The genre of hip hop, without question, began on America’s East Coast in the Bronx borough of New York City. However, as the genre began to spread across the nation, the people of California would take it and make it their own. They would talk about life on the West Coast, L.A. gangs, lowriders, and make it a little funkier. However, the Bay Area rarely got the spotlight.
On the West Coast in southern California, G-Funk was the sound and, unlike Miami Bass and New Orleans Bounce, the sound spread nationwide like wildfire putting LA on the map. Spearheaded by Dr Dre and Deathrow Records, G-Funk is still popular today and is a timeless sound. Legends like 2pac rode G-funk, and after a while, even rappers on the East Coast started to adopt a more West Coast sound with songs such as ‘Big Poppa’ by the Notorious B.I.G and ‘Nas Is Coming’ by Nas taking on the smooth sonics of G-funk.
However, although G-Funk is known as the sound of California, people pay less attention to North California. The Bay area in the early 2000s cultivated its own sound, which came to be known as Hyphy Music. Pioneered by Traxamillion and Keak Da Sneak, it was popular and in demand, but it was a short-lived, hyper-localised scene. However, the area did generate some fairly big stars and quality artists.
For non-Americans, the term Bay Area may be unfamiliar. The Bay Area refers to the area that surrounds the Bay of San Francisco, which includes the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Fremont. Although there are some deprived neighbourhoods in the Bay Area, the Bay is not really considered a treacherous region of the US.
With big tech firms on the rise in the nearby Silicon Valley and with San Francisco considered the LGBTQ+ capital of America, most would say that there’s no significant deprivation in the region. However, upon a closer look, there are small pockets of serious deprivation, especially in Oakland and in an interview, rapper 2pac even claimed the Bay as the area that he represents. Below we have compiled a list of the top five rappers to ever come out of the Bay Area.
The five best rappers from the Bay Area:
5. Too $hort
Too $hort is one of the most well-known artists to come out of the Bay Area. Born and raised in Oakland, Too $hort had his ear to the streets of his city and knew what kind of music the people wanted. With the same gangsta content as N.W.A, but at the same time incorporating hyphy music elements into his music, Too $hort quickly created a buzz in Oakland with his cassettes that flew around Oakland and San Francisco, leading him to get signed by Oakland independent label, 75 Girls Records And Tapes.
On this label, in 1983, he released his debut album, Don’t Stop Rappin’, and from there, continued to grow. In 1985 Too Short and Freddie B formed a label to create and distribute their music independently, and they had continued success. However, slowly but surely, their music began to travel the Bay Area. Too $hort eventually signed with Priority and is considered one of the first mainstream rappers to emerge from The Bay Area.
This Oakland duo are known for creating what was a hip hop smash hit in 1995, ‘I Got 5 On It’. Formed in Oakland by high school friends by Yukmouth and Numskull, Luniz originally began recording material under the group name, The LuniTunes. However, thinking it was quite a mouthful and a bit childish, they soon changed it to Luniz.
Rapper Yukmouth let it be known in an interview that Chris Hicks (owner of C-note Records), who was associated with Too $hort, was one of the only vendors of Cocaine in Oakland at the time they landed their record deal. On VladTV, Yukmouth revealed he turned a drug deal into a record deal by rapping for Hicks while purchasing drugs. Hicks then invited him to the studio with Oakland rapper Dru Down.
Shortly after this initial meeting, they signed with C-Note in 1992 and in 1995 landed a deal with Virgin. ‘I Got 5 On It’ was the lead single for their debut album, Operation Stackola. The track peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the UK Singles Chart. It was soon certified platinum in both countries.
E-40 is another renowned Bay Area rapper, considered by many legendary for his flow. Another Oakland-raised rapper, E-40 (real name Earl Tywone Stevens Sr) began his rap career with his crew, The Click. Members included B-Legit, D-Shot and Suga-T.
As a member of The Click, Stevens encouraged them to record and which resulted in the crew releasing their 1990 EP Let’s Side. Picking up a fair amount of traction in East Oakland and Vallejo, in 1992, the group signed with Sick Wid It Records to release their second album Down And Dirty.
E-40 recorded some solo material along the way. However, in 1993 The Click had a commercial breakthrough with their comical song ‘Captain Save a Hoe’. With his unique style and humour, E-40 specifically developed a heavy regional following in the Bay Area, which eventually spread nationwide. Stevens often used an offbeat flow and quirky, non-conformist rhyme schemes. As such, he turned heads. E-40 still releases music with contemporary rappers and is still loved by many.
G-Eazy is one of the most contemporary artists to arise from the Bay Area. Born in Oakland, G-Eazy done a bit of moving before settling back in Oakland. However, it is where he started his career.
G-Eazy first arrived in the mainstream around 2012 when, after having just completed a nationwide tour with the ‘Vans Warped Tour’, he independently released his debut album Must Be Nice. Eazy had slowly cultivated a fan base since 2010 while living with his mother in Oakland. Initially, starting out as a record producer and rapper, Eazy first worked locally with acts such as The Cataracs and Lil B.
Before going solo, G-Eazy was part of a local rap group in Oakland known as The Bay Boyz. Releasing several tracks through MySpace, the group did not last very long. He also had a stint as a record producer in Oakland and produced several tracks for Crohn while doing so, but really had his heart set on being an artist.
As he continued to network around the Bay area of San Francisco, he built up enough of a buzz to become the go-to opening act for more prominent artists when they had performances in Oakland. Eazy got to open for the likes of Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne. With exposure growing, when Eazy released his second album, These Things Happen, it topped the Billboard 200 albums chart.
1. Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur was one of the most well-known rappers in the world and, during the 1990s, was the go-to artist if you wanted hardcore and passionate gangsta rap. As the primary artist of Dr Dre and Suge Knight’s Death Row Records, Tupac undeniably made massive hits and, before his murder in 1996, was one of the most famous rappers in the world.
Pac, as well as being a talented rapper, was also highly controversial and was, for all intents and purposes, the perpetrator of the east coast vs west coast feud. The bloodshed and horror of the 1990s was primarily down to Shakur and Suge Knight. As the son of Afeni Shakur, a political activist and member of the Black Panther Party, the rapper naturally had an anti-establishment mindset and, as such, was quite a brash character and highly troublesome character. But still popular.
Tupac was known for having quite an unsettled childhood moving from city to city. Born in New York, Shakur Lived in the Bronx and Harlem. His mother then moved with him to Baltimore. After this, he moved to the Bay Area’s Marin City. They moved shortly to Oakland and then finally to Los Angeles.
Although Tupac lived in a number of places, he always let it be known that it was the Bay Area, Oakland especially, that taught him “the game” of the streets and therefore claimed Oakland as the area he represented. For the obvious reason that Tupac Shakur is still one of the greatest rappers to ever touch a mic, he is most definitely the number one rapper from the Bay Area.