You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who is an all-encompassing hip-hop fan in 2020. Over the last decade, the style has fragmented into so many sub-genres. This makes the separation of West Coast and East Coast rap seem like a distant memory. Back in the '90s, blood was shed, lines were drawn and progenitors like Biggie and Tupac immortaliaed a classic sound and aesthetic. It's a period of music history that fans and artists alike count as forming part of the DNA of hip-hop.
Although today, there is a new generation of up-and-coming West Coast rappers who eschew violence in favour of romantic odes to the city they love most.
Los Angeles isn't just home to the Hollywood elite, but it's a cultural hub for artists. Anyone who's visited knows that the warm, Californian air brims with excitement, thanks to the city's endless possibilities.
This can be seen in Bryce Vine's entire discography, which is illuminated by frothy imagery and glossy hip-hop production that pay homage to his love for LA. Born in New York, he attended school in Boston and eventually grew up in Los Angeles. "Once you've tasted that sweet sunshine every day it's hard to go back," he admitted on Power 106 FM. In fact, the singer released, Los Angeles a song from his Night Circus EP just four years ago. "Rolling through the city with some model from the club/Born in Oklahoma now she Hollywood as fuck/Tell me she don't wanna model now she wanna be an actress/I'm just tryna introduce her to my mattress," he laments.
Just like anyone else that grew up in California, Vine is both endlessly enchanted by the city while casting a disapproving eye over 'transplants'; people who cross state lines for a taste of the high life but contribute to housing crises and traffic. "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing here! But that's okay," he sings on Los Angeles, and for the most part he really is okay. Filled with millennial ennui, he tiptoes around his existential dread while realising the things he loves the most is the City of Angels.
After remembering the last time a great anthem dedicated to the city hadn't been written since Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers or since Tupac captured hip-hop fans with California Love, Vine decided to take it upon himself to create a modern ode to the place he calls home. So it should come as no surprise that his sentimentality reaches fever pitch with his 2019 La La Land EP.
In an interview with Billboard, the singer described the writing process for the title track, La La Land. "Me and my buddy wrote it on guitar at his house in like two hours, but the song was really short," Vine remembers. "It was like two minutes and 12 seconds, which we were thinking, 'It's just too short,' but we liked the song, so we added drums. ... We knew that we wanted someone to hype it up a bit, and we were like, 'Well, this is a song about California; we should probably get somebody from California to feature on it.'"
The two decided wanted West Coast rapper, YG. He was the first person they collectively thought of despite acknowledging that they "were just kind of joking". For them, it was an impossible feat and like most jokes, there was an element truth to their desire to have the rapper on the song. "There's a side of [California] I just don't represent, and YG does," Vine confessed on Power 106. "His whole presence in rap and culture has been huge to me... and then my label surprised me right after New Years with a new version of the song." This all happened during a conference call, as his label played the YG verse down the line. Naturally, Vine freaked out. This was the Californian anthem of his dreams.
The song luxuriates in glistening, summery guitars underlined by a laissez-faire attitude. "If you wanna waste time," Vine sings on the hook, "baby, waste your time with me in California." He doesn't just capture the spirit of the city but emulsifies it into an indie rock meets hip-hop meets Frank Ocean-esque R&B hit.
YG's homage to California is strikingly different. It meets more of the traditional '90s aspects of West Coast hip-hop but with a modern twist. Growing up in Compton, YG's Los Angeles experience is a stark contrast to Vine's. "I was a bad, bad kid. I was fucking up in school. Everything everyone talks about, the shootings, the gangbanging, the different colours and all that, that's how it is," he told i-D Magazine in 2014. "My family were always trying to keep me out of the hood. My mom moved us out of Compton, but I went back cos it was all I knew. I'd be hanging out, doing crazy shit, gangbanging, robbing."
He still loves Los Angeles, though his song Don't Come to LA is underscored by a dark childhood, a three-year stint in jail and his alleged affiliation to West Coast gang, the Bloods. "So when y'all n****s hop off your jet /You better tuck what's on ya neck/And get the fuck from 'round here," he warns on the track.
One look at YG's discography and you'll notice that he replaces all his C's with B's. His song, Still Brazy is a prime example of this, which he explained in an interview. "We from where we from and where we from we change the Cs to Bs. That's how everybody do in LA. If you repping the right side, you change those C words to Bs," he told i-D. "'What's cracking' is 'What's bracking?' 'What's cool?' is 'What's bool?' That's the way we do it."
It was just last year that YG joined a gaggle of California natives to show The Golden State some unabridged admiration. Joining Berkley-born G-Eazy, Los Angeles-born Blueface and Oakland's ALLBLACK the four rappers came together for West Coast.
The music video is filled with shots of Fairfax, dreamy palm trees and busy residential streets. The energy of West Coast is electric bringing to life a modern snapshot of the idyllic state.
For the most part, when we think of West Coast rap we are reminded of songs from Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, The Game and Xzibit but the tide is changing. As we witness a new school of artists sentimentalise Los Angeles and California at large, we may be in for a decade of new classics, one led by the likes of Bryce Vine, YG and Blueface.
Listen to Bryce Vine's new song Baby Girl now.