The 100 Best L.A. Rap Songs

From Dr. Dre and DJ Quik to Kid Frost and Egyptian Lover, this is the sound of the City of Angels. Westside!

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Image via Getty/Andrew Kennelly
best la rap songs los angeles lead

This feature was originally published on July 1, 2015.

What do Roger Troutman, Jerry Heller, and LAPD Chief Daryl Gates have in common?  Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that without them there would be no such thing as L.A. rap. 

Los Angeles may be the metropolis where international cultures are imported, assimilated, then sold back to the world on the silver screen, but its rap scene is the product of a highly specific set of regional factors, including, but not limited to: The Raiders, Randy’s Donuts, the Roadium swap meet, the World On Wheels roller rink, KDAY every day, freeway transit, auto culture, Latin culture, gang culture, riot culture, bass culture, and burger culture.

From Long Beach to Glendale, Venice to Pomona, the L.A. rap landscape is as interconnected as its highway system, as diverse as its scenery, and as reliable as its climate. Herein is a selection from the rap ecosystem’s first 30 years with equal consideration given to the pre- and post-Jheri-curl eras. It's presented in one place for your convenient perusal, in emulation of the swap meets where Dr. Dre first circulated his cassette mixes. So sit back, relax and strap on your seat belt as we turn to page FREAK, because this is Complex’s 100 Best L.A. Rap Songs. In the words of William Mulholland, the man who brought water to Los Angeles: “There it is. Take it.”


Written by Sam SweetPeter Relic, and Max Bell

101. Snoop Dogg "I Wanna Rock" (2009)

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Album: Malice n Wonderland

Label: Priority/Doggystyle

Producer: Scoop Deville

There are a couple of amazing things about “I Wanna Rock.” For one, its existence-the fact that Snoop was still making smash records on the eve of his 40th birthday is astounding. The fact that he doesn't change but doesn't repeat himself is astounding. The fact that he rhymes “vamanos” and “dominos” and makes it a hit is astounding.

It's astounding that the production uses the least usable part of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's 1988 song “It Takes Two.” More astounding than anything is the fact that the production comes courtesy of Kid Frost's son. Twenty years after “La Raza,” and now Kid Frost's son is producing hit records for Snoop Dogg? If that doesn't prove that L.A. rap is one big happy extended family, then by all means, keep listening to Corey Gunz.

100. Tone Loc "Wild Thing" (1988)

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Album: Loc-ed After Dark

Label: Delicious Vinyl

Producer: Matt Dike, Michael Ross

“I had a killer telephone voice,” Tone Loc once said, in explanation of his success. And he had a killer track, produced by LA DJ Matt Dike, who had broader taste than any producer in hip-hop at the time. You need a pretty refined sense of fun and games to create a danceable rap song based on Van Halen's “Jamie's Cryin'.” The verses were written by Delicious Vinyl's in-house hit maker Young MC, and the hook was based on something Fab 5 Freddy said in a Spike Lee movie, but “Wild Thing” belongs wholly to the smog-clogged speech of one former Crip turned lovable lothario. In other words, the "telephone voice.”

99. L.A. Dream Team "The Dream Team Is In The House" (1985)

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Album: Kings Of The West Coast

Label: MCA

Producer: Courtney Branch

Captained by local radio personality Rudy Pardee, L.A. Dream Team epitomized the sound of their city's urban roller-skate culture circa 1985-the moment before gangsta rap rolled in. As the lyrics suggested ("If the music don't get you, the fly looks will"), the Dream Team's sound might not be to everyone's taste. This uprocking jam combines German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk with the theme to Dragnet. Timless, harmless, hyperactive fun.

98. World Class Wreckin Cru “Surgery” (1984)

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Album: "Surgery" - Single

Label: Kru-Cut Records

Producer: Lozno Williams

To understand “Surgery” you really need to look at the purple-tinted illustration that adorned the original 1984 Kru-Cut 12-inch, which sold 50,000 copies independently. Dr. Dre—outfitted in O.R. scrubs, a look that unfortunately didn’t catch on in Compton—performs a surgical procedure on a set of turntables, as a pair of assistants hand him necessary implements.

One guy offers a mixer, while a female nurse monitors an IV drip directly into the electronics of the turntable (you can hear the sound of that drip in the music). A man in a NASA suit observes them from behind glass, smoking a pipe. Not telling what’s in the pipe, but this was 1984, so use your imagination. The Wreckin’ Cru obviously did.

Even now, “Surgery” is still an admirably surreal piece of work. Surgery turned out to be the perfect metaphor for L.A. electro, because Dre’s cuts and production touches were the product of steady, precise handiwork, and yet you still felt like you were looking down at a pile of throbbing innards. No pop-locking in the ER!

97. WC & the Maad Circle “West Up” (1995)

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Album: Curb Servin'

Label: PayDay/FFRR/PolyGram Records

Producer: Crazy Toones

“And all the time I'm bumpin WC/Cause it seem like he the only nigga making sense to me.” Such were the words of the great Pimp C in 1994. WC displayed the kind of hard-won wisdom that a Texan could appreciate. Dub-C could have become the West Coast equivalent to Scarface, but where Face turned inward to brooding contemplations of mortality, Dub Crip-walked into a successful career as the third banana in Westside Connection. “West Up” catches him just before then, at the apex of his solo career.

No rapper has ever been more deserving of George Duke's chunky “Reach For It.” The high-cholesterol bass is just right for WC, who quite obviously came from a place where “even the strongest niggas is drug through the mud.” This anthem came with a great video, in which the crew turns a gridlock headache into a full-scale BBQ party in the middle of the freeway. It's the L.A. antidote to that preposterous REM clip for “Everybody Hurts,” only instead of Michael Stipe's Christ pose you get extra servings of ribs, spokes, hoochies, etc.

96. Uncle Jamm's Army "Dial A Freak" (1984)

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Album: "Dial A Freak" - Single

Label: Freak Beat Records

Producer: Egyptian Lover/Mr. Prinze

By the time “Dial-A-Freak” was released in 1984, Uncle Jamm’s Army really was an army. Led by Rodger Clayton, The Harbor City-based crew of DJs and musicians had been promoting and performing at house parties since the early 1970s, and they were almost single-handedly responsible for cultivating the first wave of L.A. electro and hip-hop innovators, including Egyptian Lover, Arabian Prince, Ice-T, DJ Pooh, DJ Bobcat, and the World Class Wreckin Cru.

Clayton’s roots were in the meaty, friendly party funk of the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire, but “Dial-A-Freak” is evacuated of anything organic. It’s a cold rush of wind for an extremely hot party. There's a smell hanging in the air that isn’t weed—something unrecognizably metallic.

One minute you're under the stars on Venice Beach with Egyptian Lover, next thing you know you're riding a camel through the sands near the Pyramids! He’s telling the truth when he raps: “Some say I’m conceited/But I can’t be beated.”

95. The D.O.C. f/ N.W.A "The Grand Finale" (1989)

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Album: No One Can Do it Better

Label: Ruthless Records/Atlantic Recording Corporation

Producer: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella

“The Grand Finale” is the best N.W.A song ever made that isn't an N.W.A song. With a lineup that runs from Cube to Ren to Eazy to The D.O.C.—with hypeman interjections from Dre—"The Grand Finale" offers an alternate picture of the Compton super group. Can you imagine an entire album that had Ren and Cube and D.O.C. sharing equal space on the mic?

And yet it's the soon-to-be ostracized Eazy who steals the show, with a completely preposterous and childlike reference to his dick: “The pleasure and pain my wing-ding inflicted.” If only this lineup had lived into the Death Row era. Instead, we get the best posse cut in the history of South Central rap music. “I got raw when I came to Cali,” the Texas-born D.O.C. admits at the end of the song.

94. Suga Free "Dip Da" (1997)

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Album: Street Gospel

Label: Polygram

Producer: DJ Quik, Robert "Fonksta" Bacon, G-One

Every family has some peripheral uncle who appears only occasionally. No one knows where he comes from, but he packs more charm and has bigger stories and is a little funnier and a little scarier than anyone else in the family-because he is unhinged. And then you realize that's why he only appears occasionally. That's Suga Free's role in L.A. rap. The question of why he isn't a bigger star would be relevant if its answer were not so evident: he has too much style and he refuses to make music for the masses.

Also he is from Pomona, and continues to represent the Inland Empire. For that reason, he would probably agree that you haven't really listened to “Dip Da” until you've listened to it at 2:30am while driving through the Donut Hole in La Puente. By “driving through,” you must actually drive inside an enormous fabricated donut to pick up your crullers. Suga Free could rap the menu at the Donut Hole without a beat, and it would still be the most musical L.A. rap song of this year.

93. Ice Cube "Wicked" (1992)

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Album: The Predator

Label: Priority

Producer: Torture Chamba

Who said New York rappers were the only ones to collab with reggae artists? The first single from Cube's third solo album features dancehall-flavored vocals from the man called Don Jagwarr. And Torture Chamba's beat is musical murder.

92. Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E. “Psyko Funk” (1990)

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Album: New Funky Nation

Label: 4th & B-way, Island, PolyGram

Producer: Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E., John King

This is such a good-time jam that it's easy to overlook how feared these six Samoan brothers were in the '80s-'90s L.A. club scene (see Brian Cross's book It's Not About A Salary for stories). Having appeared as poppers in the early documentary Breaking and Entering, the oversize crew had their breakthrough with this party starter from their debut album. And their guns go "boo-yaa!"

