Death Row Records was an iconic Los Angeles institution that emerged from Compton in 1991. Initially comprised of emcees Dr Dre and Warren G, the record label was flung into the limelight in the early 1990s following Dr Dre’s debut album, The Chronic. With artists like Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan ruling New York during this period, Death Row broke through with its laidback, funky California sound upon the arrival of Snoop Dogg and 2Pac (real name Tupac Shakur).
The pair crossed paths at a studio complex while Shakur was recording his third album, Me Against the World. With Shakur already at the height of fame as an Interscope artist, Dre asked him to jump on his song ‘California Love.’
Recorded at Can-Am Studios, the home of Death Row Records in Tarzana, ‘California Love’ was the first track 2Pac released through Death Row Records. Shakur had been affiliated with Snoop Dogg (real Calvin Broadus) and other West Coast Artists since 1992, when he moved from Oakland to LA. However, it was in late mid-1995 that Broadus told both Dr Dre and Suge Knight to sign Shakur.
As an artist who recorded at Can-Am on a regular basis, it was inevitable that Dr Dre (real name Andre Young) and 2Pac would meet eventually. While he was working on his second project, The Chronic II: A New World Odor (Poppa’s Got A Brand New Funk), Dre ran across Shakur and knew his vocal tone and delivery would be perfect for ‘California Love’. Produced by Dre using his distinct G-Funk sound, the song is based around a sample of the 1972 Joe Cocker single, ‘Woman to Woman’, and features funky talk box vocals from the legendary Roger Troutman.
The single, which only features as a single on the UK version of All Eyez On Me, is an ode to the state of California and was recorded during the middle of the East Coast versus West Coast feud. Three versions of the single exist. Furthermore, there are two music videos. The second version is smoother and doesn’t contain the Joe Cocker sample, and an extended third rendition can now be found online although it was only ever physically released as a twelve-inch promotional vinyl. It is over six minutes long.
The most well-known version stayed atop the Billboard 100 for a fortnight and was certified two times platinum by the RIAA in 1996. Only the remix appeared on the US edition of All Eyez On Me. However, the original featured on Greatest Hits, a 1998 double-disc posthumous album.
In a 2012 interview with The Morning Riot, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar unveiled he witnessed Shakur and Young filming the remix in Compton, stating: “I was in Compton, and they were shooting the second version of it. They stopped right in front of the middle of the street. My pops had seen them and came back to the house and got me. My father went to the house to get me and put me on his shoulders to watch them shoot.”
The first version of the music video was inspired by the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and according to various sources, was an idea of Shakur’s old friend and lover, Jada Pinkett-Smith. The sand dune video was directed by Hype Williams and filmed in the deserts of El Mirage, California. You can hear and watch both editions of ‘California Love’ in the videos below.