The West Coast is the best coast, or at least, that’s how the saying goes. West Coast rap originated in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s though the spirit is still present in modern-day rappers from the area.
Read on as we explore the best West Coast rappers of all time, from the old-school legends that shaped the genre to modern rappers carrying the torch for future generations.
1. Tupac Shakur
It’s no surprise that Tupac Shakur is at the top of our list. Widely considered one of the most influential people in hip-hop, Tupac (also known as 2Pac) was born in New York City but moved to the West Coast at 17.
Tupac released his first album (2Pacalypse Now) in 1991 and quickly blew up in the West Coast scene. He produced many great hits, pouring his heart and soul into all of his lyrics. Shakur’s songs often included profound political and social commentary, as well as messages to rappers on the East Coast.
Notably, Shakur had roles in several movies, most famously Poetic Justice in 1993, because of his success in hip-hop.
Eazy-E was born in Compton, California, and is considered one of the pioneers of the “gangster” or “gangsta” rap genre. In his early career, Eazy-E worked with other rappers often, mainly Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. The three rappers went on to form the famous rap group N.W.A.
After the breakup of N.W.A, Easy-E went on to cultivate and coach the Grammy award-winning rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
N.W.A was a rap group consisting of some of the biggest rappers in the world at the time. The group’s 1988 lineup and founders were Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren.
The group’s debut album, “Straight Outta Compton” was highly controversial due to its explicit language and political messages. However, it is now widely regarded as one of hip-hop's greatest and most influential albums.
4. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg is one of the most successful rappers on the West Coast scene. What originally launched Snoop Dogg’s career was a feature on Dr. Dre’s first single, “Deep Cover,” and another feature on Dre’s debut album, “The Chronic.”
Snoop Dogg’s own debut album, “Doggystyle,” charted number one on the popular albums chart almost immediately. Snoop Dogg is now known for his music and acting career, as he has had many guest appearances on TV shows and movies.
5. Ice Cube
Ice Cube, along with Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, was one of the founders and creators of the rap group N.W.A. Famously, Ice Cube wrote many of the lyrics on N.W.A’s debut album “Straight Outta Compton.”
Ice Cube also had a successful solo career, known for combining rap and political messages in his albums. The rapper has a successful film career, directing and acting in many films and taking on an executive producer role in the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton.”
6. Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre was one of the founding members of the famous rap group N.W.A (along with Ice Cube and Eazy-E). After N.W.A’s breakup, Dr. Dre debuted his solo album “The Chronic,” which was released in 1992.
Dr. Dre has received six Grammy awards for his work, many of which are from his career as a music producer.
7. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is one of the most popular modern rappers in the world. Lamar was born and raised in Compton, California, a famous area for West Coast rappers and hip-hop artists. The rapper’s first album under a major label (Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment) was “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” which was wildly successful and propelled him into the mainstream.
Lamar has received dozens of awards for his work and is still active and creating music today.
8. Kanye West
Many people don’t consider Kanye West a “West Coast rapper” because his early life and career started in Chicago, Illinois. However, most of his music (including current work) has been completed while he has lived in California.
West is one of the most influential rappers of the modern day, with highlights from his debut album “The College Dropout” to more recent successful works like “The Life of Pablo.”
9. Westside Connection
Westside Connection was a rap group created and founded by Ice Cube, Mack 10, and WC. The three rappers had successful solo careers and used the group to collaborate and feature in each other’s works.
The group’s debut album, “Bow Down,” saw commercial success and has a platinum certification.
10. The Game
The Game is a rapper from Compton, California. The rapper released his debut album “Untold Story” independently in 2004 before being discovered and signed by Dr. Dre to Aftermath Records.
After signing with Dr. Dre, The Game released his first album under a major label, “The Documentary,” in 2005. Since then, The Game has gone on to create his record label, The Black Wallstreet Records, and continued to release music (some of which earned him several Grammy nominations).
11. Warren G
Warren G is a rapper who came up in the 1990s West Coast rap scene. The rapper created the hip hop group 213, along with Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, in 1990. In 2017, one of Warren G’s singles, “Regulate,” which was originally released in 1994, received 2x multi-platinum certification.
12. Too $hort
Too $hort, or Too Short, is a rapper who began his career in the 1980s West Coast scene. The focus of the rapper’s lyrics was often considered to match the spirit of classic old-school West Coast rap, with songs focused on survival, drugs, and sex.