91. Shade Sheist f/ Nate Dogg & Kurupt "Where I Wanna Be" (2000)

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Album: Informal Introduction

Label: Sire/London

Producer: Eddie Berkeley, Kay Gee

Nominally a Shade Sheist song, "Where I Wanna Be" is again a showcase for Nate Dogg's mellifluous, multi-tracked, gangsta-gospel vocals. As Nate equates loved ones with "thug ones," this is sun-dappled Sunday slow-roll at its finest.

90. Ty Dolla $ign f/ Joe Moses "Paranoid" (2013)

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Album: Ketchup

Producer: DJ Mustard

Label: N/A

The ratchet era needed a Nate Dogg, a crooner capable of delivering the sexually explicit lyrics of his rap counterparts more melodically, transmuting the potentially offensive into hilarious and self-aware absurdity. Ty Dolla $ign slid into the role as one-third of L.A.’s unofficial ratchet triumvirate alongside DJ Mustard and YG. Originally released on Mustard’s 2013 mixtape, Ketchup, “Paranoid” is Ty’s most indelible contribution to the West Coast canon, the closest anyone has come to “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)” in the 2010s. The beat, like most of those in Mustard’s oeuvre, is sparse and rubbery, ping ponging between simple yet effective keys and skittering percussion. The hook compresses the sole nightmare of the unfaithful into a few lines; Ty’s verses are a page-by-page look at his black book and the game therein. The remix with B.o.B landed on Billboard for weeks, but Joe Moses’ verse on the original will probably haunt T.I. forever. 

89. Sam Sneed f/ Dr. Dre "U Betta Recognize" (1994)

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Album: Street Scholars

Label: Death Row/Interscope

Producer: Sam Sneed, Dr. Dre

The Murder Was The Case soundtrack had a feel all its own. It was more stressful and paranoid than The Chronic (with good reason, remember) but had not yet morphed into the new sonic templates that Dre would devise after leaving Death Row. The piano chords are suspended in air like clouds of smoke, and the rhythm is chillingly resolute, as though a death sentence had been decided and could be revoked. The beat is the star here, but Sam Sneezy gets the job done, because this was the moment when L.A. rap was handed off from big stars to soldiers. It didn’t matter who was rapping because by that time, the slinky whine of Dre’s Mini-Moog was single-handedly running the West Coast.

88. Rodney O & Joe Cooley “Everlasting Bass” (1998)

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Album: Me and Joe

Label: Egyptian Empire Recordings

Producer: Rodney O

Two turntables, a microphone, and a subwoofer. And two of the most exquisitely processed coiffures in the history of black American music. Those who where on the scene for the release of “Everlasting Bass” on Egyptian Empire in 1986 do not forget it. It ranks among the paramount events in L.A. rap chronology, a tectonic detonation of unadultered low-frequency measurement that rivaled an earthquake.

To summarize the group's platinum tastes, Rodney O explains that “We ride on 747s not DC10s.” It's a point of comparison that could just as easily apply to their low-end assault. As N.W.A, ascended Rodney O and Joe Cooley were obscured in the public consciousness, a historical oversight attributable to their taste in curl activator and stonewashed denim. However, their hair was timeless and so was their bass. Even when Dre and Cube were dissing them, regional innovators like Uncle Luke and Mannie Fresh were relaying the message.

87. Yo Yo f/ Ice Cube "You Cant Play With My Yo-Yo" (1991)

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Album: Make Way For the Motherlode

Label: East West America/Atlantic Records

Producer: Ice Cube

East coast rapstresses like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah get more credit for repping for the females, but Yolanda “Yo Yo” Whittaker should never be forgotten. She came out hard with her debut single, a no-nonsense banger where she acknowledges that, yeah, she's got a soft ass, but “if you touch it, you're living in a coffin.” Cube doesn't rap on this song as much as he cosigns her with authoritative shit talk, crowning her “the brand new intelligent black lady… For all you suckas.”

86. 2Pac f/ K-Ci and JoJo "How Do U Want It" (1996)

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Album: All Eyez on Me

Label: Death Row Records

Producer: Johnny "J"

One of 2pac's closest collaborators was Johnny Lee Jackson, a/k/a Johnny J, who was born in Ciudad Juarez and moved to L.A., like millions of children of his generation, in the 1970s. Jackson was responsible for 2Pac's stealthiest tracks, including “Death Around the Corner” and “All Eyez on Me.” He never made a better beat than “How Do U Want It,” which was based on an exceptionally ill sample of the 1974 Quincy Jones song “Body Heat.”

Beginning as a sex rap-“Baby just alleviate your clothes,” goes Pac's subtlest come-on-the song eventually succumbs to the deeply seductive yet forlorn undertone that was a recurring theme in Jackson's beats.

Tupac is inevitably pulled into an exploration of his history and his demons, including an on-point takedown of the era's political mouthpieces: “Delores Tucker, you's a motherfucker/Instead of tryin to help a nigga you destroy a brother/Worse than the others-Bill Clinton, Mr. Bob Dole/You're too old to understand the way the game is told.” The somber underpinnings of Jackson's beats was emphasized when the producer committed suicide in 2008, while incarcerated in downtown Los Angeles' country jail.

85. Ras Kass "Remain Anonymous" (1994)

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Album: "Won't Catch Me Runnin'/Remain Anonymous" - Single

Label: Patchwerk Recordings

Producer: Vooodu

Ras Kass often tops the thinking fan's shortlist for L.A.'s finest overlooked rapper of all time. But his maximum verbosity offers no easy entry point; only a dedicated B-boy or B-girl could engage the work of a rapper who demands his fans "witness my linguistics like a Muslim takes jihad." No chorus, just a lyrical lynching: "too many MCs get deals from who you're down with or where you represent." What? Where are we? How many unknown soldiers does it take to make up the West Coast underground? Hear Ras Kass namecheck Lorena Bobbitt. Now check yo dick!

84. Pharcyde "Drop" (1995)

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Album: Labcabincalifornia

Label: Delicious Vinyl

Producer: Jay Dee

Their Bizarre Ride was over and the dyspepsia had set in: "Niggas done sold they souls and now they souls is hollow." Imani, Booty Brown, Fatlip and SlimKid3 followed up the classic singles from their debut ("Passin' Me By"; "Ya Mama") with something a little more somber, assisted by a vocal sample ("Drrrrrop!") of Beastie Boy Ad-Rock. Check the Spike Jonze video where, aptly, the Pharcyde travel in reverse through the straight world.

83. Nate Dogg "I Got Love" (2001)

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Album: Music & Me

Label: Elektra

Producer: Bink!

Although "Nobody Does It Better" is in fact Nate Dogg's biggest solo hit, and "These Days" is so heartfelt it might make you cry, we've got love for the lead single for his sophomore album, Music & Me. Backed by an obnoxiously boombastic beat from Bink!, the late great Nate spit his game the way only he knew how. Although he made a career out of singing classic hooks and bridges for every rapper under the sun, here he simply “oooohs” his way through the hook—and that's all we need.

82. Mellow Man Ace "Mentirosa" (1990)

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Album: Escape From Havana

Label: Capitol

Producer: Tony G

Original Delicious Vinyl labelmates with Tone Loc and Young MC, Cuban-born, South Gate L.A. raised Mellow Man Ace never had a hit as big as "Wild Thing" or "Bust A Move." But "Mentitrosa" was close, going to No. 14 on the pop charts and putting Spanglish rap on the map. Produced by KDAY radio legend Tony G, "Mentitrosa" borrows its theme from the song it samples-"Evil Ways" by Santana-calling a girl out on her shit: "Last night you didn't go/ a la casa de tu tio..." True fact: Mellow Man Ace is Sen-Dog's older brother.

81. The Nonce "Mix Tapes" (1994)

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Album: World Ultimate

Label: Wild West, American Recordings, Warner Bros.

Producer: The Nonce

A b-boy rifles through his cassette collection, which gets him reminiscing about the open mic scene at Leimert Park when, "Money wasn't really part of the rap/Pay was having people starting to clap." The nostalgia is so poignant he wonders if he should just go back to slangin' mix tapes. This is the classic single from the sole album by Nouka Base and Yusef Afloat (RIP). Peep Medusa in the video.

80. Mausberg "Mushrooms" (2000)

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Album: Non Fiction

Label: Ark 21

Producer: DJ Quik

In which DJ Quik protege Mausberg gets mauled by the mold. "I need to lay down, turn the lights out-that's what I get from fuckin' with some shit that I don't know about," raps the shroomed-out Maus. This is pure Talkbox funk, a DJ Quik groove clinic that heralded dope joints to come. Sadly, Mausberg was murdered July 4, 2000. Still tweakin' in the afterlife.

79. Mack 10 f/ Ice Cube "Foe Life" (1995)

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Album: Mack 10

Label: Priority

Producer: Ice Cube

How much squelchier could a West Coast bass line be? Is that the best measure of this Inglewood jingle? Or did the East Coast finally cower in the face of pulled straps, khaki suits and Chucks on the barbed wire? Some years before he married T-Boz, Mack 10 pleaded "your honor, I'm a changed man" on this superbad, supergansta general delivery. "Try to guess the color of my shoe laces," Mack raps. Survey says?

