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20 Greatest Pre-‘Straight Outta Compton’ West Coast Rap Songs

Before N.W.A’s 1988 boom, there was plenty of bass

Ice-T

Ice-T performs in Los Angeles, California in 1981.

Gary Leonard/Corbis

N.W.A's 1988 album Straight Outta Compton was the Jordan that kicked down all the doors — the idea that hip-hop didn't have to come from New York, the hard truths of "reality rap," the waterfall of profanity, Raiders gear and something that had America so shook that the FBI had to get involved. But before their breakout, California had already planted the seeds. Los Angeles had DJ crews that raised future superstars like Dr. Dre and Ice-T, and unflinching gangsta rap rhymes that spoke truth to power; the Bay Area thumped with cassettes of freaky tales; and both cities birthed electro records that exploded in roller rinks and parking lots across America. To celebrate our cover story on Straight Outta Compton, here's the 20 best West Coast hip-hop songs that led up N.W.A's landmark year.

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Eazy-E, “Boyz-n-the Hood” (1987)

Before N.W.A. even existed, there was Eric "Eazy-E" Wright's "Boyz-n-the Hood." The song was produced by Dr. Dre, who owed Wright a favor: Eazy bailed him out of jail when Dre accumulated too many speeding tickets. Originally intended for New York rap group H.B.O., who rejected the tune, Dre and DJ Yella ultimately convinced Eazy to rap the song himself. Written by a teenage Ice Cube around the rhythms of Ice-T's "6 in the Mornin'," "Boyz-n-the Hood" became Eazy's breakthrough, and an early influence in gangsta rap evolution. It was a day-in-the-life record that was less concerned with commentary or critique than simply conveying a lifestyle. D.D.