The entire West Coast gangsta rap genre originated in the Bay Area, and the whole region has been an integral part of the hip hop music world ever since. There’s no shortage of amazing artists that lived in or were born here, rising up through the ranks to become some of the greatest rap artists ever. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 15 best and most influential Bay Area rappers of all time.
1. Tupac Shakur
Yes, Tupac Shakur was born in East Harlem, however, he lived most of his life in Oakland and was the main force behind the West Coast style of the 90s. So, I’m counting it, and hopefully, you decide to as well. Any argument about the best rappers of all time is going to include him, and you can easily make a case that the title should be his outright. On top of that, he was one of the best-selling music artists in history with well over 75 million record sales worldwide.
In 1991, he would release 2Pacalypse Now and become one of the central figures in the West Coast rap scene. His socially conscious lyrics and activist tendencies solidified him as a figure in that scene as well, making him not one of the most influential rappers in history, but one of the most influential men in history. While he would sadly be killed in 1996, his legacy would live on. His posthumous double album would go on to receive a diamond certification from the RIAA and five more posthumous albums would earn platinum certifications.
Rolling Stone, and literally everyone else, ranks him as one of the greatest artists of all time and he was recognized in this by his induction into both the Rock and Roll and Hip-Hop Halls of Fame. In the end, no rapper from the Bay Area—or really anywhere—was as good and as influential as him.
E-40 has one of the coolest come-ups in hip hop history. He started out as an underground rapper from East Bay, California, but found a larger audience with the release of his 1995 solo album In A Major Way. By 2006, he had risen to mainstream prominence and was working with major artists in the game outside of the Bay Area, breaking into the mainstream with his 2006 hit single Tell Me When To Go in a collaboration with Lil Jon.
In total, he has put out 26 studio albums and worked on quite a lot of film soundtracks in addition to his collaborative works. His TV and film career includes credits on shows like Hell’s Kitchen and MTV’s My Block: Bay Area and films such as Rhyme And Reason and Hair Show. Since 1989, he has been the owner of the Sick Wit It record label, an independent hip hop label that is still in operation to this day.
3. Del the Funky Homosapien
If you couldn’t guess from his stage name, Del The Funky Homosapien is one of the most creative characters you can find in the world of hip hop. He isn’t the massive mainstream or commercial success that some of the biggest names made themselves into, but he is undeniably a legend in the underground hip hop community.
A pioneer on multiple fronts, the rapper is best known for melding multiple genres to create a form of alternative hip hop that would cement his place as an influential artist in hip hop circles for nearly three decades. He would eventually be a part of the incredible Oakland group Hieroglyphics, which was heavily influenced by the freestyle glory days of 90s hip hop and helped promote the sound of their hometown to the wider world.
4. Mac Dre
Mac Dre is fondly remembered for quite a lot and was one of the most influential figures in the Bay Area hip hop scene. He served as one of the leading figures in The Hyphy Movement in the early 2000s and was one of the artists that helped push the fast-paced style into the mainstream world. In essence, he had a legendary rap career on his own, but his influence reached farther than himself.
He found the independent record label Thizz Entertainment, a place that allowed young rappers a place to release albums locally. Unfortunately, he was killed in an unsolved case that saw him attacked after a performance in Kansas City. Despite being taken from the world far too soon, the legacy left in his dozens of albums and the influence he had on the Bay Area music scene are never left in question.
5. Too Short
Too Short was one of the rappers that helped establish the West Coast style of hip hop during the 80s. Hailing from Oakland, this MC was almost as influential as any other person you can name when it comes to the genre, being a pioneer of the sound and one of the first to help it get off the ground.
He’s always been at the forefront, whether it be through his own work or in his role as a record producer and label owner, developing young talent and finding the next generations over and over again. Any man that had a—large—hand in shaping West Coast gangsta rap would earn a place on this list, and he was doing it for a decade before it got mainstream attention.
6. MC Hammer
I don’t think anyone is going to argue that MC Hammer was one of the greatest lyricists of all time, but he was one of the best and brightest MCs to come out of Oakland. Everyone knows at least one of this man’s songs, whether it be 2 Legit 2 Quit or U Can’t Touch This. In addition to being a master on the mic, he is known for his flashy dance moves and incredible choreography during music videos. He even single-handedly made his pants into a fashionable style.
He would end up being a pioneer of pop rap, but with the rise of gangsta rap in the 90s, would be labeled a sellout. His popularity declined when he tried to move back into the gangsta rap arena, but his legacy as both a Bay Area rapper and overall performing artist has never been in question.
G-Eazy very well may be one of the most commercially successful rappers to come out of the Bay Area. His major record label debut These Things Happen would rise to number three on the Billboard 200 and earned his first entry to the Billboard Hot 100. He would follow it up with the album When It’s Dark Out, seeing it rise to number five on the Billboard 200 and produce the Top 10 hit Me, Myself, & I.