78. Above the Law "Black Superman" (1994)

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Album: Uncle Sam's Curse

Label: Ruthless

Producer: Cold 187um, DJ-Koss, KMG

Concept: Instead of an all-American orphan with superhuman abilities, Superman is a Compton drug slinger. And instead of doing everything in his power to protect Lois Lane, he risks life and limb to support his single mama. In a market clogged with superhero blockbusters, how is this prospective movie not on Don Cheadle’s shooting schedule?

Until it gets to the big screen, we’ll have to settle for the biggest hit by the highly underrated Above the Law, a team of fiercely imaginative rappers and producers that basically kept Ruthless relevant in the early 1990s. In their view, gang bangers are more like superheros than villains. Hutch has the last word: “Uh, you really wanna know why I sold scum?/Because my mama to me comes number one.”

77. King Tee "Act a Fool" (1988)

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Album: Act A Fool

Label: Capitol

Producer: DJ Pooh

King Tee came up alongside OG's like Ice-T and Kid Frost, and the title cut from his 1988 debut shows why he's considered a pioneer of West Coast rap. You better get ready when King Tee is about to act a fool. On this West Coast classic he details the events of a wild Friday night with rough rhymes about cruising the streets of L.A., getting drunk, and smacking up a gold-digger at a party. Oh Tee, you a fool for this one. 

76. Vince Staples "Blue Suede" (2014)

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Album: Hell Can Wait EP

: Def Jam

: Marvin “​Hagler” Thomas

Snoop told you it was hard in ’94. Eleven years later, the drama in Long Beach remains written in primary colors. Vince Staples isn’t just the latest to document the Crip experience; he’s the first to do so with an unflagging militancy. His debut Def Jam EP, Hell Can Wait, features no odes to Seagram’s or Slick Rick interpolations. Instead, nearly every track hits with the blunt force of a stonemason chiseling epitaphs on granite. The album’s first single, “Blue Suede,” is a visceral and cinematic depiction of the violence Staples witnessed, enacted, and narrowly escaped. Canadian producer Hagler scores the horror with discordant and lysergic synths lifted from John Carpenter, near-unrelenting bass, and percussion that sounds crafted from thumping hearts and the reverberating clap that accompanies scorching shells. “Blue Suede” is both autobiography and a valediction forbidding mourning; Staples’ anthemic eulogy delivered to those who know it could’ve been their headstone.

75. Cypress Hill "Insane In the Brain" (1993)

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Album: Black Sunday

Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia

Producer: Cypress Hill

Only in the rear view mirror does the similarity between "Jump Around" and "Insane In The Brain" seem impossibly close; at the time both break-out tracks were just the latest gems from producer DJ Muggs. This was the crossover crucible for Cypress, who emerged with the entire Beavis & Butthead nation behind them. B-Real's Rammellzee-inspired gangster duck bite and Sen-Dog's bark celebrated bongs, going loco, and trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

74. Lighter Shade of Brown "On a Sunday Afternoon" (1990)

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Album: Brown & Proud

Label: Pump Records

Producer: Jammin' James Carter, O.J. Romeo, Tony G., Fase Love

House finches have a pretty song and they appear freely in the parks of L.A. If you don't have access to a park in L.A. you can hear them sing backing vocals in “On A Sunday Afternoon.” Like most rappers, the house finch sings to attract a mate or to establish territory. Hence, the incorporation of a birdsong in this track makes sense.

In fact, it might be the prettiest, most haunting touch of production in all of L.A. rap. Generally speaking, the song is part of a tradition of smooth Sunday BBQ jams that also includes Dove Shack's “Summertime in the LBC.”

The way the song weaves together strands of several oldies is given credence by a cameo from Dick Hugg, a/k/a Huggy Boy, the white DJ who became a hero to L.A. Chicanos by broadcasting dedication songs on KRLA. “Hi, this is Huggy Boy, and this is going out to all the homies on a Sunday Afternoon…” It's a melody equal only to the mating call of the house finch.

73. Coolio "Fantastic Voyage" (1994)

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Album: It Takes A Thief

Label: Tommy Boy

Producer: Brian Dobbs

As one of the most felonious members of WC's superlative Maad Circle crew, Coolio was the last figure anyone expected to be the crossover success story of 1994. But thanks to “Fantastic Voyage,” his gravity-defying cornrows became the most famous haircut in America, second only to that of Kramer from Seinfeld. Based on a sample of the 1980 hit of the same name by the Dayton, Ohio-based funk outfit Lakeside, “Fantastic Voyage” was the first song to make gangsta rap totally amenable to white America.

“Ain't no bloodin', ain't no crippin'/Ain't no punk-ass niggas set trippin'/Everybody's got a stack and it ain't no crack/And it really don't matter if you're white or black.” Coolio may have been selling out the kind of South L.A. reality rap he had helped to invent with WC, but in a year when gang violence was surging, you can't blame the man born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. for trying something friendly. “Fantastic Voyage” allowed suburban families to enjoy an all-inclusive party jam that had all of the bounce of vintage L.A. rap with none of the attendant violence.

72. Funkdoobiest "Bow Wow Wow" (1992)

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Album: "Bow Wow Wow" - Single

Label: Immortal Records

Producer: DJ Muggs

Forget that “Bow Wow Wow” is an unabashed hybrid of two of rap's most beloved anthems: Snoop's “What's My Name” and House of Pain's “Jump Around.” Forget that Funkdoobiest had a lineup that sounded like a bad joke (“A Puerto Rican, a Mexican and an Indian walk into a bar…”)

Let's focus instead on lead rapper Son Doobie a/k/a The Porno King. On “Bow Wow Wow” he compares himself to Tina Turner, Barney Rubble, Sigourney Weaver, Colt Seavers, Fire Marshall Bill, Harry Houdini and Tonto. He's a good speller and he gets retarded like Helen Keller.

If that doesn't sell you then leave it to the production-by DJs Muggs and Lethal. This the type of flow to make you start upending parking meters at the Grove. (By the way, “Bow Wow Wow” came out six months before “What's My Name”-yipee-yo- yippee-ay, Calvin Broadus owes Son Doobie some royal-tay!) So what if Funkdoobiest is the Yum Yum to Cypress Hill's Winchell's? In a town where the donuts are that good, there's room for two.

71. Low Profile "Pay Ya Dues" (1989)

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Album: We're in This Together

Label: Priority

Producer: DJ Aladdin, Doug Young

There is a case to be made for Low Profile's 1989 debut We're In This Together as the greatest L.A. rap album ever made. Even when he was young, WC seemed about ten years older and 30 years wiser than his peers. Every song was delivered as a lesson from a hood elder. At a time when N.W.A was fracturing amidst petty beefs, We're In This Together seemed even more tight-knit and resolute by comparison.

One producer, one rapper. 11 tracks. No interludes. No singing. The front cover showed WC and DJ Aladdin in all-black Champion sweatshirts and snapbacks, glaring at the camera as if to ask the listener: “What do YOU have to say?” “Pay Ya Dues” epitomizes their method. Aladdin beats the sand out of “More To the Ounce” and WC uses three verses to unpack what it means and does not mean to ride a bandwagon. It's also the only rap song that uses the term “peon” as the ultimate diss.

The song's heart is its middle verse, where WC takes a break from breaking balls to draw a picture of his dedication: “Back in the days I drove a raggedy Dodge/Couldn't afford a studio, so we used a garage/Aladdin used to grab a gang of disco breaks/One turntable and a broken 808/My little brother Toones and Frank, they hung around all night/To make sure that the demo was tight/Didn't have an engineer, if you know what I mean/Aladdin did it all at the age of 16.” Before gangsta became glamorized, this pair was the salt of the L.A. earth.

70. Kokane "Bakin' Soda Free" (1994)

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Album: Funk Upon A Rhyme

Label: Ruthless

Producer: Cool 187um

Kokane was fearless and psychotic and of all the great records that came out under the stewardship of Ruthless Records, his Funk Upon A Rhyme was the only one to take G-funk to its inevitable conclusion: specifically, a place where pleasure turns into paranoia, a weekend turns into a week, and Thai stick turns into sherm. At a time when everyone was rapping about slinging drugs, Kokane was the only one who sounded like he ingested them.

The cracked croon heard on “Bakin Soda Free” is one of the quintessential vocal sounds in L.A. rap. Deranged and surreal and at times unbearable, there was always something about Kokane that stayed rooted in the street tradition, and his peers never lost respect for him (he remains a favored guest of both Dre and Snoop.)

If Nate Dogg is the definitive voice of L.A. rap, a rich baritone that contains the buttery light, the asphalt perfume, and the indo smoke, then Kokane is his evil twin, a vocal presence that uncorks all the fear and paranoia and vice of the Southland underbelly.

69. Ahmad "Back In The Day" (1994)

Back In The Day

68. Kendrick Lamar "Alright" (2015)

Kendrick Lamar Alright

67. Tha Alkaholiks "Only When I'm Drunk" (1993)

The Alkoholiks

66. Dogg Pound "What Would You Do?" (1995)

Death Row

65. Earl Sweatshirt "Chum" (2012)

Earl Sweatshirt Chum

64. Breeze "L.A. Posse" (1989)


63. Hi-C "Leave My Curl Alone" (1992)

Hi C

62. Snoop Dogg f/ Xzibit "Bitch Please" (1999)

Snoop Dogg

61. Compton's Most Wanted "Growin' Up In The Hood" (1991)

Compton's Most Wanted

60. OFWGKTA "Sandwitches" (2010)


59. Kam "In Traffic" (1995)

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Album: Made in America

Label: East West America, Elektra

Producer: DJ Battlecat

The word is a friend to anyone in need of a fast reason why L.A. sucks: “Traffic.” Kam's brilliance is that he somehow turned traffic into a positive. In his song, traffic isn't something to complain about-it's a metaphor for the pulse of L.A. culture. Cause I'm known as a peacemaker on the L.A. streets/Wakin' black people up over gangster beats/I'm in traffic.”

