YG’s Still Brazy, the brilliant follow-up to his 2013 debut, My Krazy Life, is perhaps the ultimate contemporary L.A gangsta rap record thus far, building on releases as disparate as Vince Staples’s Summertime ‘06, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron. This is not a statement on quality—although Still Brazy is exceptional—as much as it is on lyrical content and musical tone. “I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre,” he rhymes on lead single “Twist My Fingaz,” “I’m the only one about what I say.”
What makes an L.A. gangsta rap record an L.A. gangsta rap record? They’re the same things that have driven releases from N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton to Ice T’s Original Gangsta to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic—hard street rhymes laid down over funky samples, mostly drawn from (or inspired by) George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic, with quick skits that tie things together. “Twist My Fingaz” samples Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove,” whose sample history alone tells the history of L.A. gangsta rap.
We’re going to assume you have a working knowledge of the linchpins of the genre, including the three albums cited in the previous paragraph, and dig a little deeper. So, if you can put Still Brazy on pause, take a trip back and sample some of the music that made it possible.
The D.O.C., 'No One Can Do It Better' (1989)
The D.O.C. is one of the biggest what-if’s in rap. Following the 1989 release of the critically acclaimed No One Can Do It Better, he was in a car accident that crushed his larynx, which meant his debut album didn’t get a follow-up until 1996’s Helter Skelter. It’s a shame—his raspy delivery preceded that of guys like Sticky Fingaz by years, and it helped turn his intricate, if still '80s-sounding, flows into something else. Given an immediate follow-up, he could have been the West Coast answer to LL Cool J or Chuck D, his braggadocious rhymes backed up by Dr. Dre beats and N.W.A. guest appearances. He dips into some weirdness, namely the rock guitar driven “Beautiful But Deadly,” but opening tracks “It’s Funky Enough” and “Mind Blowin’” are classics of the genre. You’ve heard the “Y’all ready for this?” that opens the record sampled everywhere, and his “I am not illiterate/no, not even a little bit/nothing like an idiot” on “It’s Funky Enough” should be awfully familiar too.
DJ Quik, 'Quik Is the Name' (1991)
DJ Quik never intended Quik Is the Name to be a legit release. He had it all ready to sell on the streets, recorded to a Maxwell metal tape when Profile Records came calling. He redid it in 17 days, Profile released it, and it went platinum. It’s both a gangsta rap masterpiece (tracks like “Quik Is the Name” show a definite N.W.A. influence) and a soul record in its own right (“Tha Bombudd,” “Quik’s Groove”). “Loked Out Hood” and “Deep” are the essential non-single cuts, while “Tonite” and “Born and Raised in Compton” both hit as singles. Quik was just the first—and best—street hustler to take N.W.A.’s blueprint and run with it, lacing uptempo hood tales with perfectly placed cuts and scratches and horn stabs, and looped funk and soul breakbeats. A West Coast master class.
Ice Cube, 'Death Certificate' (1991)
When N.W.A. broke under its own weight in 1991, Ice Cube went far away—all the way to New York City, where he recorded his solo debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, with production from Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad. For his follow-up full-length, Death Certificate, he returned to L.A., shorn of his signature Jheri curl and armed with a new vision: “Niggas are in a state of emergency, the death side,” he intones on the intro track, “Funeral,” “a mirror of where we are today. The life side, a vision of where we need to go.” Then he goes out and does exactly that on a rollicking but troubling album that serves as a snapshot of the smoking tinderbox that was pre-Rodney King Los Angeles. “You can new jack swing on my nuts!” he proclaims on “Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit’” making D.O.C.’s braggadocious rhymes from just two years earlier look mighty primitive. Chuck D once called rap black america’s CNN—this is 1991’s West Coast report, flipping many of the same Parliament samples that drove Dr. Dre’s 1992 debut. “Black Korea” and N.W.A. diss “No Vaseline” were criticized for their lyrical content—but as usual, reality’s content was worse. It’s an angry record, but one where Ice Cube’s wry sense of humor still shines through with clever wordplay and ridiculous skits (peep “Robin Lench”).
Compton's Most Wanted, 'Music to Driveby' (1992)
Music to Driveby, which released four years after N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and almost a year after Ice Cube’s Death Certificate (and three months before The Chronic), was already a third-generation L.A. gangsta album. It samples the usual funk and soul suspects—Isaac Hayes, George Clinton, the Meters—but also samples liberally from the still-expanding L.A. gangsta catalog, from N.W.A.’s “Gangsta, Gangsta,” “Fuck the Police” and “Straight Outta Compton,” Ice Cube’s “Rollin’ Wit’ Da Lench Mob” and “Man’s Best Friend” as well as their own “Growin’ Up in the Hood.” It’s an album that became canon by sampling the canon, as well as from MC Eiht’s “geah”-laced storytelling. Like Quik, Eiht was a corner hustler turned legit. “Hood Took Me Under” is the stone classic from Music to Driveby, but “Who’s Fucking Who”—a hip-hop sample laced Tim Dog diss—and “Jack Mode” (featuring a familiar Kraftwerk sample) go hard, too. Also, there may have been no better gangsta rap album cover ever.
WC and the Maad Circle, 'Curb Servin'' (1995)
The Westside Connection trio (made up of WC, Ice Cube, and Mack 10) got its start with a track on Mack 10’s self-titled debut in 1994, then continued with the opening cut on WC and the Maad Circle’s Curb Servin’. Driven by a killer George Duke sample from “Reach For It,” “West Up!” shows every bit of the anthemic power that would drive the trio’s debut, Bow Down, which would drop a year later in 1996. But WC could more than hold on his own. DJ Crazy Toones let the soul samples do the heavy lifting while WC (and the Maad Circle, which included a guy by the name of Coolio) glided over the top. “In a Twist,” featuring Coolio, is set over the same bouncy Parliament sample as Ice Cube’s “Dirty Mack,” and Cube himself provides production work on the very next track, the Bootsy Collins driven “Homesick,” a syrupy slow paean to everything L.A., from the 405 to khakis with a crease. The title track combines the Ices, with an Ice Cube production credit (thanks to a “Jackin’ For Beats” sample) and the same “Dr. Funkenstein breakbeat as Ice-T’s “Bitches 2” from 1990’s Original Gangsta.