When rap first developed, it was largely centered on the East Coast of the US, such as New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. At the close of the 1980s, West Coast rap became more widely known. It introduced new sounds and beats as well as topics of gang life, violence, and drug use, which were prevalent throughout California. These top West Coast rappers were instrumental in changing the sound of hip hop for all time.
Note: These are not necessarily in order of greatness
1. Tupac Shakur
Tupac or 2Pac was one of the most influential West Coast rappers of the 1990s. He began his career as a dancer and roadie for the group Digital Underground before breaking into a solo career as a rapper. His tracks focused on themes of poverty, street violence, racism, and other social commentary. Sadly, Tupac’s influential career was a short one, as he was shot to death at the age of 25.
2. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg has had a long career and still remains one of the best-known artists in hip hop. He came onto the scene in 1992 under Dr. Dre and hit instant success with his collaborations on Deep Cover and The Chronic. He released his first album, Doggystyle, in 1993. It is still considered one of the best albums of his career. He has been widely praised for his energetic and technically complex style and has been called a pioneer of the West Coast G-funk style. He is best known for Gin And Juice and Nuthin But a G Thang.
Xzibit isn’t as widely known today, but in the late 1990s, he was one of the most famous rappers in the world. His career began in the middle of the decade when he moved to Los Angeles from Albuquerque. He released his first album in 1996. It was widely praised for its unique fusion of East and West Coast styles, technical skill, and lyrical complexity. Rap and hip hop fans also cite his frank, unpolished delivery, which felt authentic and unique to them. He took a hiatus in 2004 before joining the group Serial Killers in 2013.
N.W.A. was one of the earliest West Coast hip-hop groups, gathering significant attention to the genre throughout the 80s and 90s. The group also helped launch the careers of some of the biggest pioneers of gangster rap. Original members included Arabian Prince, MC Ren, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and DJ Yella.
Ice-T is one of the earliest and most famous Los Angeles rappers, joining the rap scene in 1983. He released his first LP in 1987 and a full album in 1988, both of which cemented him as a rapper who effortlessly combined lyrical talent with raw, down-to-earth content. As the decade turned, his albums included more overtly social and political commentary. His best-known album was O.G. Original Gangster, released in 1991.
6. MC Eiht
MC Eiht started working in the hip hop industry in 1985 when he was still a teenager. His music was focused on his childhood growing up in Compton, California; this later segued into his front-manning the hip hop group Compton’s Most Wanted. He has also had a successful solo career in music and acting. He is known for singles such as Streiht Up Menace.
7. Too $hort
Too $hort was a prominent figure in the West Coast hip-hop scene of the late 80s, helping define the genre in its early years. He was known for his vulgar lyrics that dealt with topics such as sex and pimp work, which was shocking for the time. His style was characterized by funk riffs and unique percussive beats; both his lyrical and percussive styles inspired other hip-hop artists who followed him.
8. Doja Cat
Doja Cat is a Los Angeles-based rapper who rose to prominence after sharing her music on SoundCloud while she was still a teenager. She used the internet as a launching pad for her talents, embracing the responses in the form of memes and TikTok stitches. Her song Say So became the most highly-streamed song by a female artist in 2020. Her public image is highly influenced by the weed culture of southern California.
Mozzy is a Sacramento-based rapper who has been in the hip hop industry since the early 2000s. Until 2012, he performed under the name Lil Tim. He has collaborated extensively with other well-known rappers, including Eminem, YG, and Philthy Rich. However, he is best known for his solo mixtapes, which have gained attention due to Mozzy’s technical skill and lyrical prowess.
10. Roddy Ricch
Roddy Ricch has only recently risen to prominence, but he has already been praised for his innovative material that has the potential to influence the course of West Coast rap. He first gained attention for his 2018 single Die Young, as well as his early mixtapes. Unlike many influential West Coast hip hop artists, Roddy Ricch avoids glorifying elements of the gangster lifestyle and instead aims to provide a good example to kids along with social commentary on contemporary issues.
Eazy-E might be one of the best-known West Coast rappers, despite his shortly lived career. Purists often claim that he lacked the technical skill of later rappers and although this may be true, he was also a pioneer in the development of gangster rap through the 1980s and 90s. His first solo album, Boyz-N-The-Hood, was released in 1987. He collaborated on the famous tracks F*** Tha Police and Straight Outta Compton before passing away from HIV in 1995.
12. Brotha Lynch Hung
Brotha Lynch Hung isn’t widely known, but he is no less talented for that. His unique style incorporates G-funk with horror, with plenty of stylistic exploration interwoven with the dark content. His 1993 single 24 Deep laid the groundwork for his first album, released two years later. The album drew inspiration from the horror film genre and was considered unusually dark but also evidence of his extreme talent. Brotha Lynch Hung has continued to release albums and was widely recognized for his 2010 album Dinner And a Movie and the 2011 album Coathanga Strangla.
