During my junior year in college, I wrote a research paper titled “The Reflection of Gangsta Rap in the ’80s and ’90s.”
It was a short document, six pages and around 2,000 words. The paper talks about the origins of the subgenre and its cultural value to African-Americans. Basically, gangsta rap solidified the terrors they were facing. These terrors include poverty and racism amongst others. The police brutality case of Rodney King III sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots that killed more than 50 people and left 2,000 plus injured.
As pioneers Ice-T, Schoolly D, and N.W.A rapped about the everyday struggles their people were facing, the media was having a field day. They fit the perfect stereotype of gangsta rap artists—black, and born and bred in the ghetto. Many white conservatives began stereotyping gangsta rap as one of the causes and encourages of criminal behaviour. However, a World Development Report confirmed that most of the gangbangers on the street picked poverty and unemployment as the reason behind their crimes; none pointed out music.
To show our support for the music and the geniuses behind it, we decided to pick out our top five gangsta rap songs to get through this humpday:
N.Y. State of Mind by Nas (Illmatic, 1994)
“N.Y. State of Mind” samples two jazz songs: “Mind Rain” by Joe Chambers and “Flight Time” by Donald Byrd. Nas raps about his lyrical prowess and how the environment of New York City has exposed him to all these dangers.
Favorite line: I never sleep / Cause sleep is the cousin of death
No Vaseline by Ice Cube (Death Certificate, 1991)
After Cube’s messy departure from N.W.A, the two parties threw diss tracks at each other that incorporated their ex-manager Jerry Heller. These tracks were straight up in-your-face, IDGAF savage. To be fair, N.W.A released “Message to B.A.” aimed at Cube first. Check out the movie “Straight Outta Compton” to get the full picture.
Favorite line: Ya done run 100 miles, but you still got one to go / With the L-E-N-C-H M-O-B / And y’all disgrace the C-P-T / Cause you’re getting fu***d out your green / By a white boy, with no vaseline
Gangsta Gangsta by N.W.A (Straight Outta Compton, 1988)
Before Jerry Heller’s reign fully took over the group, N.W.A released their world-changing debut studio album. “Gangsta Gangsta” delivers the story of guns, police, drugs, and women—just a typical day in the life of a gangsta in Compton. Watch out for Dr. Dre’s creative producing on this track along with Cube and the late Eazy-E’s aptitude.
Favorite line: Cause I’m the E, I don’t slang or bang / I just smoke motherf***ers like it ain’t no thang
Gin and Juice by Snoop Doggy Dogg, produced by Dr. Dre (Doggystyle, 1994)
“Gin and Juice” might be his first single but man, did this put Snoop Dogg on the map or what? In this track, our favorite stoner-rapper/entrepreneur throws a house party that turns wild. This was the original Project X, sorry.
Favorite line: Rollin’ down the street, smokin’ indo / Sippin’ on gin and juice, laid back / With my mind on my money / And my money on my mind
Up North Trip by Mobb Deep (The Infamous…, 1995)
Mobb Deep, together with The Notorious B.I.G., raised the standards of East Coast hip hop. “Up North Trip” shows the anxiety of being African-American; the fear of getting arrested simply because of their skin color is an issue they still deal with in the present day.
Favorite line: I try not to dwell on the subject for a while / Cause I might get stuck in this corrupt lifestyle / But my, heart pumps foul blood through my arteries / And I can’t turn it back, it’s a part of me
RIP, Prodigy. We miss you.
Special mention to Kendrick Lamar’s “good Kid, m.A.A.d. city” for shaking up the game too.
Many fail to realize that these artists aren’t here to glamorize their lifestyle. The rhymes they spit are situations they deal with everyday. Gangsta rap became the voice of the those who didn’t fit in the perfect faux “American dream”. They were heard and they’ll continue to be.
What are you favorite gangsta rap songs? Let us know on social media!
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