From 1992 to 1996 hip-hop was centered around rappers from Compton and Long Beach, with a seemingly never ending output of quality coming from California. Yet the West struggled for purpose in the years following the demise of Death Row Records and the void left behind by the deaths of Eazy-E and 2Pac. Fast forward to today and the scene is undergoing something of a resurgence, with West Coast hip-hop championing a new progressive sound led in part by stars like Kendrick Lamar and The Game. But further cemented through the underground talents of gems like Coss, Fashawn and Blu & Exile.
Much like how G Funk revolutionised the hip-hop sound of the 90’s, the new West are shaping the direction of modern hip-hop. Retaining much of what we loved about it’s culture but taking a giant leap forward with experimental instrumentation. The beats have mellowed from the hardcore sounds of N.W.A. and Tha Dogg Pound. Gone are the whistles and larger than life synthesizers, replaced with the softer vibes of Exile’s piano samples. The recent passing of Nate Dogg has felt like the ending of an era. With so many legends gone it has forced the West to create a new voice for itself. A quick listen to Kendrick’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”, highlights this new direction with it’s selection of chilled out beats. Fresh producers like Sounwave and Tabu provide the backdrop to Kendrick’s social commentaries. The changes have been so gradual that rather than a sudden shock, it has felt like a natural progression to this new more experimental West Coast scene.
Aside from this sound shift we can see a clear difference in lyrical content too. When we think of “conscious” hip-hop (a phrase that I hate by the way), most of us would cite Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Krs-One as the artists who best encapsulate the term, all New York artists. It could even be argued that the battle between gangsta and conscious was once depicted as the “West versus the rest”. Everyone remembers Common’s classic “I Used To Love H.E.R.” taking aim at Ice Cube through a thinly disguised metaphor for the West’s take over of hip-hop:
I might’ve failed to mention that the chick was creative
But once the man got to her, he altered the native
Told her if she got an image and a gimmick
That she could make money, and she did it like a dummy
Now I see her in commercials, she’s universal
She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle
Now she be in the burbs lookin’ rock and dressin’ hip
And on some dumb shit, when she comes to the city
Talkin about poppin glocks, servin rocks, and hittin switches
Now she’s a gangsta rollin with gangsta bitches
Always smokin blunts and gettin drunk
Tellin me sad stories, now she only fucks with the funk
Stressin how hardcore and real she is
She was really the realest, before she got into show-biz
In the past, many people saw the West as synonymous with a predictable form of rap that would glorify the elements of hip-hop culture that were violent. So much so it often made fans uncomfortable defending it to critics. Yet as of 2012, Kendrick and Blu in particular have released a number of classic records which shift this old perception. Kendrick’s “HiiiPower”, and Blu’s “Fly (Song Of Liberation)” showcase a more mature form of story telling, in many ways those artists are closer to Common than Ice Cube, but they still retain much of the spirit of their predecessors.