Paris was a rapper who rose to prominence in the early 1990s thanks to his focus on social and political issues. He has been compared to Chuck D, the East Coast rapper who popularized bringing social commentary into the world of hip hop. He was known for his smooth technical skills, which often helped soften his messages and contrasted strongly with the aggressive styles of gangster rap. Paris first came to attention in 1990 when he released The Devil Made Me Do It.
14. The D.O.C.
The D.O.C. is one of the most talented West Coast rappers of all time, but unfortunately, his career was cut short after a tragic car accident. His injuries from the crash severely impacted his vocal cords, leaving him unable to speak effectively — much less rap. Nevertheless, his 1989 album No One Can Do It Better is considered one of the best examples of early West Coast gangster rap, showcasing his unique aggressive and high-energy delivery.
YG is a more recent rapper who has played an important role in the development of West Coast rap through the 2010s and 2020s. His first single was 2009’s Toot It And Boot It, which brought him almost instant success. He released several more singles, including Who Do You Love?, My Nigga, and Left Right, before releasing his first album in 2014.
16. Nate Dogg
If that “double G” Dogg name sounds familiar, it is a family name…at least in the music industry. Nate Dogg was the cousin of the famous Snoop Dogg, and he shares much of Snoop’s talent. Nate got his start alongside Snoop Dogg and Warren G in the group 213 before branching off to start his own endeavors. His successful career brought him into collaborations with some of the most talented rappers in the industry. Sadly, it was cut short when he died following a series of strokes at the age of 41.
17. DJ Quik
DJ Quik is a highly influential artist focused on the subgenre of G-funk or gangster funk. Over his long career, he has collaborated with some of the most famous rappers in history, including Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, R. Kelly, and many more. His work in hip hop was heavily influenced by soul and funk music, and he is known for his signature use of the talkbox. Though he derived his stage name from his habit of composing songs under tight time constraints, he is also known for his perfectionism, sometimes scrapping nearly-finished albums that don’t meet his standards.
18. Dom Kennedy
Dom Kennedy is a Los Angeles-based rapper who rose to prominence after sharing his mixtapes online, resulting in countless downloads. His tracks are focused on southern California culture, with references to other greats within the West Coast hip hop genre. Kennedy has focused on producing music independently rather than signing on to a label; for this reason, he has not achieved widespread fame, though he is still considered a prominent representative of LA hip hop culture.
19. Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator, became known in the late 2000s after the release of his mixtape, Bastard. His rap is infused with horror and shock elements, but also draws influence from jazz, R&B, and neo-soul music. Though much of his early music sought to challenge widely-accepted morals, he has since moved away from shocking content. Tyler, The Creator has won two Grammy awards for his music.
20. ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q is a Los Angeles rapper whose career began in the group Black Hippy, along with Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul. He broke out into a solo career in the 2010s, leading to a series of successful singles that hit the Billboard Hot 100. He is known for his unique, always-changing rhyming style, which he says he took from Jay-Z. ScHoolboy Q has been open about his influences from other rappers, including Nas, 50 Cent, Tupac, and The Notorious B.I.G.
21. Ice Cube
Ice Cube is now better known as an actor, but his early career was making pathways in the world of rap. He started out as a member of N.W.A. and was widely recognized for his performance in Straight Outta Compton. Through the 1990s, he released several solo albums that also gained widespread attention and are still considered some of the best early hip hop work of all time. He is known for his angry but poignant political and social commentary, a theme that runs through many of his tracks.
22. Spice 1
Spice 1 made inroads in the world of West Coast rap during the early 1990s because of his raw and honest look at life in the California ghetto. His first three albums are considered some of the best examples of early West Coast rap, though he has since produced 17 more. Spice 1 helped pioneer the Mobb music subgenre, with a lyrical style that doesn’t shy away from discussing gang culture but stops short of glorifying it.
23. Mac Dre
Mac Dre is considered one of the most influential figures in the development of West Coast rap at the turn of the 21st century. In particular, he was one of the main figures in the evolution of hyphy culture, characterized by its high-energy music and rap. He was prolific throughout the 90s and early 2000s, releasing 11 albums in 11 years. He was murdered in November 2004 in a case that has still not been solved; three albums were released after his death.
24. Anderson .Paak
Anderson .Paak is a Grammy award-winning rapper from southern California. His career took off in the early 2010s with the release of a mixtape. His records are uniquely focused on the culture of southern California and bear titles of different towns and neighborhoods, including Venice, Malibu, Ventura, and Oxnard. He has won Grammy awards for Best Rap Performance and Best R&B Album (Ventura, 2020). In addition to a solo career, he has also been a member of the groups NxWorries and Silk Sonic.