Parking lots, swap meets, barbershops-being in traffic is all about living the day. "In Traffic" also functions as a helpful instructional manual for averting the authorities: “Damn, a nigga can't even kick it/Tried to defile it and got a hydraulic ticket/I'm takin' off of this clown and skated/Court sent me a bill and I still ain't paid it.” There isn't a car owner in the county who can't relate.

58. House of Pain "Jump Around" (1992)

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Album: House of Pain

Label: XL Recordings

Producer: DJ Muggs

By the time his shamrock-flaunting crew became a mainstream phenomenon, Erik "Everlast" Shrody had been around the hip-hop block dating back to his appearance on Rhyme Syndicate's 1988 comp Comin' Through. Piling atop a "Blow Ya Head" sample (smartly depicted as a bagpipe in the song's video), Everlast's team-up with Danny Boy and DJ Lethal as House of Pain celebrated Irish-American heritage with a ready-to-rumble roughness as good as Guinness. "Word to your moms, I came to drop bombs, got more rhymes than the Bible got psalms." A grandstand-rattling classic to this day.

57. DJ Quik "Pitch In on a Party" (2000)

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Album: Balance & Options

Label: Arista

Producer: DJ Quik

“Mama, I know you said that you wanted a record you could listen to/With no cussing and shit/I tried/But I still gotta do this!” We'll never know what Mama Quik thought when she got to the part about “raggedy-ass bitches,” but it's still a good bet that this is her favorite song. Its genius is that it's about a party where everything goes wrong-“Cigarette burns in my plush/Empty beers bottles in the brush/And my bitch acting like a lush”—and yet everything about it feels right.

Balance & Options might well be Quik's best-engineered album in a career of superbly-engineered albums. If you got Rod Temperton and Quincy Jones to reunite at the console on which they recorded Off the Wall, they still might not be able to make a track with a polyurethane glimmer to match “Pitch In On A Party.”

56. Snoop Dogg f/ Nate Dogg, Kurupt, & Warren G "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)" (1993)

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Album: Doggystyle

Label: Death Row/Interscope/Atlantic

Producer: Dat Nigga Daz, Warren G

This gem from Snoop's debut album provided several classic rap quotables. But more importantly, it supplied hip-hop with one of its cornerstone pillars: trust no ho. Instead of getting sprung on a chick who gets around, Snoop and the fellas showed that sharing with your boys was caring for your boys. And let's not forget Nate Dogg's melodic rap, in which he tells a chick that because she gave up the P so fast, he lost respect for her even faster.

55. J.J. Fad "Supersonic" (1988)

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Album: Supersonic

Label: Ruthless

Producer: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince

Salt-N-Pepa was the biggest female rap act in the world.  Thus, Eazy-E needed his own version of Salt-N-Pepa.  J.J. Fad was three teenagers from Rialto, California: MC J.B. (Juana Burns), Baby-D (Dania Birks), and Sassy C. (Michelle Franklin). Up to 1987, “Supersonic” was the biggest-selling song on Ruthless Records, with over 400,000 copies sold out of car trunks under the supervision of Jerry Heller and Eazy-E. When Atlantic picked up J.J. Fad for national distribution, Heller enthused to the New York office: “It’s just jammin’, fresh and def,” which was the acronym Eazy had deduced from the group’s moniker. “Supersonic” went on to become an even bigger national hit, and with good reason. It’s the perfect merger of Arabian Prince’s fast-break electro and Cold Chillin’-style beatboxing.

54. ScHoolboy Q "There He Go" (2011)

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Album: Habits & Contradictions

Producer: Sounwave

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment

The realest never have bodyguards. They walk through the mall unadorned and unaccompanied. ScHoolboy Q knows. He lets you know in the first seconds of “There He Go.” Initially leaked off of Q’s second album, Habits & Contradictions, “There He Go” is a personal statement turned unhinged assault. Adopting the cartoonish vocal inflections of Nick Minaj, Q tempers the high-pitched hook with snarling avowals of individual and collective rap supremacy. Expletives are unloaded with abandon, the count so high that Q even comments on his affinity for four-letter exclamation. “There He Go” also succeeds sonically, ranking highly among Sounwave’s best beats. Above all, the song cemented Q as TDE’s most charismatic member, a forceful and unapologetically authentic rapper with equally engaging lyrics and delivery.

53. Ice Cube "The N***a Ya Love To Hate" (1990)

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Album: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted

Label: Priority

Producer: The Bomb Squad

Over the course of his career, Ice Cube picked fights with Eazy E, Cypress Hill and damn near the entire East Coast region of the United States, but he was never bolder than when he attacked Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis in “Nigga Ya Love To Hate.” Forget rap music-Davis was easily the most gangster figure in Los Angeles at the time, some ungodly hybrid of General Douglas MacArthur and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Making demands on Al Davis was suicidal, but this was a year when Ice Cube spared no one his wrath.

At the peak of East Coast political rap, he cut through all the sloganeering and Afrocentric posturing until his every line was a Molotov cocktail of truth that he would use to burn down the city, the industry, the country at large.

Rappers are always looking for allies, but on “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate” Cube is an island. Ostracized and ridiculed by N.W.A, derided by the East Coast establishment, Amerikkka's Most Wanted is the sound of a lone gunman facing down an army. (In 2010 Cube would make amends, directing a documentary about his love for the Raiders and Al Davis, whom Cube called “a player's owner and a guy who's really just all about football.)

52. Xzibit "Paparazzi" (1996)

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Album: At the Speed of Life

Label: Loud/RCA Records

Producer: Thayod Ausar

Beginning with the sound of a camera shutter clicking, this song is a barely concealed diatribe from pre-Pimp My Ride Xzibit's about the sort of recognition that had, at that point, eluded him. "It's a shame niggas in the rap game only for the money and the fame," raps X to the Z. His own televised fame lay just around the corner.

51. YG "Bicken Back Being Bool" (2014)

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Album: My Krazy Life

Label: Def Jam

Producer: DJ Mustard

It takes a conscious effort to replace C’s (and C sounds) with B’s—at least initially. Eventually the oral affront to the opposition becomes an inextricable aspect of your lexicon. YG didn’t invent the switch, but he’s the first to expose the lingo to the masses so brazenly. “Bicken Back Being Bool” is his answer to DJ Quik’s “Loked Out Hood.” The narrative isn’t as cohesive, or chronological, but the conflict is the same. A day of intended relaxation goes horribly awry in Bompton—shots are fired, homes are robbed, and YG goes to prison. His plainspoken rhymes convey the chaos with arresting immediacy. DJ Mustard’s beat thumps with sub-rattling menace and shimmers like shattered glass in the sunlight. Though YG recycles lines from his 2011 song “Honestly” when engaging in full Blood speak, it’s forgivable. “Smoking on a bigarette/Eating a bowl of bereal” will always be inexplicably catchy. 

50. Kendrick Lamar "HiiiPower" (2011)

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Album: Section.80

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment

Producer: J. Cole

For years L.A. has been looking for a young rapper who can combine the infuriated truth-telling of the N.W.A school with the technical virtuosity prized by rap purists. Well, Kendrick Lamar might be that rapper-but let's not rush it. Talking about the pyramids and slave ships doesn't make you a messiah, nor does it make you truthful.

What is certain is that Kendrick is pushing. Pushing to be better, pushing not to regurgitate the same watered-down malt liquor. He can rap as well or better as anyone from New York, or Philadelphia, or Chicago, or Oakland, or New Orleans, or any other city. If he doesn't forget the city he came from, and refuses to pander to know-nothings who are always in search of the next lyrically lyrical lyricist, then his name will be at the top of the city's next chapter.

49. Ice-T "Colors" (1988)

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Album: Colors

Label: Sire, Warner Bros.

Producer: Afrika Islam


The most indelible anthem from the hoodsploitation movie trend of the '90s, "Colors" is also apex of the type of first-person gangsta rap Ice-T had spent years perfecting. "Death is my set / Guess my religion" he intones amidst a cacophony of bird calls, gun shots, and nasty scratching. The song is indivisible from the film of the same title.

47. Eazy-E "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" (1993)

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Album: It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa

Label: Ruthless, Priority

Producer: Rhythum D, Eazy-E

Admittedly, calling Snoop an “anorexic rapper” might not have been the most effective tactic in combating the career-ending juggernaut that was The Chronic. But Eazy had some salient points, especially in highlighting his financial stake in Dre's success: “E they tried to fade you on 'Dre Day' / But 'Dre Day' only meant Eazy's payday.”

