A Brief History of L.A. Hip-Hop

A new series in partnership with The 108 Sessions, that profiles the alternative histories of significant music movements in the US. For more, read Medlar on NY House.

Mr Beatnick might’ve carved out a name in house, but his productions and DJing roots are firmly in hip-hop. Starting with its talk-box boogie funk origins, into its gangsta heyday and up to the trippy afro-futurism of recent years, Mr Beatnick runs through some pivotal West Coast records that might not jump out as the hall-of-fame picks.

The 108 Sessions joins the dots between L.A. hip-hop, New York house and London with Peanut Butter Wolf, Mister Saturday Night and Ruby Savage. Free entry at Mick’s Garage on on 22nd July. RSVP at Resident Advisor, more info on Facebook

Listen to the playlist below on Youtube or on Spotify.

Where does your love for LA hip-hop stem from?

The sound of sunshine I suppose. West Coast music often has sun-drenched feel to it. Plus it’s designed for driving around in cars rather than listening to on a boombox like New York hip-hop, so you always have this lovely sculpted bottom end and rolling bass to everything. It’s music for good times, to be played loud on big systems.

What marks out a LA hip-hop record, compared to the rest of the genre?

Generally more of a boogie funk feel I suppose, more focussed on the dance floor. Like I said, East Coast hip-hop is generally more introspective. These days the LA scene is more focussed on that trippy, stoned out vibe. Anyone would think they’re somewhat into chronic or something?

What’s been the most influential LA Hip-Hop record on your career as a producer, and why?

Probably something Madlib’s done, although he’s from Oxnard not L.A. I’m not sure I could pick a favourite, I love too many of them. Quite a lot of his best stuff was recorded in L.A. tho so I’m sure he qualifies as legit in this discussion! When I first heard his music I was blown away by his skittish ability to throw just about anything he finds into the mix, the sampled layers buried in his songs can take decades to decipher, plus he’s ridiculously prolific. I’ve been lucky enough to open for him a few times when he’s played and he remains a towering inspiration for me, uniquely visionary and also incredibly humble.

Mr Beatnick’s Brief History of L.A. Hip-hop

Zapp – ‘More Bounce to the Ounce’ from Zapp LP [Warner Bros., 1980]

So many L.A. hip-hop tunes seem to have at least some sort of fragment of Roger Troutman and Zapp in there, so I’m including this song as it’s an essential part of this list. Without ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’ you wouldn’t have DJ Quik, Dr Dre, or 2pac’s ‘California Love’. Roger Troutman’s popularity with the gangbangers and low-riders made Zapp the definition of a street sound, and the talk-box a key texture in the L.A. sound forever.

2pac – ‘I Get Around’, from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. LP [Interscrope, 1993]

The greatest West Coast rap artist of all time? Mr Shakur surely needs no introduction. There’s a ton of songs I could have plumped for here but the carefree, fun-in-the-sun vibes of ‘I Get around’ shows 2pac in a less gangsta-ish moment, during his second album. The makings of a West Coast icon. The way those Rhodes chords cycle in the turnaround of the beat always give me goose pimples.

Snoop Dogg – ‘Who Am I (What’s My Name)’, from Doggystyle LP [Death Row, 1993]

This man also needs no introduction, ’cause this song says it all. Welcome to the definition of the G-funk era. Music to sip gin and juice to whilst cruising in the L.A. sun.

The Nonce – Mixtapes, from World Ultimate LP [Wild West, 1995]

Swittttttch! It’s not all about Dr Dre and Tupac you know! LA duo The Nonce were a criminally underrated underground hip-hop duo and this track used to make my spine tingle when it appeared on Yo! MTV Raps in the mid nineties. Back in the day, we used to make actual mixtapes for friends and people we fancied and this song was often on them, in a self-referential type of way.

DJ Quik – ‘Dollaz and Sense’, from Safe and Sound LP [Profile Records, 1995]

Not quite as obvious or well known as some other picks on this list, Dj Quik’s 1995 album Safe + Sound is a high water mark in West Coast hip-hop and arguably a benchmark influence on later efforts by Dr Dre. The West Coast musical DNA of Zapp, boogie funk and P-Funk is all over this record, which features Parliament members Gary Shider, George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, as well as Cameo’s Larry Blackmon. The album was one of the first to be exec produced by Death Row’s Sugh Knight. It’s worth trying to find the double LP of the album’s instrumentals , to marvel at how well played and funky this album is, even without the words.

Madvillain – ‘Accordion’, from Madvillainy LP [Stones Throw, 2004] 

The sound of Daniel Dumile and Otis Jackson Jr “doing bong hits on the roof, on the west coast”. Madvillain remains a defining album of the contemporary L.A. underground, bridging the gaps between B movies, cartoons, obscure literary references and… Frank Zappa. “The jar is under the bed.”

Ras G – ‘All Out Fuck It’, from Raw Fruit Vol. 1 and 2 LP [Leaving Records, 2014]

Enough column inches have been dedicated to the L.A. beat scene that emerged around the Low End Theory club night, Dublab and Kutmah’s Sketchbook parties, but the main artist from that time who never seems to get enough words is Sun Ra-inspired, spaced-out crate digger Ras G. His crunchy, distortion-laden Raw Fruit beat tape series continually improves with age.

Bonus Beat:: Peanut Butter Wolf – ‘A Tale of Five Cities’, from My Vinyl Weighs a Ton [Stones Throw, 1998]

Bonus beat for the heads here, taken from Stones Throw founder Chris Manak’s album My Vinyl Weighs A Ton. A “lessons” track in the vein of Double Dee and Steinski that plots hip-hop’s historical development from one coast of the US to the other. With an academic attention to detail in the sample layering it demonstrating his lifelong love affair with hip hop culture.

The 108 Sessions joins the dots between L.A. hip-hop, New York house and London with Peanut Butter Wolf, Mister Saturday Night and Ruby Savage. Free entry at Mick’s Garage on on 22nd July. RSVP at Resident Advisor, more info on Facebook.  

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