With the spotlight on that "good kid" from Hub City shining brightly in recent weeks, it seemed like it was a good time to round up a list of the 10 best rappers to ever come out of the city of Compton.
Who made it onto the list? Well, one rapper who didn't was Tweedy Bird Loc, and we're sure we're gonna catch hell from J-Zone for not including one of his favorites. Factors we weighed and based our picks and rankings on: pure rapping skill, artistic impact, historical significance, and most importantly, our own completely unscientific personal preferences and biases. Read on to see if you see eye to eye with us or if you think we're set tripping.
(And just in case anyone is wondering... no, AMG ain't from Compton, fool.)
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10. Mixmaster Spade
Mix Master Spade was the West Coast answer to TJ Swann and a precursor to the late, great Nate Dogg. "The OG Compton Godfather of Rap" brought along a sing-songy style that could definitely light up a room. As a matter of fact, it's been scientifically proven that an enjoyable Summer day in Cali only gets better when you throw on some of Spade's unique vocal stylings. It's like being instantly transported to a backyard cookout no matter where you at.
Spade's influence on L.A. gangsta rap is undeniable. Rooted in old school East Coast rap tradition (he frequently visited NYC as a youth), his flow showed it was possible to bridge the coastal gap with rhymes that reflected hard Cali living. His 1988 collaboration "Do You Wanna Go to the Liquor Store?" with Toddy Tee, another pioneer from Compton, is basically the blueprint for the ever popular St. Ides commercials. (Spade revisited his spirited hook later on an actual Crooked I radio spot with the Compton Posse homie King Tee. The friends also hooked up on the 'hood PSA, "Ya Better Bring a Gun," another underground classic.)
Well known and highly respected, Mix Master Spade was one of Los Angeles' first local rap stars, who reportedly engaged in various facets of hip-hop culture, from DJing to poplocking, and who earned fame selling his own mixtapes. But unlike other early celebs like Ice-T and Kid Frost, he was never able to breakout nationally. His death in early 2005 stirred up emotional memories from those who grew up listening to his upbeat, harmonizing presence on such gems like the Compton Posse-assisted "Genius Is Back."
R.I.P. Mixmaster Spade.
Probably the least known rapper on this list, Hi-C's most famous material, ironically enough, might also be his least known. Film buffs will know this, but many won't: the raps MC Gusto (Chris Rock) busts in the 1993 movie CB4 are performed by Hi-C. That's not to say the Skanless recording artist (who was born in New Orleans but made his claim to fame in Compton) didn't make any noise under his own identity. Partnered with the under-appreciated DJ Tony A. and down with DJ Quik, Hi-C scored a few minor hits with "I'm Not Your Puppet" and "Sittin' in the Park" — the sanitized versions, that is. The X-rated renditions of his songs were closer to the rapper's real steez. Adept at telling stories, Hi-C often peppered his lyrics with raunchy humor (the cut "Froggy Style" being one example) relayed in that distinct, high-pitched twang. Since he was teamed up with a Latino DJ, Hi-C would sometimes rap over lowrider oldies on Roadium swap meet mixtapes and would even drop some Spanish here and there, like he did on "Jack Move." It's a shame that there weren't more highlights in Hi-C's career.
8. The Game
The deal with The Game (and a lot of you already know this) is that he effed up by trying too hard. He put unnecessary pressure on himself by proclaiming he would resurrect a famous city then compounded things by going out of his way to try to associate himself with rap's biggest icons via endless name dropping in an attempt to win over fans. Except it didn't work out that way. Instead, he turned off many with his story of getting shot, which was seen more as a marketing gimmick than an exemplification of street cred, and the ensuing beef with you-know-who, was also believed to be a ploy to sell records. Then came the video of him on a dating game show and that bugged butterfly tattoo, and well you know, it was all a little bit too much. Game wasn't "real" enough, and without Rick Ross-esque mind-altering superpowers, that was that.
All of which is unfortunate because the guy can actually rhyme. He overdid it by rappin' forever on "240 Bars," "300 Bars," "360 Bars," "400 Bars," etc. etc., but The Documentary had joints, don't front (or forget). Even without Dr. Dre notes, he's since managed to impress - as on "Letter to the King,", the 2008 track produced by Hi-Tek featuring Nas. He might be like the crazy neighbor nobody wants to deal with, but Game is a resident weirdo who can still bust a lyrical cap on your ass.
