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"Raw, authoritative, and unflinching ... An elaborately detailed, darkly surprising, definitive history of the LA gangsta rap era." -- Kirkus, starred review
A monumental, revealing narrative history about the legendary group of artists at the forefront of West Coast hip-hop: Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur.
Amid rising gang violence, the crack epidemic, and police brutality, a group of unlikely voices cut through the chaos of late 1980s Los Angeles: N.W.A. Led by a drug dealer, a glammed-up producer, and a high school kid, N.W.A gave voice to disenfranchised African Americans across the country. And they quickly redefined pop culture across the world. Their names remain as popular as ever -- Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. Dre soon joined forces with Suge Knight to create the combustible Death Row Records, which in turn transformed Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur into superstars.
Ben Westhoff explores how this group of artists shifted the balance of hip-hop from New York to Los Angeles. He shows how N.W.A.'s shocking success lead to rivalries between members, record labels, and eventually a war between East Coast and West Coast factions. In the process, hip-hop burst into mainstream America at a time of immense social change, and became the most dominant musical movement of the last thirty years. At gangsta rap's peak, two of its biggest names -- Tupac and Biggie Smalls -- were murdered, leaving the surviving artists to forge peace before the genre annihilated itself.
Featuring extensive investigative reporting, interviews with the principal players, and dozens of never-before-told stories, Original Gangstas is a groundbreaking addition to the history of popular music.
In this sprawling history, journalist Westhoff (Dirty South) follows West Coast rap from the mean streets of Compton and south central Los Angeles to international prominence. Inspired by the first wave of hip-hop, artists such as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy E. drew upon the chaos of the crack era to both report on and glamorize thug life. This proved to be a winning formula, and by 1993, gangsta rap commanded the pop charts, encouraging teenage boys around the world to act hard and wear baggy jeans. Yet for the artists themselves, the intoxication of wealth and fame made it difficult to separate myth and reality a blurring with deadly consequences. With so much territory to cover, Westhoff tends to sketch rather than illustrate. Later chapters on the East Coast West Coast feud are both textured and vivid, but early chapters on the origins of NWA read like a Wikipedia bio. The compelling narration of Tupac Shakur's conflicted life and death highlights the contradictions that devastated so many of the rappers; narrowing the book's scope would have given Westhoff more opportunity to consistently reach this level of accomplishment. Despite some shortcomings, Westhoff's impressive research makes this an invaluable overview of the musical influences and legal nightmares of West Coast rap's main players, and his book will stand as a comprehensive guide to an inner-city movement that conquered the world.