Gangsta rap was once one of the world’s most popular forms of hip-hop. Focused primarily on street life. Gangsta rap refers to hip-hop music that focuses more on violence and ghetto activity as opposed to conscious rap, which tends to focus more on social and political issues.
Many cite Ice-T as the ‘Godfather of Gangsta Rap’ with his track ‘6 N The Mornin’, widely considered the first song from the genre. However, although Ice-T may have started it, he was not the artist that brought it to the mainstream.
Many would point to N.W.A. as the kings of gangsta rap, as they were the group that brought it to a wider audience and crossed it into the mainstream. Comprised of Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella and Arabian Prince, N.W.A took what Ice-T had done but went further.
With songs such as ‘F*k The Police’ and Eazy-E’s ‘Boyz-N-The-Hood’, N.W.A ended up going nationwide with their music. They were unstoppable with vicious rappers such as Ice Cube and mega-producers such as Dr Dre. The gangsta rap torch would stay with Dre after he formed Death Row Records alongside Suge Knight and would be passed on to Snoop Dogg and 2pac.
Gangsta rap was innately a West Coast subgenre. However, it did end up getting used by artists on the East Coast too. The Notorious B.I.G was not a gangsta rapper as he had far too many slow jams to ever be considered a gangsta rapper, however, an artist such as DMX could.
But on the East Coast, the go-to person people would consider a gangsta rapper is 50 Cent. He had the image, the violence-centric music and the destructive attitude associated with the genre. With Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ selling 872,000 copies in its first week and 12 million units worldwide, by the end of 2003, 50 Cent was looking to revive gangsta rap.
However, many claim the genre was destroyed by Kanye West’s 2007 album Graduation. The record went head to head with 50 Cent’s Curtis, and many saw Kanye’s electronic sound as pioneering and the direction that hip hop needed to go.
Regardless of whether or not Kanye killed gangsta rap, it is still a big part of hip hop with many still making it in this list, we’ve picked out the five best gangsta rap albums of all time.
The five greatest gangsta rap albums of all time:
5. Restless (Xzibit, 2000)
Xzibit is almost the west coast version of 50 Cent, he features in the video for 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’. Akin to 50 Cent, Dr Dre executively produced Xzibit’s third studio album, Restless, and it quickly went platinum. However, for Xzibit, label issues stood in his way, as well as the fact that the gangsta rap torch had moved from Los Angeles to New York with the arrival of 50 Cent and G-unit. L.A. had held the gangsta rap torch for 15 years, and by the time Xzibit emerged, there was no more demand for gangsta rappers from LA.
Regardless Xzibit was still successful in acting and television but is criminally underrated. For the rapper, it was a case of bad timing.
4. I’m A Hustla (Cassidy, 2005)
Although Cassidy has admittedly made some girlish songs over the years, such as ‘Hotel’ featuring the disgraced R. Kelly, Cassidy most definitely is known more as a gangsta rapper and albums like I’m A Hustla show exactly why. Songs such as ‘AM To The PM’ are beyond violent, and some may even say too violent. However, that is what gangsta rap is all about.
Cassidy brings the rawness and aggression of a 2pac, but without the political undertones and heart, it’s what many would dub “murder music”, but that’s gangsta rap in a nutshell. The album was fairly successful, peaking at number five on the Billboard top 200.
3. Rhyme Pays (Ice-T, 1987)
The first-ever gangsta rap album. Even Dr Dre of N.W.A has been shown thanking Ice-T for the creation of gangsta rap, and most people would consider Dre and his crew as the founders, so if Dre has dubbed Ice-T as the creator of gangsta rap, then we must listen.
Inspired by Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D’s song PSK, Ice-T’s lead single ‘6 N’ The Mornin’ is considered by most to be the first gangsta rap song ever. Detailing a day in the life of a Crenshaw gangster, the song was the first notable song out of L.A. and the first time people had heard hip hop out of California.
2. Straight Outta Compton – (N.W.A., 1988)
Arguably the first nationwide gansta rap album ever, this debut album from N.W.A. really shook up America upon release. Songs such as ‘F*ck Tha Police’ were looked down upon by older generations as violence-inciting music that was not fit for consumption by youths.
Regardless of what they thought, it remained popular and has gone down in history. N.W.A even had their own biopic, Straight Outta Compton. The album contains all of the crew’s legendary cuts, such as ‘Dopeman’ and ‘Gangsta Gangsta’. It was not quite the start of Gangsta rap but was the first time it spread nationally. A legendary gangsta rap album.
1. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (50 Cent, 2003)
Undoubtedly the pinnacle of gangsta rap, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is not only the most successful album that falls within the subgenre, but it’s also the most well-made. From the album cover art to the music videos of its singles, the whole project cohesively and successfully exudes ‘Gangster’.
The rapper’s delivery on the album is eerily calm, and 50 Cent, as a rapper who had been shot nine times in the face by a gunman outside his grandmother’s house, was undeniably a formidable character. Beats such as the one for ‘In Da Club’ were impactful and…yes, scary!
With Eminem and Dr Dre credited as the album’s executive producers, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ sold 872,000 copies in its first week and 12 million units worldwide. By the end of 2003, the album had already been certified six times platinum.