7. King Tee
He put Tha Alkaholiks on. As far as we're concerned, that right there is enough to place King Tee on the top shelf of rap history. His own catalog, however, makes him worthy of induction into our personal Hip-Hop Hall of Fame.
Doing St. Ides commercials and getting a dope Marley Marl remix of his single "At Your Own Risk" (once the theme music to BET's Rap City way back when) did get Tila some national exposure, but he was still slept on to some degree outside of the Cali area (Nas included him on the 2007 West Coast version of "Where Are They Now?" so he wasn't totally slept on).
Yes, he poses with guns in lowriders on album covers and addresses the streets frequently in his music, but the King Tee persona is and always was larger than mere gang affiliation. Credit him with bringing straight-up humor ("Baggin' on Moms") and a diff'rent perspective on life in the 'hood ("Dippin'").
His time spent signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath label in the late '90s ended up not really giving Tee the push that was expected. His first four albums, however, had already solidified him as one of the best rappers to come out of the greater Los Angeles area. (His third LP, Tha Triflin' Album from 1993, is probably his most accomplished LP, an end-to-end tribute to drunken debauchery.) Early songs like "Bass" showed that Tee could flow for days while street classics like "Act a Fool" (produced by DJ Pooh) painted vivid portraits of ghetto life:
"He said, 'Where you been? I been tryin' to get in touch/The party's in Watts," I said, "I don't give a fuck/ If you wanna go, just wear neutral colors/ If anybody asks you, just tell 'em you're my brother."
The rest of the song is a perfect time capsule of partyin' on a Friday night in L.A. in the '80s. King Tee describes listening to homemade mixtapes in the car, references Ice-T's seminal hit, "6 in the Mornin'" and Dana Dane, and mentions the joys of mixing gin and juicebox drink Super Socco. Let's toast to the King, shall we? Hail yeah!
6. Dr. Dre
(Photo by Chris Floyd)
A lot is made of the fact that Dr. Dre doesn't write his own lyrics and raps the lines written for him by the rappers he produces. And since he's always doing all this dope producing, it's just easier for people to talk down the rappin' he does. When it comes to getting on the M-I-C, it's like Fuck Wit' Dre Day every day, except it's not like fuck wit' Dre, like get down with him, but fuck wit' Dre and tell him he can't rap.
Like some of the best producers out there, Andre 2001 understands the intricacies of a strong cadence, and can flow on beat like a motherfucker. But we knew this from the days of wayback, as evidenced by one of his first (mostly) solo showcases - N.W.A's "Express Yourself" - in which he makes rhyming "tortoise" and "rigor mortis" (not to mention "lynch mob" and "macabre") sound pretty effortless. Also, not to mention that part where he drops "I got rhymes in my mind, embedded like an embryo" and wraps/raps the end of the line to the next bar as well as the song's credited author Cube himself might have. He's never really lost the ability to deliver a boast with the best of them (see "Still D.R.E."), and his reputation and good standing means he's got access to whichever ghostwriter he wants (D.O.C., Jay-Z, Eminem etc.). And, for the most part, he delivers.
5. Kendrick Lamar
(Photo by Trevor Traynor)
We know what some of you are thinking. The Kendrick Lamar hype train got the young lad onto this list. But put aside the hate (Shyne, we lookin' at you, bro) and try to get past the admittedly annoying way so many heads couldn't tag good kid, m.A.A.d city as an instant classic fast enough. We live in an age where there's an understandable dislike for hype and being told what to think. We also live in a disposable era (especially on the Internet) where the expiration date on news, art, whatever, is usually just a few days after some shit happens and then people don't care anymore. So there's this great rush to anoint Kendrick's major label debut as the greatest thing since sliced Illmatic and then everyone moves on to other pressing matters, like whether or not 'Ye and Kim K. are wearing matching outfits next weekend.
For our part, egotripland was slow to co-sign Kendrick's music. We've taken our time discussing the new album too. Self-described as a "short film," like most good movies, it can be appreciated better after repeated viewings. It's an album, but it requires the attention you'd give a good book, a story full of flashbacks, switching P.O.V.s, and an intricate narrative.