Following that up, his third album would produce a top-five hit on the Hot 100, seeing him team up with Cardi B and A$AP Rocky for No Limit. But all of that success in a rap career wasn’t his initial goal. He got started as a record producer that worked heavily in the East Bay Area hip hop scene before starting his rap career as an opener for Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame is his 2017 People’s Choice Award win for Favorite Hip-Hop Artist.
8. Andre Nickatina
Andre Nickitina rose up through the Bay Area scene in the 90s, first appearing in 1993 under the stage name Dre Dog. Out of all the rappers on this list, his work may be the most underrated. Coming out of San Fransisco Fillmore District, he often rapped about off-the-wall topics that often got him noticed in the underground world.
He was an underground legend that sadly didn’t break into the mainstream but had plenty of hits that should have. Ayo For Yayo, Smoke Dope And Rap, and A Train With No Love are just a few examples of his incredible prowess.
9. Digital Underground
Digital Underground is one of the most important groups in all of West Coast hip hop, let alone the Bay Area. In 20 years of existence, it has spawned the careers of dozens of artists with its silly and funky vibes. This group often sampled 70s funk sounds for their music, making them early pioneers of the West Coast rap game and inspiring just about every West Coast rapper that came up in the 90s.
They were also the starting point for the legendary Tupac Shakur and have been cited as one of the muses for artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Out of all of their singles, their best-known one is probably the 1990 hit The Humpty Dance, a song that took the country by storm and was a crossover hit for the ages.
B-Legit is credited as one of the true OG’s when it comes to the Bay Area sound. He got his start in the early 90s as part of the group The Click, right alongside E-40 and other legends that would have a far-reaching influence in the hip hop community. While his own rap career was astounding, his best-known work came as a producer. Working as both a solo artist and in a duo with E-40, B-Legit has gone on to produce songs that break new ground in the hip hop world and push all the right buttons.
While his own mainstream success never truly came, he is widely considered a pioneer and a legend inside of in-the-know circles. Anyone who helped bridge the gap between the old-school styles and the new deserves a place on this list and any pioneer of the early West Coast sound is worthy of an entry here as well.
11. Spice 1
Spice 1 might be a name that people outside of the Bay Area don’t recognize. His legacy is deep and entrancing, but it’s just as low-key as it is incredible. For over 30 years, he has been helping define the East Bay gangsta rap sound. Much of his work is melodic and deals with everyday life on the streets of Oakland. A friend of Tupac Shakur, mainstream media knows Spice 1 as the last artist to work alongside 2Pac in the studio before the latter’s death. You can hear him on 2Pac’s single Fame from his Better Dayz album.
12. The Coup
The Coup is one of the most unique and interesting groups to come out of the Bay Area. They’re fronted by Boots Riley and have gone through a ridiculous number of lineups and shakeups throughout their history, but no matter who steps in, they always remain true to their roots. They typically release socially conscious music, tackling social injustices in its lyrics.
While most rappers are forced into a mild submission with their political speech, they remain one of the most radical voices left in the genre. In all honesty, this shouldn’t be surprising. Nobody was going to silence a group that titled their first album Kill My Landlord.
13. The Jacka
Don’t let being from Pittsburg fool you, The Jacka is from the Pittsburg district in the 925. He would begin his career as a member of Mob Figaz after he and some friends were approached by C-Bo. Now, C-Bo was already established as a rapper at the time, and he took them to a recording studio to appear as guest artists on Ride Until We Die.
A hustler of quality, The Jacka would sell 30,000 copies of his debut album, by his own hand and not through any promotion. While his career was incredibly short, his legacy is very strong. As a lyricist, master of flow, and overall amazing rapper, he is an artist you shouldn’t be forgetting about anytime soon.
14. Rappin’ 4-Tay
Rappin’ 4-Tay got his start straight out of high school when he teamed up with Too Short to record Don’t Fight The Feelin’. By 1994, he had recorded and released his debut album Playaz Club, which would cement his place in the hip hop community as a whole and that was an ode to the Bay Area to boot.
Interestingly, Drake and Rappin’ 4-Tay would come into conflict when the former used lyrics from one of his songs. That issue would be settled out of court, and Rappin’ 4-Tay would end up receiving royalties on the track for his contributions. Even more interestingly, the royalty rights on the song were put up for auction at one point after this, with Rappin’ 4-Tay being the alleged seller of those rights.
15. Keak da Sneak
The Hyphy Movement is synonymous with the Bay Area, but the term for it had to come from somewhere. Keak Da Sneak was the one to coin the phrase, coming up with “hyphy” to describe the fast-paced style of the hyperactive movement. While he wasn’t born in the Bay Area, he would move to Oakland in elementary school and grew up there. His gravelly voice can be heard in collaboration with other incredible artists like E-40, G-Eazy, Blac Chyna, and Lil Wayne, in addition to his solo work.
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As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.