Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap

Many of the pioneers of West Coast rap grew up on the same blocks in the "apocalyptic no-man's lands" of South Central Los Angeles and Compton. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, Eazy-E, MC Ren and their friends crossed paths in high school, gangs, makeshift studios and especially in the roller rinks where they tested their rhymes, beats and DJ mixes for a tough audience of their peers. Ben Westhoff--former L.A. Weekly music editor and author of the Southern rap history Dirty South--adeptly traces the roots and branches of this complex family tree. Built on interviews with key players, Original Gangstas is a comprehensive mix of reporting, music criticism and personal opinion. Westhoff suggests that the gangsta sound was born with the 1987 single "The Boyz-N-The Hood"--a group creation with Dre's "menacing beat with 808 bass and a long, electro fade-out," Ice Cube's raw lyrics and Eazy-E's rapping. Barely out of their teens, these three became the heart of N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitudes), whose anthem "F**k tha Police" has become, according to Westhoff, "the most famous protest song in rap history, and perhaps the greatest in history period."

The gangsta label fits. The originators of L.A. hip-hop were drug dealers, gangbangers, wife-beaters, thieves and ex-cons. When the raps became the bestselling soundtrack to a young generation, the money, Beemers, bling and Brentwood mansions arrived. And with them rivalry, lawsuits, paternity claims, murder and mob connections. Westhoff captures it all and makes a compelling case that gangsta rap has "more than any other art form, made black life a permanent part of the American conversation." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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