Lonzo Williams, the "godfather" of West Coast hip-hop and founder of the electro group World Class Wreckin' Cru, poses in his recording studio during an interview with Efe on 9 August 2023 in Los Angeles, California. EFE/Monica Rubalcava

50 Years of West Coast hip-hop: Much more than gangsta rap and violence

By Monica Rubalcava

The owner of the iconic World Famous VIP Records music store and recording studio, Kelvin Anderson, poses during an interview with Efe on 9 August 2023 in Long Beach, California. EFE/Monica Rubalcava

Los Angeles, Aug 10 (EFE).- Although New York City is typically viewed as the birthplace of hip-hop, artists on the US West Coast say that part of the country also was instrumental in its initial rise five decades ago.

A party organized by DJ Kool Herc on Aug. 11, 1973, in the Big Apple borough of the Bronx has long been recognized as the foundational moment for that musical genre.

And while few question that version of events, hip-hop experts and pioneers in Los Angeles say the West Coast was simultaneously a hotbed of a cultural movement whose four elements are DJing, b-boying (breakdancing), emceeing (rapping) and graffiti.

“Some people say that in some aspects that (the dance group) The Lockers were the first element of West Coast hip-hop. And if that’s the case, 1973 is our foundation as well because that was going on before I left high school,” Lonzo Williams, the “godfather” of West Coast hip-hop and founder of the group World Class Wreckin’ Cru, told EFE.

According to Samuel Lamontagne, co-director of UCLA’s Hip-Hop Initiative, further proof that this genre may have been born outside of New York is the 1970 release of the album “Rappin’ Black in a White World” by the political poetry group The Watts Prophets.

But it was in the 1980s that a new sub-genre of hip-hop known as electro arrived in full force in LA, led by bands such as Uncle Jamm’s Army, DJ and producer Egyptian Lover, and Williams’ outfit, which also was made up of DJ Yella, Dr. Dre and Cli-N-Tel.

“I can’t help but remember it in a favorable way. It was fun for us. We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of good times. We were trying to make money. We weren’t gang bangers. We didn’t sell dope … We had no idea that us having fun would affect history,” Williams said.


In 1986, Ice-T burst on the scene with “6 N’ the Mornin’,” a track with lyrics about the drug- and violence-ridden streets of South Central LA.

That release opened the door for other hip-hop artists to paint a more gritty and realistic picture of that California city that went beyond parties and showed the dark side of crime, police brutality and scant opportunities.

Shortly afterward, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella left behind the electro genre and joined with Eazy-E, Ice Cube and others to form N.W.A., which in 1988 released the pioneering and highly influential gangsta rap album “Straight Outta Compton.”

In his remarks to Efe, Lamontagne stressed the political aspects of that musical genre.

Hip-hop is important because it gave a voice to people who did not have one and because it articulated a different point of view that was critical of the dominant narrative, he said.

But despite its worldwide commercial success, Williams and Lamontagne say West Coast hip-hop should not be reduced to in-your-face gangsta rap.

Doing so ignores a 50-year history of “underground” culture that gave birth to spaces such as the Good Life Cafe, an LA-based health food market and cafe whose open-mic nights helped spur the rise of that city’s alt-hip hop scene in the 1990s.

“We thrived on diversity. And that was the big thing about hip-hop, especially in California,” Williams said.


Kelvin Anderson, owner of the popular (and still active) record store and recording studio World Famous VIP Records, witnessed first-hand the gang violence that rocked the Southern California city of Long Beach.

Looking to provide a refuge from the turf war raging outside, he founded a business that served as neutral ground between the Bloods and the Crips and served as a stepping stone for successful artists such as Snoop Dogg and Warren G.

Snoop Dogg recorded a demo there and Anderson said he “shopped (it) around to all of the record labels, and they all said ‘no.’ They all said it wasn’t good.”

“I’m like, they gotta be crazy. Nobody was better than Snoop Dogg at that time,” Anderson told Efe.

The demo recorded at that iconic store made its way into the hands of Dr. Dre, and in 1992 he and Snoop Dogg jointly released “Deep Cover,” a track that was recorded for the soundtrack of the likenamed film.

That song helped usher in a new sub-genre of gangsta rap known as G-funk, a sound further explored by artists such as Ice Cube and Coolio.


Williams said he sees the current landscape of hip-hop as gloomy with the exception of Kendrick Lamar, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2017 album “Damn.”

The genre is being hurt by a lack of experimentation, he said, adding that part of its energy needs to be re-directed to efforts to promote peace in the community.

“We could change the world,” Williams said.

Lamontagne, however, says many opportunities lie ahead for hip-hop on its 50th anniversary, underscoring that communities abandoned by the state and subject to excessive surveillance were able to create a culture that provided fun, pleasure and opportunities to its members.

“That in itself is a political act,” he said. EFE