There will be people who just hate anything popular, so they won't be impressed with Kendrick's opus or his past work. Old lines like, “Everybody heard that I fuck with Dre and they wanna tell me I made it/ Nigga, I ain’t made shit/ If he gave me a handout, I'm a take his wrist and break it” sound good to us, but won't to them. Others will think he's getting over because he's from a city notorious for gangbangin' but he's not a gangsta rapper. But looking past distractions like these, one can see an emcee influenced by 2Pac who manifests his words and thoughts through an OutKast ATLiens speakerboxxx (mo' Love Below, tho). One can also see a young man dealing with fame with a solid head on his shoulders ("I can feel the new people around me just want to be famous") and sounding wise beyond his years ("But what love got to do with it when you don't love yourself?"), but also showing his age by calling himself ”Kendrick, a.k.a. Compton’s human sacrifice.”
But ultimately dude can just really rap. And write. good kid's terse opener, "Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter," not only vividly sets up the scenarios that will unfold through the rest of the album, but captures teenage restlessness in a way that's universally relate-able. The gangland scenarios of "M.A.A.d city" don't just effectively personalize the tragedy of warring kids on the streets, but never compromises on craft, leaving inventive rhyme constructions where you don't necessarily expect them like little gifts throughout the verses (e.g. "Bodies on top of bodies/ IV's on top of IV's/ Obviously the coroner between the sheets like the Isleys"). You can't help but care about this protagonist who tries to abstain from alcohol and weed. Who tells us what it's like trying to avoid peer pressure or dealing with cops who automatically assume you've claimed a set because of where you live and treat you that way. Granted, the overtly religious talk might turn some people off, but at least it's not formulaic and comes off genuine.
So yeah, like everyone else, we'll endorse good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and look forward to whatever K.Dot does to continue fulfilling his promise. But full disclosure: Kendrick already won points with us for quoting John Brown from ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show on A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problem": "Halle Berry/ Halle-lujah/ Holler back/ I'll do ya."
4. DJ Quik
DJ Quik has long been recognized as one of hip-hop's greatest producers. The fact that he can rap his ass off only reinforces his claim to being America'z Most Complete Artist.
Some of the Quikster's strengths as a rhyme slinger include his ability to fit as many syllables as he wants into any bar. What probably connects most with the audience, though, is that his rhyming usually sounds more like conversations he's having with the listeners. When the world's attention was all on his home, he went out of his way to explain that 'hoods in Oakland, St. Louis and San Antonio were "Jus Lyke Compton." That song not only attempted to give props to all the various neighborhoods across the nation, but it also served as Black CNN level reporting as he recounted a violent episode at one of his shows in Denver, Colorado.
Although he's always been an advocate of a good time (he was even on the reggae tip way before before Snoop Lion), his now-squashed beef with MC Eiht proves he's always been nice with the pen, even when getting right down mean. "Dollaz + Sense" ranks as one of the top dis records of all time, and Quik goes all the way in:
"...When you left my presence, you left expedient/ You ain't no fuckin' killa, you'se a comedian, beyotch/ Tell me why you act so scary?/ Givin' your set a bad name with your misspelled name/ E-I-H-T, now should I continue?/ Yeah, you left out the 'G' 'cause the G ain't in you..."
While his standout production keeps maturing to ultra-sophisticated levels, 2009's stellar BlaQKout album with Kurupt was a jolting reminder that Quik's microphone skills have never lost a step.
3. MC Eiht
MC Eiht reps not just Compton but the 'hood in general.
The Compton's Most Wanted lyricist has done his civil duty to warn the youth about the pitfalls of gang life in cuts like the haunting "Hood Took Me Under" and "Streiht Up Menace." He also made the most of a small-but-memorable part in the heralded motion picture, Menace II Society. But just as important to his legacy is the fact he's created his own rap style.
Everyone (except Ryan Lochte) knows about his exclamation "Geah!" which he uses to great effect similar to the way Too $hort utilizes "Beeyotch!" Yet there's more to Eiht than just a catchphrase. The Compton Cyco's choppy flow composed of stretched-out syllables is unmistakably his own. No matter how kick back he spits there's always a sense of urgency not far from the surface. It's a style that served him well in his long standing (and long squashed) war of words with former arch rival DJ Quik back when rap battles could last for years.