Eazy's smartest move in rebutting Dre's attacks was to employ a beat that undermined the smooth likability of “Nuthin' But a G Thang.” Cooked up by Cold187, “Real Muthaphukking G's” is not a sociable piece of music. It is seasick. It is toxic. It is grotesque. The public was not on his side but Eazy's conversation was more sonic than verbal. The song's venom comes not from the rhymes, but from the juxtaposition of the song's oily, globular bass and Eazy's high-pitched taunts.

46. Young MC "Bust A Move" (1989)

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Album: Stone Cold Rhymin'

Label: Fourth & Broadway/Delicious Vinyl/Island Records/BMG Ariola

Producer: Matt Dike, Michael Ross

“Bust a Move” was the brainchild of several L.A. wunderkinds. DJ Matt Dike, who elevated the art of deejaying at his club Power Tools (1985–1987); Michael Ross, a UCLA business student from Long Beach who parlayed Dike's talents into Delicious Vinyl, the most successful and longest-running impendent rap label on the West Coast; and Marvin Young, a USC economics student, who wrote raps that a generation of teenagers memorized and would still repeat decades after they grew up, got rich and became the characters you see in Up In the Air. Last but not least, Flea delivers the bassline for a perfect confection of L.A. musical currents circa 1989.

45. The Game f/ 50 Cent "Westside Story" (2004)

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Album: The Documentary

Label: Aftermath, Interscope, G-Unit

Producer: Dr. Dre, Scott Storch

Crips, Bloods, eses, Asians—everyone could agree that this was a smash. This song kicked off Game's major label debut album and was also the song that really got him buzzing on the mixtape circuit. The track featured a vicious piano line courtesy of the good Doc and 50 Cent on the chorus, but unlike Game's other 50-assisted hits (“How We Do” and “Hate It Or Love It”) "Westside Story" didn't have 50 stealing the show or even spitting any verses. This was rough, rugged, and raw West coast music for cats who don't do button-up shirts or drive Maybachs.

44. DJ Quik "Tonite" (1991)

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Album: Quik is the Name

Label: Profile

Producer: DJ Quik

"That's the biggest hit I've had, chart-wise, in my career," Quik told Complex earlier this year. "That was my second record that impacted at radio." But the song had even greater significance for Quik, because it marked his coming-of-age. "I'm hanging out with all these OG-ass gangbangin'-ass drug dealer fly-ass rich motherfuckers," Quik explained. "And I ended up just being like one of them... I made 'Tonite' gloating about that. You know, I ain't got no job, but I'm having money—and I'm honing in my rap style... I'm pretty lucky in a lot of senses. Because I could have gotten killed living the lifestyle I was living. But the shit turned into money... Alcohol, growing up, bitches and shit—it was a great time. Debauchery at its finest.”

43. Daz Dillinger f/ Soopafly "Put the Monkey In It" (1997)

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Album: "Put The Monkey In It" - Single

Label: Tommy Boy

Producer: Daz Dillinger

When Death Row's freshman class was first in session, around 1991, one of several duos to pair off within the larger collective was Daz Dillinger and Soopafly. The first was one-half of the Long Beach rap duo the Dogg Pound, and the second was a musical mastermind and closet rapper originally recruited to play keyboards on Dre's tracks.

They've been collaborators ever since, although the peak of their musical friendship was probably 1997's “Put The Monkey In It.” This was G-funk in its dapper middle-age. Instead of pulls of malt liquor at the local liquor mart, the beats now felt like sips of cognac at a well-appointed gentleman's club. Daz knew how to rap at conversation volume, and his nimble vocal fits into Sooafly's track like stitching to the leather upholstery of a factory Lexus.

42. King Tee "Dippin' (Remix)" (1994)

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Album: IV Life

Label: MCA Records

Producer: DJ Broadway, King Tee

When asked to identify the center of an infamously centerless city, Joan Didion pointed to the intersection of Sunset and La Brea. The thick of Hollywood. Bullshit. Anyone who lives in the real Los Angeles could tell you that its center is the cloverleaf in which the 105 crosses over the 110.

Everytime an Angeleno returns home to the city, you take the carpool lane east on the Harbor Freeway, and you get lifted up on the greatest freeway interchange in Southern California, a boomerang turn that throws you ten stories above the streets as you curve to the north and are gifted with a view of the smog-shrouded mountains and dystopian downtown spires. The big home. It's impossible for a song to sound bad on that drive, but there is one piece of music that contains the climactic concrete-born freedom of that turn, and its name is “Dippin.”

41. Dilated Peoples "Work The Angles" (1998)

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Album: The Platform

Label: Capitol

Producer: Kut Masta Kurt

Alongside Jurrasic 5, the punningly named Peoples were L.A.'s standard bearers of trad rap in the '90s. And because tradition dictates that hip-hop came from New York, this track has NYC in its guts, with a sample of Phife Dawg ("not now but right now") and a lyrical reference to the Baseball Furies. Nevertheless, "Work The Angles" is a West Coast number due to the angular piano and fatback funk of Kut Master Kurt's production. Oh, and Evidence's shout-out to Lakers' color commentator Stu Lanz.

40. Da Lench Mob "Guerillas In Tha Mist" (1992)

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Album: Guerillas In Tha Mist

Label: Street Knowledge

Producer: Ice Cube, Chilly Chill, Mr. Woody, Rashad, T-Bone

In order to destroy racism from the inside out, Da Lench Mob appropriated every horrifying jungle-derived stereotype used to mock African-Americans, and turned the imagery into an insurgent assault against white America. If you are able to unpack all the semiotic implications of this song you might think about applying for tenure at Morehouse. But even if you got your only degree from Saturday morning television, you’ll be able to catch Ice Cube’s drift: “Fuck Grape Ape and Magilla I’m a killa / Magilla Gorilla ain’t a killa / White boys like Godzilla / But my super nigga King Kong / Played his ass like ping pong.” 

39. MC Eiht "Streight Up Menace" (1993)

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Album: Menace II Society Soundtrack

Label: Jive

Producer: DJ Slip, MC Eiht, Quincy Jones III

Perhaps better known by gamers as the voice of Ryder in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Compton's Most Wanted hardnut MC Eiht broke through in '93 with this key hit from the soundtrack to Menace II Society (Eiht made an appearance in the move to boot). Headsnap rimshots over an upright bassline prompt Eiht to promise "muthafuckas I ain't finished / be on the lookout for the straight-up menace." G-yeeeah!

38. Schoolboy Q f/ A$AP Rocky "Hands On The Wheel" (2012)

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Album: Habits & Contradictions

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment

Producer: Best Kept Secret

Schoolboy Q established himself as TDE's next in line with this ode to weed and brew that was in fact produced by a Cleveland-based production duo and featured Harlem's own A$AP Rocky. On the low, A$AP steals the show. Mostly because he was out to get revenge after he felt Schoolboy murdered him on their other excellent collaboration, “Brand New Guy.” Hey, a little friendly competition never hurt anybody, right?

37. Cypress Hill "Hand On The Pump" (1991)

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Album: Cypress Hill

Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia, SME

Producer: DJ Muggs

The real heads say “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” the masses say “Insane In the Brain,” but in the opinion of this writer the quintessential Cypress Hill song is “Hand on the Pump.” Here are the reasons.

Sen Dog: “Put me in chains, try to beat my brains/I can get out but the grudge remains.” The group's best nonsensical hook: “I'm headed up the river with a boat and no paddle/And I'm handin' out beat downs!” In two lines, the chorus exemplifies the spirit of Cypress Hill, specifically the pairing of marijuana hedonism with casual violence, and B-Real's adenoidal chants with Sen Dog's constipational callbacks.

But most of all, this track is quintessential is for its incorporation of Gene Chandler's “Duke of Earl,” an all-time favorite of East L.A. lowriders. The way that DJ Muggs rigs a tensile drum pattern to the golden sheen of doo-wop is the perfect symbol for how Cypress re-armed the L.A. Chicano tradition without sacrificing any of the local flavors.

36. 2Pac "Ambitionz Az A Ridah" (1996)

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Album: All Eyez on Me

Label: Death Row Records

Producer: Daz Dillinger

In late 1995, Suge Knight paid $1.4 million to bail 2Pac out of jail in exchange for the rapper's undying loyalty to Death Row. He had served eight months on charges of sexual assault. “Ambitionz az a Ridah” was the first song he recorded upon his release. The song has all the paranoia and excitement and psychosis of that moment, in which Pac's creative juices were finally uncorked and left to mingle with the deadly rage that had simmered during his incarceration.

He envisioned the song as a ring entrance for Mike Tyson, who previously walked to Redman until Pac chewed him out for it. “Don't you ever play those fucking songs again,” Shakur told him. “They don't give a fuck about you.” On the night that 2Pac watched Tyson destroy Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand, the rapper's “Wrote For Glory” played in the arena.

Still, it is “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”-with a psychotically lopsided beat by Daz Dillinger-that is the rightful soundtrack to the fatal evening. "He was probably a misguided warrior,” said Tyson of his friend, years later. “He had a heart as big as this planet. He had so much love and compassion, and you couldn't even see it under his rage."

35. Funkmaster General "L.A. L.A." (1983)

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Album: "L.A. L.A." - Single

Label: Street People Record Co., Saturn Records

Producer: John Lundy, Greg Ware

Funkmaster General was a pen name for the songwriting and production team of Greg Ware and Jon Lundy. “L.A., L.A.” is one of dozens of songs that appeared in the wake of Ronnie Hudson's “West Coast Poplock,” which changed the sound of ghetto party music in Los Angeles. “L.A., L.A.” is shoddy, unstable, lyrically thin, and seemingly improvised, but these all are things that make it great.

