A provocative, multifaceted portrait of essential rap pioneers who ushered the hip-hop music scene to greatness.
After covering Southern rap artists, former L.A. Weekly music editor Westhoff (Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop, 2011) profiles four key performers who had a vitally influential pull on the West Coast rap community in the 1980s and ’90s. His in-depth report begins with Eazy-E, a young, mentally sharp, womanizing Compton drug dealer who was as smooth-talking as fellow rapper Dr. Dre, whose success emerged after he joined the World Class Wreckin’ Cru and then N.W.A. to become a defiant “turntablist who knew what the crowd wanted but wasn’t always willing to play it.” Though Ice Cube’s early rhymes clearly disparaged gang activity, after his ascent up the rap ranks from N.W.A. to Da Lench Mob and a string of successful solo ventures, his career became fraught with tense rivalries, censorship, jealousy, and animosity among record labels like Death Row, Ruthless, and Bad Boy Entertainment. These problems also plagued the career of Tupac Shakur, whom Westhoff illustrates best and whom he considers “the fiercest West Coast rapper of all.” As the 1990s surged, so did the popularity of gangsta rap and the lure (and pitfalls) of an excessive, hedonistic lifestyle for its artists, who would go on to battle through the renowned East Coast–West Coast feud and many racially charged travesties of justice. As raw, authoritative, and unflinching as the music his narrative chronicles, Westhoff comprehensively uncovers the factual roots of the gangsta rap movement and admirably credits those whose footprints paved the way for the younger rappers emerging today. The author concludes with reminders of rap music’s cultural and anti-oppressive benefits—though its legacy of thuggery and violence resulted in the homicides of the Notorious B.I.G. and Shakur (the book’s release date coincides with the 20th anniversary of Shakur’s death).
An elaborately detailed, darkly surprising, definitive history of the LA gangsta rap era.