Despite putting out some excellent product, CMW never blew up as big as they should have. Perhaps it was a backlash to Compton's popularity or just the over saturation of CPT-related rap on the market at the time. Eiht himself complained of fools trying to gank his Compton melody on "Straight Check'n Em": "Suckers run up and get slapped/ Damn, I thought you was smarter than that/ Then to dis the brother who is Compton steppin'/ The microphone is kept as the murder weapon."
After years of puttin' in work and attaining true O.G. status in the rap game, MC Eiht can say the 'hood never took him under.
2. MC Ren
"Dope, like a pound or a ki/ So shut the fuck up and listen to me."
Any rapper that can verbally abuse his audience and still get props is doing something right. Not that we needed MC Ren to yell at us to give him our undivided attention. His precise rhymes and flow took care of that just fine.
Ren might not have been a nice guy on wax (they didn't call him The Villain for nothing), but on the microphone that was another story. His skills made him the classic rapper's rapper (Andre 3000 is a fan). Seemingly motivated by opposition, his best work often pitted him against some punk bitch or sorry-ass rapper, and like a soldier addicted to the adrenaline rush of combat, he loved bringing the pain.
Recognized as a gangsta, he still took the MC in front of his name seriously. As shown on early cuts like "If It Ain't Ruff," Ren came off like a battle rapper schooled in the tradition of real hip-hop.
He was, however, often taken to task for lyrics that shocked with high levels of misogyny and violence. To be honest, the man did say some crazy wild shit:
"I hit a nigga off in the head with a chair/ The reason for that? The motherfucker he was standin' there...," he rapped on "Final Frontier." "....Put my foot so deep in their ass they have a hole and not a crack/ The shit just makes a nigga laugh, cause niggas be comin' to me/ Askin' me why did I leave size 10 Nike in their ass..."
The controversy made it difficult to recognize the overall craft of his music, which was often already overshadowed by the presence of superstars named Eazy, Cube and Dre. Like James Worthy, he was not the #1 star on an All-Star squad. He just showed up every night and did his job damn well, more than willing to do the necessary dirty work - like writing rhymes for Dre and Eazy. You could argue that N.W.A would still have won the rings without Lorenzo, but Niggaz Wit' Attitude without him (especially after "B.A." left) would have significantly lacked the most important ingredient in the formula to their success: the motherfuckin' attitude.
We've pointed this out before, but Eazy-E wasn't really a rapper. He was a visionary, a businessman — a highly successful one at that — and a great personality. True rap personalities are a disappearing breed. These days, it would take about a dozen Tygas to make one Eazy.
So... how in the hell could Eazy possibly top a list of the Best Compton Rappers if we're saying he couldn't rap? BECAUSE HE WAS MOTHERFUCKIN' EAZY-E, THAT'S WHY. The word "legend" is thrown around so much that it's cliché to point out that the word "legend" is thrown around so much. But it applies here. Eazy's the most important single individual responsible for putting Compton on the rap music map. And whenever you heard his voice - unforgettably nasal and high pitched, yet authoritative (i.e. unmistakably Eazy) - you instinctively knew this even if you knew nothing about his back-story. That he wasn't as conventionally technically gifted a rapper as maybe anyone else on this list is only a matter of consequence if you ignore his dominant presence and charisma. You always felt Eazy's was the most compelling voice in the room. That he had a story to tell that you wanted to hear even if someone else was penning the plot points for him. Coming from him a line like, "Straight outta Compton is a brother who'll smother your mother/ And make your sister think I love her," conveyed an extra evil genius. A demonstration of alliteration like, "Lovin' the bitches and leave the hoes boo-hooin'/ Cuz they addicted/ To what my dick did/ The pleasure of pain the wing-ding inflicted," from the D.O.C.'s "Grand Finale" was even more effective for its unpolished delivery.
He certainly raps circles around a lot of rappers out now, who curiously wallow in that shitty-rap-on-purpose style so prevalent today. In fact, when listening to him in 2012, it's not as apparent that he was not a bona fide rapper like it was when the music was new, back when rap standards were much higher (OK, enough with the old fogey talk).
Besides, E's most beloved song is one in which he sings. "I'd Rather Fuck You" is Blowfly meets Bootsy rap karaoke nirvana. And who in their right minds could ever front on "Boyz N Tha Hood" or "Eazy Duz It"? So what he didn't write lyrics, he wrote checks, and you better check yourself if you ever front on the E.