It is a premier piece of basement funk with all the mold left in, and even though the redundant hook is no more complicated than a toddler's carseat rhyme, it somehow epitomizes the hallucinatory spirit of early L.A. electro, when there were no rules and aspiring producers were encouraged to be as bizarre as possible, as long as they could provide a glutinous low-end assault on par with Funkmaster General.

34. AMG "Bitch Betta Have My Money" (1991)

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Album: Bitch Betta Have My Money

Label: Select Records

Producer: AMG, DJ Quik

Not long after he was rechristened AMG, 19-year-old Jason Lewis bonded with DJ Quik over their shared enthusiasm for the particulars of the vagina. They’ve been collaborating since 1991, which saw the release of “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” the most convivial song about snatching pussy in the history of California. Key stanza: “Bend your ass on over and touch your toes / Hold your breath, cause I’ma hold my nose / This dick of mine ain't friendly baby / Will it hurt you? / Yeah maybe, probably.”

33. Ras Kass "Soul On Ice (Remix)" (1996)

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Album: "Soul On Ice Remix/Marinatin" - Single

Label: Priority

Producer: Diamond D

If it weren't for Diamond D hooking up a sample of composer David Axelrod's 1968 song “The Mental Traveler,” the remix of “Soul On Ice” might just be another razor-sharp attack from L.A.'s most New Yorkish MC. Even though Diamond was full-blooded Bronx, something in him recognized the compatibility of Axe and Ras, a pair separated by race, generation and genre, but united in the themes of their work: namely, the paranoia and doom lurking beneath the majesty of Los Angeles.

32. Kid Frost "La Raza" (1990)

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Album: Hispanic Causing Panic

Label: Virgin

Producer: Baker Boyz, Frost, Julio G, Will Roc, Tony G., Ern-Dog, Fred Wreck, Pablito

“La Raza” has stood the test of time. In 1990 the idea of a Latino rapper making a song in Spanglish that basically lists every East L.A. cliché was suspect at best. “La Raza” was popular, but at the time it felt like it was regarded as a novelty. In retrospect, since television and movies showed us just how cynical Latino stereotypes can get, it's easier to recognize the authentic sense of pride running through Kid Frost's first big hit.

There's nothing corny about it. It's sharp and lean, and it incorporates El Chicano's “Viva Tirado”-the unofficial East L.A. national anthem-shrewdly and seamlessly while honoring the trancelike groove of the original. At the time, critics vainly reached for a new marketing term: “Spanglish rap,” “Hispanic rap,” etc. In reality, the song is pure soul music, delivered with a maximum of style and self-respect.

31. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell "Drop It Like It's Hot" (2004)

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Album: R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece

Label: Doggystyle/Star Trak/Geffen

Producer: The Neptunes

Snoop had already made chart-topping singalongs about smoking indo and pulling 187s on undercover cops, but his greatest trick was teaching America what to do when “the pigs try to get at you.” Someone should make a diagram of all the sounds in The Neptunes' post-McFerrin minimalist masterwork: tongue clicks, nose whistles, belly drums, finger pops. My favorite of all is the hissing sound, which reminds me of a delinquent releasing the air from a fancy car's tire. It's one of those gas-station sounds that's embedded in the mechanical symphony of everyday life in L.A.

30. M.C. Fosty And Lovin' C "Radio Activity Rapp" (1984)

MC Frosty

29. Volume 10 "Pistol Grip Pump" (1994)

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Album: Hip-Hopera

Label: RCA

Producer: Mega Baka Boyz

Hundreds of rap songs have sampled “More Bounce to the Ounce”-why aren't there hundreds of rap songs like “Pistol Grip Pump”? Volume 10 is simply fighting at a different weight than all other gangsta rap hopefuls. The song has a left hook, a jab and an uppercut.

It is relentless. It cracks asphalt. Hardness doesn't do it justice. Best of all, it came out of the stew of the Good Life Café, the bastion of anti-gangsta rap creativity in the mid 1990s. We'd wager that's where Volume 10 learned to rhyme “chivalrous” with “ligaments.” If you can name a more ferocious rap song, you should play it for Rage Against the Machine, who took to playing “Pistol Grip Pump” in concert between “Down Rodeo” and “Killing In the Name.”

28. Toddy Tee "Batterram" (1985)

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Album: "Batterram" - Single

Label: Epic

Producer: Leon Haywood

Let's face it: LAPD Police Chief Daryl Gates is the godfather of rap in Los Angeles. Gates' approach to poverty was so supremely dehumanized, his lust for military force so all-consuming, and his hatreds so unapologetic, that without him, L.A. rap might never birthed the confrontational fire it needed to grow.

At the peak of the crack epidemic in the mid 1980s, Gates petitioned the city government to purchase tank-sized vehicles called batterrams. Gates then used them to run over homes in South Los Angeles. Some of the destroyed homes belonged to drug dealers and some belonged to working families-by the time he had his fleet, it was clear that Gates made no distinction.

At the peak of this atrocity, “Batterram” hit the streets and made deejay Toddy Tee one of L.A.'s first big rap stars. He wrote the song after watching one night's evening news, and created a track that contained a primitive approximation of the chaos and thunder of a paramilitary police raid. The LAPD is still around and still suspect, but you could say that Toddy Tee won this battle: Gates died a bitter man in 2010 while “Batterram” lives on.

27. Westside Connection "Bow Down" (1996)

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Album: Bow Down

Label: Priority

Producer: Bud'da

Formed as coastal tensions reached a rolling boil, hip-hop's definitive L.A. supergroup featured Ice Cube clicking with Mack 10 (red rag) and WC (blue rag). Their sole purpose? Proving that the West is the best. The title track to their 1996 debut was a squelchy demand for obeisance with an equally indelible video that peaked with WC getting his C-Walk on in his walk-in closet. How epochal a track was "Bow Down"? It inspired its L.A. radio parody hit "Chow Down." Eat up.

26. King Tee "Bass" (1988)

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Album: Act A Fool

Label: Capitol

Producer: DJ Pooh

“Verse four, the part where I get it off / Then, try to rush it cause the studio costs / I mean the main idea is BASS / And you probably get a bruise when it's at your face.” In this, the song that inaugurated King Tee's career in 1987, is the artist's search for the perfect metaphor to describe the life-giving quality of bass.

It's like an earthquake, he says. It's toxic. It makes your heart shiver. It kicks like a ninja. It's more addictive than crack. It is The Main Idea. This is the song that bridges the party-rocking roller-rink raps of the early '80s to the brass-knuckle attack of the Ruthless era-and the brickwork is BASS.

25. The Game f/ 50 Cent "How We Do" (2004)

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Album: The Documentary

Label: Aftermath, Interscope, G-Unit

Producer: Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo

The way 50 tells it, this song, along with several cuts from The Game's debut album, was intended for 50's sophomore album The Massacre. It's believable because he owns the menacing Dre beat with his bicoastal flows, but Game makes it an L.A. record with car-centric lyrics like: "I put gold Daytonas on that cherry Six-Four / White walls so clean it's like I'm ridin on vogues / Hit one switch mang, that ass so low / Cali got niggaz in New York ridin on hundred spokes."

24. Domino "Getto Jam" (1993)

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Album: Domino

Label: Outburst/Def Jam

Producer: DJ Battlecat, Domino

Domino met Battlecat when they were both hired to work on the Bangin' On Wax project, which had hundreds of Crips and Bloods audition for an album that was something like the Making the Band for gangbangers. Bangin' On Wax turned out to be bang-by-numbers, but thankfully Domino and Battlecat stuck together for a more fruitful collaboration in the form of Domino's debut album. “Getto Jam” was one of the biggest rap hits of 1993, rivaled only by the debut of Snoop Doggy Dogg.

It was the first No. 1 Rap song to utilize strictly melodic rapping and it's probably the only time a former Long Beach Crip has scatted on a hit song. (To paraphrase: “Du-bum dway / Da-bum dway / Da-bum dway-yay.”) At a time when South Los Angeles hip-hop was divided into two camps-the Death Row/Ruthless gangstas and the Good Life jazzsters-“Getto Jam” proved that they had more in common than anyone was willing to admit.

23. Tha Alkaholiks "Make Room" (1993)

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Album: 21 & Over

Label: Loud

Producer: E-Swift, Tha Alkaholiks

Of his many gifts to L.A. rap, the great King Tee introduced the world to Tha Alkaholiks at a time when they were desperately needed. Gangsta rap was overfed and too self-serious to stand upright. When L.A. rap seemed in danger of turning into one endless song about eating a fat dick, the Liks came to the party, jumped on the couch, spilled their drinks on the carpet, and relieved L.A. from a period of mourning left over from the 1992 riots.

There's a sound in “Make Room” that mimics a burp. That's intentional. DJ Homicide has the song's best line: “But that's cause I'm slick tossin' records like a discus / Y'all niggas feel these beats from fuckin' Halloween to Christmas.” It turned out Tha Liks had a much longer shelf life. Perhaps because he was severely calendar-challenged, Homicide would soon leave the group to throw in with the frosted tip-hop of an Orange County quartet called Sugar Ray.

