CHICAGO – 1992: Rapper DJ Quik performs at the New Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois in 1992. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty ImagesRaymond).
“G funk, where rhythm is life and life is rhythm.”
These iconic lines from the end of Warren G’s 1994 classic “Regulate” serve as a kind of credo for the g funk era. The popular subgenre of gangsta rap was all the rage in the mid-‘90s, and brought a new level of musicality and energy to hip hop.
To celebrate gangsta funk unofficially turning 30, Okayplayer recently provided a behind-the-scenes into the making of Above the Law’s “Call It What U Want,” the first song to call g funk explicitly by name. Now, we’re continuing our celebration of the subgenre with a list of the greatest g funk songs in history. But before we get started, some ground rules. This rundown focuses exclusively on LA (so none of the Bay’s mobb music), only one song per album and, finally, no songs after 1998, which saw the tail end of the g funk era with late Death Row Records albums like Daz’s Retaliation, Revenge, and Get Back. Sure, some will take to social media to point out the glaring omissions and the unworthy trophies. But the beauty of that era is just how deep the rabbit hole goes beyond just the obvious choices. In fact, g funk’s lesser-known plots help us understand the main narratives more.
17. “Friday Night” — Hostyle, 1995
Let’s already begin ruffling some feathers. G funk diehards already know duo Hostyle (Chaos and Quicc 2 Mac) from their appearances on Long Beach rapper Lil ½ Dead’s underrated The Dead Has Arisen and Steel on a Mission. But the duo themselves released a demo tape in 1995 through Total Trak Productions. One of those tracks, dubbed “Friday Night,” somehow slipped through the cracks. As smooth as anything that ever came out of the LBC, with its whistling synths and an addictive female-backed hook, “Friday Night” puts a refreshing spin on Tom Browne’s “Funkin 4 Jamaica.” The g funk gem finally started getting its rightful shine a few years ago when Larry June sampled the song for the Cardo-produced “Til Next Time Love.” Since then, a YouTube upload of “Friday Night” has exploded, hitting almost 1 million views.
16. “Doe Doe and a Skunk” — Suga Free, 1997
The Iceberg Slim of Pomona, California, Suga Free settled in the Los Angeles suburb after stints in Oakland and Compton. “People kept their garages open. A lot of fruit trees,” Free told DJ Vlad in an interview about his decades in the pimp and music game. In 1997, Free released his inaugural album, Street Gospel, produced entirely by David Blake aka DJ Quik. The two have had some feuds but when they’re in sync — as they were on “Doe Doe and a Skunk” and throughout that first album — the results are magic. And even as Suga Free is minting a timeless weed anthem, he still gets in his patented pimp quips: “The only reason baby wears panties is to keep her ankles warm.”
15. “Listen to the Sound” — Foesum, 1996
Don’t sleep on some of the brown pioneers of West Coast rap. Foesum, a group out of Long Beach that includes Filipino producer-rapper DJ Glaze, Chicano rapper MNMsta, and Black rapper T-Dubb, still pumps out the g funk sound as if it’s 1996. Foesum’s inaugural album, Perfection, is one of the most slept-on g funk records along with Twinz’s Conversation. Highlight “Listen to the Sound” mixes Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness” and Isley Brothers’ “Make Me Say It Again Girl” in perfect combination.
There’s even more to the g funk lore with Foesum. Back in the ‘80s, Glaze, MNMsta and other high school friends formed the group Perfection. That group eventually added rapper Domino to their ranks, but he defected before a young Snoop collaborated with the group on “Let Em Understand Perfection,” This also explains that Snoop Dogg line, “Perfection is perfected, so I’mma let ‘em understand,” on “Nuthin But a G Thang” — clear shade thrown at Domino. If you didn’t know, now you know.
14. “Late Night” — 2Pac ft. Outlawz, 1994-1996
A few months ago, DJ Quik took to Twitter to say he deserves to be treated as Dr. Dre’s equal and fans rallied in support. The only knock on Quik might be the acolytes he got behind. As stalwart as they were, besides the late Mausberg, no one else really had that transcendent star potential. But then there’s “Late Night,” one of a handful of funk-laden DJ Quik beats 2Pac rapped on. Found on the posthumous album Better Dayz, Pac recorded “Late Night” sometime in the mid-‘90s, with his charismatic final verse giving way to a patented Quik flute outro that you half expect to erupt into a full-on “Quik’s Groove.” The beat was also used on 2nd II None’s “Let’s Get Higher,” but the difference between the two songs is undeniable. Sadly, the world missed out on a bounty of Pac-Quik collaborations.