Too Short’s rap career was launched when Jive Records released his fourth album, “Born to Mack,” nationally.
13. MC Ren
MC Ren is a rapper from Compton, California, whose career began in 1987. While still in high school, the rapper was signed to Eazy-E’s record label, Ruthless Records. MC Ren collaborated with Eazy-E and wrote about half of the artist’s debut album.
MC Ren went on to join the rap supergroup N.W.A.
14. Donald Glover (Childish Gambino)
Though he was known by the stage name Childish Gambino for a long time, Donald Glover now uses his given name in his endeavors. Donald Glover is often given the title “renaissance man” due to his talent and success in many different entertainment fields, including as a rap artist.
Glover’s hit albums “Because the Internet” and “Awaken, My Love” are still regarded as some of the most unique, successful rap albums of the modern day.
YG, which stands for Young Gangsta, is from Compton, California. His rap career began in 2006, though he didn’t release his debut studio album until 2010, “Toot It and Boot It.” Following his album’s success, the rapper was signed to Def Jam Recordings.
Kurupt is a rapper who helped pioneer the gangsta rap genre in the 1990s as it developed on the West Coast. The rapper’s first debut as an artist was on the electro-funk band “The S.O.S. Band” album, “One of Many Nights,” released in 1991.
Kurupt created the rap duo “Tha Dogg Pound” with rapper Daz Dillinger. The duo was featured on Snoop Dogg’s debut album, “Doggystyle.”
Ice-T was an underground rapper in the 1980s before his debut album “Rhyme Pays” was released in 1987. Famously, the album is said to have been the first-ever album to carry the “explicit content” sticker for parental advisory.
Ice-T has transitioned into songwriting and acting and has played one of the main characters on the daytime television series “Law & Order: SVU” since 2010.
18. Boots Riley
Boots Riley is one of the pioneers of the 1990s rap style as the lead singer and rapper for the group “The Coup.” Riley and The Coup are famous for working progressive social and political messages into their work.
Though Boots Riley saw success and positive feedback from his rap career, the most poignant work of his as far as political and social messaging was the anti-capitalist surrealist film “Sorry to Bother You,” which he wrote and directed.
19. Schoolboy Q
Schoolboy Q is a rapper who started his career in 2009 out of South Central Los Angeles, California. He is a member of the hip-hop “supergroup” called Black Hippy. Other members of Black Hippy include Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Kendrick Lamar.
Schoolboy Q’s first album under a major label, “Oxymoron,” was released in 2014 and debuted at number on the Billboard 200 chart.
20. Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator is a rapper who first gained traction in 2009 after the release of his mixtape “Bastard.” His unique, alternative rap style, often referred to as horrorcore-rap, launched interest at the start of his career. Since then, the rapper has explored several genres, with jazz and alternative influences to synth-pop tracks, as seen in his recent album “Call Me If You Get Lost.”
Tyler, the Creator is one of the founding members of the music collective “Odd Future” and the clothing brand “Golf Wang.”
21. Anderson .Paak
Anderson .Paak is a rapper, singer, and drummer from Oxnard, California. His career started in 2012 with the release of his first mixtape, “O.B.E. Vol. 1.” After being nominated for a Grammy award for the 2016 album “Malibu,” Anderson received his first Grammy award for the single “Bubblin.”
In recent years, Anderson formed the hip hop duo Silk Sonic with singer Bruno Mars.
22. Jay Rock
Jay Rock is a member of the rap collective “Black Hippy,” along with other West Coast rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q. Jay Rock’s first major hit was his 2008 single, “All My Life (In the Ghetto),” which featured will.i.am and Lil Wayne.
Coolio is a famous rapper out of the West Coast 1990s rap scene. The rapper saw major success with several albums, most notably “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which was released in 1995. On the successful album is the single “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which remains one of the staples and prime examples of 1990s old-school rap.
24. MC Eiht
MC Eiht is a rapper whose musical work focused on his childhood and upbringing in Compton, California. The rapper was one of the founding members and the acting leader of the rap group “Compton’s Most Wanted.”
Many people know MC Eiht from the character he plays (named Ryder) in the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”
Saweetie started her rap career by posting short videos of her freestyle raps on Instagram. Saweetie released her first single, “Icy Girl,” through Soundcloud in 2017, and it became a viral hit. This song caught the attention of managers and producers.
