despite never winning over hip hop heads, Mack 10 enjoyed commercial reign in the late 90s and early 2000s. Songs like “Backyard Boogie” remain West Coast party favorites.
Distinct for his machine gun-fast flow, Kurupt has long been considered one of the best technical rappers on the West Coast. As part of Tha Dogg Pound with Daz Dillinger, he was a key player in the Death Row era. Even after Death Row’s downfall, he continued putting in work on albums like Kuruption! and Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha. While newer artists now employ faster styles, Kurupt helped set the bar for West Coast verbal dexterity.
Often overshadowed by his superstar little step-brother Dr. Dre, Warren G made his mark bringing a laidback flavor to West Coast hip hop. His 1994 smash hit “Regulate” with Nate Dogg still gets constant play at barbecues and parties. Regulate… G Funk Era brought his smooth style to the masses. Warren G later contributed to classic West Coast posse cuts like “Do You See.” Though never hugely popular, his G-funk production and flow influenced the sound of his era.
One of the biggest female rappers to come out of the West Coast in recent years, Saweetie broke out with catchy tracks like “My Type.” The California native mixes confidence and swagger with a fun, melodic flow inspired by West Coast legends. After grinding on the college circuit, she broke into the mainstream with her 2018 EP High Maintenance. Amidst her newfound fame, Saweetie proudly reps her West Coast roots.
One of the flag-bearers for a new generation of West Coast hip hop, YG blew up in 2014 with his hit “Who Do You Love” featuring Drake. His dynamic flow switches and Blood-affiliated lyrics recalled West Coast originators. On later albums like Stay Dangerous, YG fused updated gangsta rap with mainstream appeal. As a central figure in LA’s revitalized rap scene, YG keeps the new West Coast sound thriving.
From legends like Tupac and Snoop to new voices like Kendrick Lamar and YG, the West Coast’s impact on hip hop is tremendous. Coastal pride and loyalty have always been central to West Coast rap, even as artists embrace modern styles. The rivalry with the East Coast has fueled countless classics. Though often overshadowed by other regions in recent years, gems continue to emerge from Cali representing the West Coast’s legacy. The contributions of West Coast rappers will continue to shape hip hop alongside other regions like the South and Midwest, as the artform expands beyond its birthplace in Mexican rappers and Atlanta rappers. But the West will always take pride of place as the home of hip hop’s initial rise.
Who are considered the “Big 3” West Coast rappers?
The “Big 3” biggest West Coast rap stars are generally considered to be 2Pac, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. These 3 artists reached the peak of mainstream fame and defined the classic West Coast sound.
What city is most important to West Coast hip hop?
Los Angeles is definitely the epicenter of West Coast hip hop. As home to artists like N.W.A., Tupac, The Game, Kendrick Lamar and many more, LA is crucial to the West Coast sound. Other key cities include Oakland, Long Beach and Compton.
When did West Coast hip hop first emerge?
The roots of West Coast hip hop can be traced to the early 1980s with artists like Too $hort pioneering the sound. But it exploded into mainstream popularity in the early 1990s with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and others.
Who are some of the most popular Chicano/Mexican rappers on the West Coast?
Some pioneering Chicano rappers from the West Coast include Kid Frost, Lil Rob, Chingo Bling, Baby Bash, Serio and Conejo. These artists incorporated Mexican cultural influences into their style.
What are some of the signature elements of West Coast hip hop?
West Coast hip hop is defined by laidback groove, funk samples, gang culture lyrics, catchy melodies, and artists representing their neighborhoods/cities. The West Coast sound is considered more melodic and funk-driven compared to East Coast boom bap.