2Pac, "California Love" (1995)
"California Love" was Dr. Dre's last great moment with the world-conquering label he and Suge Knight co-founded. New signee 2Pac, one of hip-hop's first great workaholics and a pioneer for rap's "make 1,000 songs" model of studio profligacy, chafed at Dre's perfectionist tendencies. Dre, for his part, plotted an escape from Death Row, alarmed at the label's increasingly wayward drift. (He also spent some time in prison on drunk driving charges, an experience that he later said forced him to clean up his lifestyle.) Despite behind-the-scenes tensions, "California Love" immediately became the kind of party starter that, more than 20 years after its release, can still set a dance floor on fire. Dre ingeniously mixed Roger Troutman's talkbox vocals with an interpolation of the well-worn B-boy break, Joe Cocker's "Woman to Woman," giving the song a classic feel, and a blend of East Coast sample sensibilities and West Coast funk vibes that went unnoticed during the height of hip-hop coastal tensions. And with his deep, authoritative voice, he matched 2Pac's more antic, fire-breathing delivery. "I've been in the game for 10 years making rap tunes/Ever since honeys was wearing Sassoon," he boasts on this essential West Coast anthem.