While working on her debut studio album “Pretty Bitch Music,” Saweetie collaborated with and featured on songs with Jhené Aiko, Little Mix, and Doja Cat. She is often considered one of the best new rappers in the scene.
26. Doja Cat
Doja Cat is a rapper and singer from Los Angeles, California, who was signed to a record label at 17. Though she didn’t see much success at the start of her career, her 2018 song “Mooo!” became a viral meme that re-launched her career. Since 2018, Doja Cat has built on her success and released the “Hot Pink” album in 2019.
The Hot Pink album and the accompanying single “Say So” blew up and led to collaborations with Nicki Minaj and Sza.
B-Real is an American rapper well-known for being one of the two main rappers in the group “Cypress Hill.” The other main rapper in the group is Sen Dog, a high school friend of B-Real.
The rapper is known for his distinct rap voice, which is quite high and a bit nasally, a voice he specifically uses for rapping as fellow rapper DJ Muggs advised him that his previous delivery was monotonous.
Mozzy is a rapper from Sacramento, California, that began his career in 2004 under the stage name “Lil Tim.” In 2012, he switched his professional rap name to “Mozzy” and hasn’t changed it since.
Mozzy first gained attention with his album “Bladadah,” which was released in 2015. The album was placed on a list of best rap albums by “The Rolling Stone,” which is how the rapper garnered attention.
29. Mac Dre
Mac Dre was a rapper from Vallejo, California, often associated with the musical and cultural movement known as “hyphy.” Hyphy is a West Coast slang term that means “hyperactive.” Music that is hyphy is highly rhythmic and similar to the crunk music genre.
In addition, Mac Dre founded the independent record label “Thizz Entertainment,” which helps rising rappers release their tracks locally.
Aminé is a modern rapper who started his career with his debut mixtape, “Odyssey to Me,” in 2014. The rapper went on to make a second mixtape, “Calling Brío,” but didn’t see commercial success until his first single, “Caroline,” became wildly popular after its release in 2016. The single reached 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Aminé was announced as a member of the XXL 2017 Freshman Class. Since then, the rapper has released several singles, worked on music for the film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse,” and released his second studio album “Limbo.” Aminé has stated he hopes to do more film directing in the future.
31. Vince Staples
Vince Staples first emerged as a rapper through Tyler, the Creator’s music collective known as Odd Future. He was featured on other members’ tracks before collaborating with Mac Miller to release his first mixtape, “Stolen Youth.” From there, he released his first EP in 2014 (Hell Can Wait) and then the album “Summertime ‘06” in 2015.
After the 2015 release of his debut album, Vince Staples was featured in the XXL 2015 Freshman Class. Critics have praised his work for its mesh of West Coast rap style and electronic influence.
32. Dom Kennedy
Dom Kennedy's first debut as a rapper was with the album “25th Hour,” which came out in 2008. The album gained local attention immediately, and Kennedy began to rise in the local rap scene.
Dom Kennedy chose to stay independent as an artist, not signing with any labels until developing his independent record label, OPM, which stands for “Other People’s Money.”
Iamsu! is a solo rapper, a member of the music production team “The Invasion,” and the leader of the hip hop collective “The HBK Gang.” The HBK Gang, short for Heart Break Gang, released an album in 2013, “Gang Forever,” that saw critical acclaim.
34. Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt was invited to join Tyler, the Creator’s music collective Odd Future, at 14. He had already been rapping under the name “Sly Tendencies,” but changed his stage name to Earl Sweatshirt after joining the collective.
The rapper released his first mixtape, “Earl,” in 2010 when he was just 16. Earl Sweatshirt has collaborated with King Krule, The Roots, Vince Staples, and other talented artists. Some of Earl Sweatshirt’s most famous songs are “Hive” from his album “Doris” and a feature on the Frank Ocean song “Super Rich Kids.”
Though born in Detroit and growing up in Albuquerque, Xzibit began his rapping career at the age of 14 when he moved to Los Angeles. Working his way up as an underground artist, he introduced himself to the world with his third studio album “Restless” executive produced by Dr.Dre.
In addition to his successful rapping career, Xzibit also hosted a popular MTV show, “Pimp My Ride,” and landed acting roles in Hollywood blockbusters “XXX: State of the Union” and “Derailed.”
Problem is a German-American rapper born in West Germany but raised in Compton, California. The rapper’s first big break was when he was featured on E-40’s single “Function” in 2012.
Problem has collaborated with many famous hip-hop artists, such as Wiz Khalifa, The Game, and T.I.