Rapper B-Real was a highly influential hip hop artist in the 1990s and early 2000s and continues to be active in the music industry today. He is known for crossing genres, having performed in groups fusing rap, rock, metal, and other musical styles. In addition to his highly successful solo career, B-Real has been a member of the groups Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage, Berner, and more.
26. Juice Wrld
Juice Wrld was a rapper and hip hop artist known for his unique ability to cross and blend genres. His career began in 2015 when he was only 17 years old; he signed his first record label at the age of 19. His music was called “genre-bending” because of its use of elements ranging from hip-hop to emo rap, rock, punk, and R&B. He was widely considered to be one of the most promising young rap artists of his generation. Sadly, he passed away in 2019 from a drug overdose.
27. MC Hammer
One of the earliest artists on this list, MC Hammer was a cultural icon in the 1980s and 1990s. His work as both a dancer and a rapper is well-known even by those who don’t consider themselves fans of hip hop. His most famous track by far is U Can’t Touch This, whose music video included dance styles that would become synonymous with the late 1980s. Though MC Hammer has largely worked in other music genres and television since the 2000s, his influence and talent in West Coast rap cannot be denied.
28. Vince Staples
Vince Staples is a younger rapper who gained attention in the mid-2010s. He has been widely praised for his fusion of West Coast rap styles with elements of electronic dance, avant-garde, and other genres. Though some of his music incorporates his experiences with street gang life as a teen, Staples now says he avoids using substances of any kind
Ye, formerly styled as Kanye West, has widely been considered one of the most successful and influential West Coast rappers of the 21st century. Though he grew up in Chicago, Ye is synonymous with West Coast hip hop after living and working in California since the early 2000s. He is one of the most successful hip hop artists of all time, having won 24 Grammy awards and sold more than 160 million albums. Ye’s career took a downturn after his public cancellation following antisemitic comments made on social media.
Kurupt spent his childhood in Philadelphia before moving to California at the age of 16. He became known in the early 1990s both as a solo artist and as a member of the group Tha Dog Pound. His early career brought him quick success, and he earned a Grammy nomination for the 1996 song What Would You Do. Many other successful rappers have cited Kurupt as one of their biggest influences, including Kendrick Lamar and Eminem.
31. Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre is not only one of the best West Coast rappers of all time but is also responsible for launching the careers of countless others. He was one of the original members of N.W.A., and it was in this context that he sometimes mentored other up-and-coming artists. He is known for his unique voice and delivery, and his album The Chronic has been called one of the most influential records in West Coast rap history.
32. King T
King T was one of the most influential and prolific West Coast rappers through the 1980s and 1990s. He had a talent for fusing East and West Coast styles and delivering a smooth, jazzy sound that was accessible even to people who weren’t fans of gangster rap. Though King T wasn’t well-known outside the hip hop genre, fans consider him to be one of the most pioneering rappers of the turn of the last century. He is best known for his albums Act a Fool and IV Life.
Aceyalone rose to public attention as a member of the underground group Freestyle Fellowship. He was known for his incredible technical skill, which made him stand out from the others. In 1993, Aceyalone broke off to start a solo career, which would result in many highly successful albums. His unique vocal delivery, which experiments with alternations in volume, pitch, and speed, has earned him the reputation as an eccentric — but his poignant, intelligent lyrics speak for themselves.
34. Ras Kass
Ras Kass gained attention in the mid-1990s with the release of his first single, Remain Anonymous. He achieved instant success, earning praise for his technical skills and multi-syllabic delivery that hadn’t yet been widely heard. He released his first album in 1996. Ras Kass gained attention for both his talent and his unashamed lyrics, which often stirred controversy with commentary on race and American history. Though he hasn’t yet replicated the success he achieved with his first album, his subsequent work has shown the thought and lyrical talent of his early tracks.
35. The Game
The Game was a highly influential rapper in the West Coast scene of the early 2000s. During this time, he released a mixtape to great success. His first full-length album was released in 2005 and received a double platinum certification. The Game’s influence during this time is often credited with popularizing hip-hop in mainstream music and leading to its ongoing rise through the late 2000s and 2010s. He is best known for his 2005 album The Documentary.
36. Jay Rock
Jay Rock is a West Coast rapper known for both his solo career and his work in the hip hop group Black Hippy, performing alongside ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Kendrick Lamar. He has enjoyed a successful career characterized by diehard fans and perfectionism — the artist is known for taking years to produce each album. But his focus and work have paid off, as he won a 2019 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for his song King’s Dead.