22. Xzibit "What U See Is What U Get" (1998)

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Album: 40 Days & 40 Nightz

Label: Loud

Producer: Jesse West/Xzibit

A staple of BET's Rap City: Tha Basement, X to the Z's "What U See Is What U Get" is best remembered for its incredible video, in which Xzibit walks to the store to get some milk while all kinds of wild shit happens around him. Our favorite part: A cameo by Flavor Flav at the 2:03 mark—right when he's mentioned in the song. Turns out what you saw is what he said. The song itself was a 360 roundhouse to the mouth that hit with the pimps, players, hoes, hustlers, willies, thugs, ballers, busters, gangstas, macks, everyday all day, shot callers, and even the high rollers.

21. Compton's Most Wanted "Hood Took Me Under" (1992)

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Album: Music to Driveby

Label: Orpheus

Producer: DJ Slip

The queasy apex of the curl-and-locs era, “The Hood Took Me Under” is Compton's Most Wanted's masterpiece. The group's first three releases were pretty much flawless, but they really hit their stride when L.A. ascended to the top of the entertainment industry and G-funk slowed to a crawl, allowing MC Eiht to flex his naturally throaty, unhurried cadence and show why he is the Ben Webster of West Coast rap.

Eiht inhales the nihilism of Tragniew Park Compton Crip life like a pull of smoke from a long spliff: “I loads up the strap and I step/Cause my brain cells are dead and all I think is death.” To outside observers who pondered the mentality that would lead a city to generations of perpetual killing, Eiht provided the coldest, truest answer: “Gee-yea, who gives a fuck about another / Only got love for my fuckin' gang brothers.”

20. Kendrick Lamar f/ MC Eiht "m.A.A.d. city" (2012)

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Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city

Producer: Sounwave, THC, Terrace Martin 

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath, Interscope

“m.A.A.d city” is Kendrick Lamar’s “N.Y. State of Mind.” The locales are disparate and miles apart, but the penetrating sensory details, the intricate and deftly rapped lyrics, and the cutting insight are unmistakably of the same ilk. It is the culmination of a youth spent cataloging fatalities, ducking stray shots, and watching twisted fingers result in stiff bodies. It is an expose on the detrimental effects of living in a place where a truce expires without notice, where announcing your grandmother’s address may prove fatal. Throughout, Lamar’s voice cuts through both of the song’s manic, teeth-rattling suites; aggressive and riddled with pain, occasionally on the verge of breaking. MC Eiht lends his lyrics as much as he does his authority as one of L.A.’s greatest gangster rappers. His inclusion displays Lamar’s reverence as much as it does his intellect. Eiht’s verse, by design, smacks of the past that Lamar spends his verses rallying against. 

19. Ice Cube "No Vaseline" (1991)

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Album: Death Certificate

Label: Priority

Producer: Ice Cube, Sir Jinx

After bouncing from N.W.A. in '89 because he wasn't being paid what he was due, Cube quickly fell out with former mates Eazy E and MC Ren. So Cube put the beef on wax, clowning the guys for siding with their white manager, and saying they must have enjoying being bent over by him. "It ain't my fault, one nigga got smart,” he rapped. “And they rippin' your asshole apart.” Ouch.

18. The Lady of Rage "Afro Puffs" (1994)

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Album: Above The Rim: The Soundtrack

Label: Death Row

Producer: Dr. Dre

In this Snoop-assisted spiel from the First Lady of Death Row, Rage flexed skills instead of flaunting sexuality: "Let me loosen up my bra strap / And um, let me boost ya with my raw rap." The only woman who rocked effectively over Dre's ultra-masculine gangsta tracks, here Rage offers a shout-out to her hometown (Farmville, VA) and has two words for those who ain't down: "tough titty."

17. 2Pac f/ Snoop Dogg "2 of Amerika's Most Wanted" (1996)

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Album: All Eyez on Me

Label: Death Row Records

Producer: Tracy Robinson, Daz Dillinger

You can almost smell Al Sharpton's hair burning. 2Pac and Snoop Dogg were on Death Row, and only one would make it out alive. But for now, "break out the champange glasses and condoms" and have nuthin' but a gangsta party. Snoop's stated desire to "do it all legal" gives Pac's "I live in fear of a felony" a ghoulish glow in retrospect. Even while Pac walked the Earth, this one felt ghoulish. "My destiny release me to the streets," raps Pac. It was written.

16. Above The Law "Murder Rap" (1990)

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Album: Livin' Like Hustlers

Label: Ruthless

Producer: Above The Law, Dr. Dre, Laylaw

Of all the works of aural architecture overseen by Dr. Dre, Above the Law's “Murder Rap” might well be his most underrated building. Released in the creative crosscurrent that existed in the space between Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic, “Murder Rap” is a monstrous piece of work, clearly inspired by the density of Ice Cube's collaboration with the Bomb Squad on Amerikka's Most Wanted.

Beginning with a snippet of Eazy talking about meeting President Bush, the song goes on to layer no less than six different samples. The hellacious opening assault contains of a collision of drums (borrowed from James Brown and Eddie Bo), bass (from Public Enemy) and a sample of Quincy Jones' theme from the cop show Ironsides (it could be a police siren; it could be a hissing asp).

Had Dr. Dre not soon invented G-funk, “Murder Rap” suggests an alternate path that L.A. gangsta rap might have taken: a bombastic, tribally heavy sound that's closer to heavy metal than Blaxploitation funk.

15. The D.O.C. "Funky Enough" (1989)

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Album: No One Can Do it Better

Label: Ruthless Records/Atlantic Recording Corporation

Producer: Dr. Dre

Before the car wreck that destroyed his voice, The D.O.C. already rapped in a nasty rasp: "Lay the lyrics on the top like a rug / Make it sound smooth and let 'em make a dub." An addictive four-note bass line atop a bare grid of drums; this Dre production sounds more like N.W.A ruthlessness than a Snoop-era smoke-out. Way more than funky enough.

14. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg "Deep Cover" (1992)

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Album: Deep Cover

Label: Epic

Producer: Dr. Dre

The Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum crime thriller Deep Cover was better than you might expect, but long after the movie is forgotten Dr. Dre's soundtrack cut-which introduced a lanky Long Beach rapper named Snoop Doggy Dogg to the world-will be boomin' in your system. The unbearably tense beat is one of Dre's simplest but it's also timeless. Pun, Fat Joe, Biggie, and Ghsotface have all taken the "Deep Cover" instrumental out for a spin, but nobody ripped it better than Dre and Snoop. Yeah-and ya don't stop.

13. N.W.A "Fuck Tha Police" (1988)

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Album: Straight Outta Compton

Label: Priority, Ruthless

Producer: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella

The song that put N.W.A on the FBI's radar was also the one most often cited as predicting the simmering tensions that would explode four years later during the Los Angeles riots. For all its sociopolitical significance, "Fuck Tha Police" is first and foremost a great rap record. Framed as a court case with Judge Dre presiding and prosecuting attorneys MC Ren, Ice Cube, and Eazy Muthafuckin' E, this one's an open and shut case.

12. Warren G f/ Nate Dogg "Regulate" (1994)

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Album: Regualte...G Funk Era

Label: Def Jam / Death Row / Interscope Records

Producer: Warren G

Back in 1990, while his cousin Dr. Dre was making noise with N.W.A, Warren G founded the trio 213-along with Nate Dogg and Snoop. By the summer of 1994, when "Regulate" dropped on Death Row's Above The Rim soundtrack, Snoop was one of the world's biggest rap stars. But folks were still sleeping on Nate Dogg, whose menacing melodies-along with Warren's slick flip of a Michael McDonald sample-helped make "Regulate" a No. 2 pop hit.

11. Egyptian Lover "Freak-A-Holic" (1986)

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Album: One Track Mind

Label: Egyptian Empire Records

Producer: Egyptian Lover

In the words of Los Angeles county native Frank Zappa: “All the corny tricks you tried / Will not forestall the rising tide of HUNGRY FREAKS, DADDY!” There is undoubtedly some cosmic connection between Zappa's 1966 debut Freak Out! and the deep-cavity scan of freakology that Egyptian Lover undertook between 1982 and 1989.

Ponder a world in which Greg Broussard was not deposed by N.W.A and the ascendancy of G-funk, and was given a chance to make his version of The Chronic. Then again, “Freak-A-Holic” might well be his version of The Chronic. Suffice to say that this is the dirtiest rap song without any dirty words that the West Coast has ever produced.

Egyptian Lover had a way of transmitting sleaze telepathically. Call him the Ludwig Van Beethoven of L.A. electro. Not since Symphony No. 5 has the repetition of a four-note figure been delivered with such belligerent lust. It's inadvisable to give the last word to a YouTube commenter, but in this case the top response to the “Freak-A-Holic” video says it all: “This is that old school taco meat swag.”

10. Pharcyde "Passin' Me By" (1993)

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Album: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

Label: Delicious Vinyl

Producer: J-Swift, L.A. Jay

The Pharcyde were experts of their craft that didn't take themselves too seriously, and that's why 20 years later we're still taking their music seriously. “Passin' Me By” does much that is difficult to pull off: Being goofy and somber at the same time; incorporating saxophone into a rap song in non-cheesy fashion; a hook that is not quite sung, but yelped.

We hear this and think of the photographs of Pharcyde Manor that Brian Cross took in 1992, when the group members gathered around a live drummer, threw back their heads, and rapped to entertain each other.