37. Mack 10
Mack 10 is a successful rapper who was first featured in Ice Cube’s album “Bootlegs & B-Sides” in 1994. His track on the album, “What Can I Do?” initially launched his career.
Mack 10 was in the group Westside Connection along with rappers Ice Cube and WC.
38. Juice Wrld
Juice Wrld was one of the first successful rappers specializing in the “emo rap” genre. The rapper began his career in 2015 and saw significant success with his 2018 single “Lucid Dreams.” The single reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Juice Wrld’s debut album, “Goodbye & Good Riddance,” was released in 2018 and has since gone triple platinum.
The rapper tragically passed away in 2019, though two posthumous albums have been released and a documentary, “Juice Wrld: Into the Abyss.”
39. Big Skye
Big Skye was a rapper from Inglewood, California. The rapper was in the group Thug Life which only released one album and the group Outlawz which Tupac Shakur founded after leaving prison.
Big Skye recorded several songs for Tupac Shakur’s fourth studio album, “All Eyez On Me,” released in 1996. The rapper passed away in 2016.
Madlib is a DJ and rapper from Oxnard, California. The rapper released his first solo work under the pseudonym and project “Quasimoto.” Madlib’s Quasimoto project consists of his voice and an animated “alter ego” of Madlib called “Lord Quas,” who has a very high-pitched voice.
Madlib frequently collaborates with other rappers and hip hop artists such as MF Doom, Freddie Gibbs, and J Dilla. When collaborating with Madlib, these artists take on different stage names, Madvillain is MF Doom, Jaylib is J Dilla, and MadGibbs is Freddie Gibbs.
B-Legit is a rapper born and raised in Vallejo, California, and he began his career in 1988. Very early in his career, B-Legit was featured on Tupac Shakur’s song “Ain’t Hard 2 Find” from his album “All Eyez On Me.”
B-Legit has collaborated with many other famous rappers, such as Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Mack 10, and Young Buck.
42. MC Hammer
MC Hammer, sometimes going by only “Hammer,” is a rap artist and was a major figure in rap in the 1980s and 1990s. The rapper is famous for combining catchy rap tracks with over-the-top and flashy choreography. Hammer’s songs “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit” are some of the world's most well-known old-school rap songs.
Notably, MC Hammer popularized “hammer pants,” a type of wide pants that taper at the ankle.
Fatlip is a rapper who originally started his career in the rap group “The Pharcyde” in 1990. Fatlip was later kicked out of the group when he began focusing on his solo career. The rapper’s 2000 single “What’s Up Fatlip?” was featured in the video game “Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland,” and gained traction with skateboard fans.
Domino is an American rapper who joined the Bloods & Crips, a rap group based out of Los Angeles, as a Crip. The rapper later released his debut solo album, “Domino,” in 1993. A song from the album, “Ghetto Jam,” became a Billboard Top 10 hit.
45. Zion I
Zion I was a rap project created by Baba Zumbi along with K-Genius and Amp Live. The group’s debut album, “Mind Over Matter,” was released in 2000. The group released several acclaimed albums over the next decade and a half. Their last album, “The Labyrinth,” was released in 2016.
The rap project’s founder Baba Zumbi tragically passed away in 2021.
46. Brotha Lynch Hung
Brotha Lynch Hung is a rapper from Sacramento, California, who is often considered the creator of the “horrorcore” rap genre. Horrorcore is also referred to as death rap or death hip hop. The genre was originally inspired by gangsta rap and hardcore rap, but horrorcore artists would tie occult and supernatural themes to their work.
Horrorcore rap often tackles dark topics like mental illness and abuse. Brotha Lynch Hung describes his own musical style as “Ripgut,” as he has a fascination and interest with themes of graphic violence.
Yo-Yo is a rapper mentored by Ice Cube. Yo-Yo’s first musical appearance was on Ice Cube’s first studio album, “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,” which was released in 1990. Yo-Yo debuted her first album, “Make Way for the Motherlode,” in 1991, and Ice Cube was featured on one of the tracks.
Top West Coast Rappers, Final Thoughts
West Coast is the home of some of the most iconic rappers of all time. Spanning across decades of creative virtuosity, the above rappers have etched their names in the history books with their undeniable contribution and impact on the music industry.
Outside popular West Coast rappers, if you’re looking to explore rap music produced in recent times, check out this list of the best 2000s hip hop songs.