13. “These Days” — Nate Dogg ft. Daz Dillinger, 1997
G funk is responsible for some of the best original soundtracks in hip-hop history. The Gang Related soundtrack isn’t quite as legendary as some of the others that will come later on this list, but the Nate Dogg-starring “These Days” is the highlight of the album. Nate burst through the confines of the hook and made his presence known in every corner of this gangsta funk cut, lamenting the current state of his hood with his unmatched blend of singing and rapping. Impressively produced by the late king of hooks as well, the track also shows up on G Funk Classics Vol 1 & 2.
12. “Sweet Potatoe Pie” — Domino, 1993
The Missouri-born, Long Beach-bred Domino used to rap with Snoop Dogg in high school. But if Nate Dogg was a singer who dabbled in rap, Domino is a rapper who dabbled in singing. With a syncopated delivery that’s sometimes downright jazzy or bluesy, Domino made his debut with a self-titled album that included successful singles “Getto Jam” and “Sweet Potatoe Pie,” both of which charted on the Billboard Hot 100. The DJ Battlecat-produced track is an early example of his thumping brand of g funk, which holds the rare distinction of thriving both at the height of the era and well beyond it.
11. “Afro Puffs” — Lady of Rage, 1994
Would we even know about Farmville, Virginia (population 7,000) without Robin “Lady of Rage” Allen? The Virginia-born female MC stormed onto the West Coast scene with early guest appearances on The Chronic and Doggystyle, where she literally introduces g funk. A year later, she got her shot on her own single “Afro Puffs,” a Dre and Daz-produced track that appeared on the Above the Rim soundtrack. “I rock rough and stuff with my afro puffs,” she booms on the memorable hook. Unfortunately, Rage’s rightful roll stopped there. Her first solo effort, Eargasm, was shelved and never completed. By the time Necessary Roughness came out in 1997, Death Row Records was in disarray.
10. “V.S.O.P.” — Above the Law, 1993
Pomona g funk pioneers Above the Law’s “V.S.O.P.” uses a mashup of samples (including Fatback’s addictive ‘80s hit “Backstrokin.’”) to fashion an ode to the most superior state of cognac. Big Hutch (then known as Cold 187um) and KMG seamlessly trade call and response bars as if they’re one soul with two distinct personalities. “V.S.O.P.,” along with Black Mafia Life’s other single “Call It What U Want,” helped create the g funk blueprint when they recorded those tracks in early ‘90s.
“When we were all collectively coming together putting singing and melody with hip-hop, that took us out of just rhyme and rhythm,” Hutch told Okayplayer. “It’s all music. But when you start adding melody and singing, that’s when you start crossing barriers sonically.”
9. “Ain’t No Fun” — Snoop Dogg ft. Nate Dogg, Kurupt & Warren G, 1993
This is the part when things become tough. But of all the memorable cuts on Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut Doggystyle, “Ain’t No Fun” shines brightest. It’s a love song flipped on its head: the decorum-smashing, FCC-violating track still bumping in quaint towns and urban cities alike, decades after its release. “Ain’t No Fun” is also the first appearance of comedian and actor Ricky Harris aka DJ EZ Dicc, the fictional DJ found on 187.4 WBALLZ radio.
8. “Jus Lyke Compton” — DJ Quik, 1992
In an era before g funk was fully baked, DJ Quik’s “Jus Lyke Compton” from his sophomore entry Way 2 Fonky, already felt ahead of its time. Enlisting his right-hand guitar man Rob “Fonksta” Bacon, the deceptively straightforward beat even includes subtle Christmas riffs. But the gold here is in the storytelling, where Quicksta weaves together his early observations of how LA street culture was spreading to other hoods in Denver, San Antonio, and St. Louis. There’s an ambivalence here: one moment he’s lamenting the senseless squabbles, and the next he’s embracing the familiar scenes and characters. It’s diasporic, and when he returns home, Compton’s own is proud to say that he and his peers are shaping culture throughout the country. Not bad for a 22-year-old.
7. “Let’s Play House” — Tha Dogg Pound ft. Nate Dogg & Michel’le, 1995
Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food is yet another Death Row era album that is epic from start to finish. “Let’s Play House” fashioned a gangsta funk party hit out of British nursery rhyme “London Bridge Is Falling Down,” with Nate and Michel’le taking care of the chorus while Daz and lyrical wizard Kurupt take the verses. Peep the wandering synth that goes up and down until finally flatlining near the end. Production is credited to Daz and Dre, but props should also be given to the always underappreciated Soopafly, who works the keyboards.