Millions of rap outfits talk about being brothers, but Pharcyde made songs that weren't premised only on a fraternal bond, but on authentic day-to-day friendship. Even now, “Passin' Me By” seems like it was made just for them, that the listener is incidental, that we happened upon a group of friends while they were running styles on their couch.

Their talent seems so casual and J-Swift's track is so casually orchestral, you can still get twisted by the shift in depth perception that occurs when the verse of this song slips into the chorus. Quincy Jones should get some kind of honorary L.A. rap medal for providing the dank samples for 2Pac's “How Do U Want It,” Above the Law's “Murder Rap” and this, based on a 1973 cover of “Summer In the City,” suitably muggy for the Pharcyde's mischief.

9. DJ Quik "Jus Lyke Compton" (1992)

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Album: Way 2 Fonky

Label: Profile

Producer: DJ Quik, Rob 'Fonksta' Bacon

“Just Lyke Compton” has Quik's handmade bass. It has one of his catchiest hooks, and has him rapping in his 22-year-old prime. It even has his signature sleigh bells. All these factors make for a classic Quik song, but this is more than a classic Quik song. This is one of the all-time great rap songs, because of its point-of-view. While most L.A. rap looked at itself in the context of the city, “Just Lyke Compton” looked at L.A. rap in the context of the country at large.

His tone is not dispassionate, nor is it judgmental. He never strays from his role as reporter, and like any good reporter he returned from his travels with images and stories. He's obviously tripped-out by the evidence that Compton gang culture has been imported to cities as far-flung as St. Louis, Denver and San Antonio, and his feelings are not delivered verbally, but tonally-a tone of pride mixed with exasperation and amazement that something that he thought grew only in his backyard has infected the entire country.

8. Eazy-E "Boyz-N-Tha-Hood" (1986)

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Album: N.W.A. and the Posse

Label: Ruthless

Producer: Dr. Dre

When Macola pressed the first copies of “Boyz N Tha Hood” in the spring of 1986, the only place it was sold was at the daily Compton Swap Meet in the old Sears building on Long Beach Boulevard. Then it got popular in suburban San Fernando Valley, and after that, Tower Records locations all over the state started ordering more copies. By the end of the year, a Slauson hustler named Eric Wright had become a rap star. He was so scared to perform in front of crowds that he assembled the first incarnation of N.W.A to back him up (including Ice Cube, who had written the lyrics to Eazy’s big hit). Several lawsuits, innumerable pairs of leather biker gloves and one tragic AIDS-related death later, “Boyz In Tha Hood” remains a street classic, and the only Dr. Dre production that can be convincingly reproduced on a pair of upturned garbage cans. 

7. Ice-T “6 in The Mornin'” (1986)

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Album: Dog 'N The Wax (Ya Don't Quit-Part II) (B-Side)

Label: Techno Hop Records

Producer: The Unknown DJ

Ice-T was pushing 30 when he released “6 N Da Mornin'” in 1986, a veteran of both the rap scene and the gang scene. He cut his teeth rapping at clubs like Radio and Rhythm Lounge when L.A. hip-hop was in its gestation period, but didn't find his true voice until he heard Schoolly D's “PSK,” which showed that a record could be raw story and nothing more.

“6 N Da Morning” has a sharper beat than “PSK” with sharper details. In nine verses, the song takes us through three apartments, two clubs, three shootings, three cars, a chase, a jail term, and a plane ride from L.A. to New York.

The seven-minute epic would be unwieldy if it weren't pinned by a circle of sensory details: the squeak of sneakers on a clean floor; a safe full of cold cash; a shootout that concludes with a getaway and a warm bath. The writing is as hard-boiled as a page of James Cain prose and Unknown DJ's beat is as black-and-white as a LA Times headline.

6. Snoop Dogg "Gin & Juice" (1994)

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Album: Doggystyle

Label: Death Row

Producer: Dr. Dre

Now here's a song that's iller than a French kiss from a wino. It's all about that George McCrae two-step. “I Get Lifted” was a pretty ill song to begin with, but when Dr. Dre finished with it, it was a symphony-woozy, lusty, boozy. It would have been a huge song even if some Death Row benchwarmer like RBX had taken it.

But it was destined for Snoop and he for it, because his syrupy, genetically Mississippian flow already smells like menthol and liquor. What's it about? It's about Slick Rick, Seagrams, and a bitch named Sadie. It had bankers, schoolgirls, and every other citizen singing about indo for most of 1993 and all of 1994, and continues to do so.

5. N.W.A "Straight Outta Compton" (1988)

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Album: Straight Outta Compton

Label: Priority, Ruthless

Producer: DJ Yella, Dr. Dre

Here it is, the song that made a relatively small hamlet south of downtown Los Angeles one of the most famous cities in the world. Compton had been a middle-class white suburb for most of the 20th century, and following the LA riots it would slowly change to a predominantly Latino neighborhood. In the public consciousness, however, it will always been the territory of a crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube, from the gang called Niggaz With Attitude.

Compton is not nearly the most dangerous part of Los Angeles, but the name had symbolic potential and syllabic force. The word Compton is shaped like a bullet, and it punctuates in a way that Hawaiian Gardens or Wilmington never could.

The genius of N.W.A was that they treated Compton both as a place and a symbol. They could rap about its dirt motels and swap meets and stash houses because they had lived them, but the real accomplishment of “Straight Outta Compton” was that gave a name to innumerable ghetto neighborhoods in Los Angeles-and over the world-where gang violence, drug commerce and police brutality are major motivators of everyday existence.

4. Cypress Hill "How I Could Just Kill A Man" (1991)

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Album: Cypress Hill

Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia, SME

Producer: DJ Muggs

Well, here it is, the symphonic masterwork of one Lawrence Muggerud, aka DJ Muggs. He cooked up the beat in a tiny apartment in Hollywood that he shared with DJ Aladdin of Low Profile. In one room, Aladdin, WC, Coolio and Crazy Toones were making We're in This Thing Together," and in the other Cypress was making demos for their first album.

L.A. is famous for producing homicidal maniacs who are also incredibly charming, but has there ever been a song as exceedingly lovable and homicidal in the same note? “Didn't have to blast him but I did anyway/Young punk had to pay/So I just killed a man!”

It may well be the most danceable murder ballad ever written. Now here is something you can't understand: A musicologist from the University of Oregon wrote a dissertation to explain all the different things Muggs accomplished in “Kill a Man.”

3. 2Pac f/ Dr. Dre "California Love" (1995)

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Album: All Eyez on Me

Label: Death Row Records

Producer: Dr. Dre

The remixes of “California Love” are split into a daytime version and a nighttime version. The original-based on a piano-driven Joe Cocker sample first used by Ultramagnetic MCs in 1987-has all the sharpness of hard sunshine, while the remix is smokier, smoggier, more perilous. Ellen DeGeneres likes to dance to the first version; the second is something that belongs solely to streetlife within L.A. city limits.

The pinnacle of G-funk is contained in this consummate production, which brings together Ronnie Hudson, Roger Troutman and Dr. Dre in a holy trinity of South Central sound design. And in the middle of it all, a Northern California transplant named Tupac Shakur, “fiending for money and alcohol,” while rhyming “slow jam” with “Rosecrans.”

2. Ice Cube “Today Was A Good Day" (1993)

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Album: The Predator

Label: Priority

Producer: DJ Pooh

In 2012 an internet addict with too much time on his hands determined the exact date of Ice Cube's “Good Day” by making a list of everything that's mentioned in the song, and using a highly fallible method of deductive logic. He came out with January 20, 1992.

A critical detractor arrived at a different date: November 30, 1988. In the midst of these calculations, a charmed public excitedly brought word to Ice Cube, who, when he was eventually contacted, said something to the effect of: “Dudes… it's just a song.”

Of course, “Today Was a Good Day” is much more than a song; it's a timeless incarnation of Southland ambiance. What the Internet fanboys didn't understand in their well-intentioned quest to locate the calendar date of the mythical “Good Day” was that his good day is our every day.

Donuts, basketball, Fatburger, the Goodyear Blimp. When the song gets specific, it gets eternal. (Warning: Running intersections has not yet been officially condoned and the Supersonics are now the Thunder, who beat the Lakers.) As soon as that Isley opening kicks in, it's clear that this isn't a song about a date, but a state of mind.

1. Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" (1992)

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Album: The Chronic

Label: Death Row Records

Producer: Dr. Dre

Because this is one of the only rap songs with flawless orchestration. Because the beat winds around the rappers and the rappers wind around the beat and nothing ever bumps into anything else. Because there is so much tension embedded in this song and yet it couldn't be more relaxed.

Because it's a picture of rap in 1992 and yet it plays like a page from the Cold Crush Brothers. More pimped out, definitely, but in its essence it is two improvisers trading the microphone, swapping tongue twisters and blue jokes and barbs about sex, all of it revolving around a call-and-response routine so old that it would have worked in 1960, 1940, 1920: "It's like this and like that and like this and-uh…"

Because Calvin Broadus has made 100 embarrassing career moves and he might make 1000 more, but none of it matters because in this song he is 20 forever-the thin phenom from Long Beach who couldn't even look straight at the camera when they filmed the video. Because no matter where you are in the world-and this is one of those songs that's always playing somewhere, Barcelona, Zimbabwe, Sao Paulo, Shanghai-when that old Moog whistle starts to whine, you are in L.A.

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