Iamsu! is the stage name of a West Coast rapper known for his solo work as well as his front-manning the hip-hop group The HBK Gang. Though he isn’t widely known across other musical genres, Iamsu! remains highly respected as a rap artist, with music characterized by non-vocal sound effects and over-the-top energy.
38. Earl Sweatshirt
The artist known professionally as Earl Sweatshirt was born in Chicago but moved to Santa Monica as a child. Here, he began to develop his West Coast musical style, uploading tracks to SoundCloud when he was in seventh grade. He eventually made contact with Tyler, The Creator, joining his rap group. Tyler, The Creator, helped produce his debut mixtape, Earl, which was released in 2010.
The artist known as Coolio was a West Coast rapper who helped define the sounds of the rap scene in the 1990s. Though he was active in the industry as early as 1987, exploring the developing gangster rap genre throughout the following decade. He is best remembered for his 1995 track Gangsta’s Paradise, which remains one of the most successful rap tracks in history. Coolio passed away in September 2022 at the age of 59.
40. Warren G.
Warren G. rose to prominence as a member of 213 along with Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg. His three-decade career has changed the course of West Coast gangster funk. His solo albums have been particularly successful, including his first, Take a Look Over Your Shoulder, which was certified gold, and his second, Regulate… G Funk Era, which was certified platinum. Warren G continues to work in the music industry, though he has also had a moderately successful acting career.
41. Kendrick Lamar
While many of the most influential West Coast rappers began their careers in the 1990s or even the 1980s, Kendrick Lamar is a much more recent artist. Nevertheless, he has already become hugely influential in the music industry. Lamar first gained attention for his album Section.80, which he released in 2011. He is known for his poignant, introspective lyrics, which seamlessly interweave social commentary and creative storytelling. His political 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly was frequently used during demonstrations by members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
42. Boots Riley
Boots Riley might not be as widely known as many of the rappers on this list, but he certainly deserves wider recognition. As a member of the group The Coup, Riley has made impressive inroads in the world of gangster funk. His work fuses the genre seamlessly with the sounds of hip-hop and is fueled by social and political commentary. His lyrics are poetic and full of meaning. He is best known for albums such as Kill My Landlord and Genocide & Juice.
43. MC Ren
MC Ren’s career got started when he joined the original lineup of N.W.A.. Though his fame never reached the level of other members of the group such as Dr. Dre or Ice Cube, he has a unique talent for delivering hard-hitting, down-to-earth stories about life in the streets of California. His contributions to N.W.A. were distinct and well-recognized; he followed them up with a highly-respected solo career.
Saweetie is considered one of the most promising up-and-coming female rappers on the West Coast. She gained attention in 2018 with the release of her first single Icy Grl. Only four years into her career, she had already received two Grammy Award nominations and had two singles place on the Billboard Top 100, most notably her duet with Doja Cat, Best Friend.
Yo-Yo is a West Coast hip hop artist known for her intelligent, meaningful rap music. She frequently explores themes of women’s rights and refers to her support system as the Intelligent Black Women’s Coalition. She has been a player in the world of gangster rap since the 1990s, collaborating with artists such as Ice Cube and Missy Elliott.
B-Legit began his career as a member of The Click, gaining attention after he collaborated with Tupac on Ain’t Hard 2 Find. He has had an extensive, multi-decade-long career, during which time he has collaborated with a wide variety of influential rappers. These include Snoop Dogg, Too $hort, Scarface, Kurut, Mack 10, Young Buck, Mac Dre, and many more.
47. Big Syke
Big Syke was a hip hop artist who rose to prominence after joining Tupac’s group Thug Life. He continued to work with Tupac under the stage name Mussolini when he formed his second rap group, The Outlaw Immortalz. Big Syke continued producing music until his death in 2016 at the age of 48.
48. Baby Keem
Baby Keem is a hip hop artist whose still-young career has already been marked by meteoric success. He drew attention with the release of Orange Soda in 2019. Just a year later, he collaborated with Ye on Praise God, which placed on the Billboard Hot 100 and received a platinum certification. He collaborated with his cousin Kendrick Lamar on Family Ties, for which he won a Grammy award for Best Rap Performance.
Aminé is a West Coast rapper originally from Portland. He became widely-known for his 2016 single Caroline, which peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received a triple platinum certification.
Blueface rose to prominence in 2017 thanks to his unique style of offbeat rapping over a background percussive track. His video Respect My Cryppin’ became wildly popular, especially among young audience members. His music often deals with themes of longing for wealth and fame.
51. Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino is the stage name of actor Donald Glover, known for his roles on the television show Community and the Star Wars franchise. He released his first album in 2011 but became best known for 2018’s This is America, a dark-humored commentary of society and race relations in the United States, as well as gun violence, police brutality and misconduct, and other hot-topic issues.
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