6. “It Was a Good Day” — Ice Cube, 1992
Long before he was a family man, twentysomething O’Shea Jackson Sr. invited us into his inner world with one of the greatest songs and music videos in hip-hop history. Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” — with producer DJ Pooh doing a 1-to-1 sampling of the smooth Isley Brothers cut “Footsteps in the Dark” — has racked up nearly 200 million Youtube views. The Isley joint is about cheating in relationships, but for Cube it’s all about cheating time and fate. This isn’t Cube’s normal world but his imagined one. A world where, for at least one day, everything finally bends his way. He balls out like MJ on the court. The Lakers beat Payton’s pesky Sonics. And most importantly, there’s peace (that is, before the bubble bursts and a posse of cops show up on his doorstep).
5. “Regulate” — Warren G & Nate Dogg, 1994
Appearing on both the Above the Rim soundtrack and the G Child’s own Regulate: The G Funk Era, “Regulate” needs no introduction. Dre’s step brother Warren G somehow still seems underrated, soaring throughout the g funk era despite never officially signing with Death Row Records. As for Nate, the Mississippi-born crooner of Long Beach always found a way to soothe the subject matter (a testament to his gospel roots). The end result is a track that’s hard yet smooth, and specific yet universal — all grounded by that four-bar sample of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).”
4. “Safe + Sound” — DJ Quik, 1995
Safe + Sound, Quik’s third album, is the embodiment of his West Coast funk formula that always had Roger and Zapp and the P-Funk All Stars looming in the rafters. Every version of Quik is on display here. Lothario Quik on cuts like “Itz Your Fantasy,” which proves that he (and Dre) could’ve been certified ‘90s R&B producers, too. Rough Quik on “Dollaz + Sense,” the best page in his feud with MC Eiht. But it’s “Safe + Sound,” one of the album’s two singles, that simultaneously showcases upbeat Quik, red shirt rocking a perm Quik, and storytelling Quik. There’s a beautiful kind of specificity as he shouts out locations (“436 West Spruce was the spot”) and homies (“Playa Hamm”), reminiscing on the many ways he and his pals tried to make a buck in the “Hub City” of Compton.
3. “Nuthin But a ‘G’ Thang” — Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg, 1992
Just like Cube, Dre’s opus begins at home, specifically Snoop’s, where he picks him up so they can hit the town. “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” is a party anthem: a story of friendship and a joint celebration of two cities — Compton and Long Beach — the entire planet came to know thanks to these two young rappers. Southern California car culture is in full swing, including the phalanx of lowriders gliding out of Kenneth Hahn Park after a BBQ. Later, the party continues as a fridge full of 40s pops open. Poor Snoop doesn’t even get back home until six in the morning. Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, and Dre’s everlasting g funk provided the perfect elixir.
2. “21 Jumpstreet” — Snoop Dogg & Tray Deee, 1994
The Murder Was the Case soundtrack was like The Avengers for g funk with the likes of Dre, Cube, Nate, Danny Boy, Sam Sneed, Nanci Fletcher and more all teaming up for the compilation. But “21 Jumpstreet” was a notable standout, having Snoop and Tray Deee (who would later come together to form Tha Eastsidaz) trading bars over the finest beat of Daz Dillinger’s career.
The track begins and ends with another Ricky Harris appearance, where our trusted DJ takes two hilarious callers (both also voiced by Harris): OG Slip, who shouts out his “baby’s momma,” and Todd from “almost by the Eastside, but not really in the Eastside.” G funk and gangsta rap in general had plenty of detractors. But these critiques never mention the more satirical and humorous layers of the subgenre, and its ability to lovingly poke fun at the different characters who live in and outside the hood.
1. “Dippin’ (Remix)” — King T, 1995
Roger “King T” McBride is one of the unsung OGs of the LA hip-hop game, alongside MCs like Ice T in the ‘80s. Along with helping mentor Tha Alkaholiks, Tee also worked with Dre’s Aftermath. Some even say Biggie got his flow from him.
The “Dippin’ (Remix),” which is found on King T’s IV Life album, finds Tee taking his “trey” ‘63 Chevrolet Impala out for a ride and ending up at a beach party on another ordinary Sunday. It’s the perfect snapshot of LA where the California automobile is broken down into all of its constituent parts: the Dayton rims, the mighty hydraulics, and associated battery. Much like “Nuthin But a G Thang” and “It Was a Good Day” (which Tee references), nothing profound happens. But in a world where something might go wrong if you pull up at the wrong intersection, “Dippin’” is all about tasting sweet, sweet freedom.
Ade Adeniji is philanthropy journalist and freelance culture writer in Los Angeles. His other bylines include CBS News, WIRED, PBS, and Newsweek. He can be found on twitter at @derekadeniji