G-funk, or gangsta-funk, is a subgenre of hip hop music that emerged from West Coast Gangsta rap in the early 1990s, heavily influenced by 1970s funk sound of artists such as Parliament-Funkadelic.
SOUND AND CONTENT
G-funk drums contain slow hypnotic grooves that usually range from 90 to 100 bpm, a deep base, and often sleigh bells. It also contains a phat synth bass line. The melody often includes soulful keys from a keyboard, multi-layered and melodic synthesizers, and extensive sampling of P-Funk tunes which often uses funk with an artificially altered tempo. It often it includes a high-pitched portamento saw wave synthesizer lead. G-Funk producers also tend to utilize more live instrumentation including bass players, guitarists, and keyboard players. Using live musicians to replay the original music of sampled records enables producers to have their own customized sounds rather than a direct copy of the sample. The result is a slower and mellower hip hop with much more melody but maintaining a hard sound.
Unlike other earlier Boom Bap rap acts that also utilized funk samples (such as EPMD and the Bomb Squad), G-funk often utilized fewer, unaltered samples per song. Also, in comparison to the Electro-funk sound that predates G-funk, G-Funk has a slower tempo and less futuristic sound. In it’s peak popularity G-Funk often used the E-Mu SP1200 sampler and Minimoog Synth.
Rap flows in G-Funk often have a slurred “lazy” or “smooth” way of rapping that clarifies words and stays in rhythmic cadence. Also, there was often background female vocals. The lyrical content depended on the artist and could consist of sex, drugs, violence, vandalism and distrust of and often degradation of women, but also of love for a city, love for friends and relaxing words.
Although G-Funk originated in Los Angeles, the subgenre drew a large amount of influence from the earlier Bay Area-based sound known as Mobb music of the mid-to-late 1980s, pioneered by Oakland rappers like Too Short & E-40. Too Short had experimented with looping sounds from classic P-Funk records over bass-heavy tracks during this period. However, unlike Bay Area Mobb music, Southern California-born G-funk used more portamento synthesizers and less live instrumentation. Too Short’s lazy, drawl-heavy delivery was also a major influence on later G-Funk rappers like Snoop Dogg.
Above the Law was an American hip hop group from Pomona, California, founded in 1989 by Cold 187um, Laylaw, KMG the Illustrator, Go Mack, and DJ Total K-Oss that invented the “G-funk” sound. They were part of the post-N.W.A. explosion of California Gangsta Rap and worked closely with Dr. Dre who produced two tracks on their debut album in 1990.
They would mix ’70s vintage-funk and soul samples with live instrumentation. The group signed with Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records and issued their debut album, Livin’ Like Hustlers, in 1990; split into violence- and sex-themed sides, it was co-produced by Dr. Dre (prior to N.W.A’s rancorous breakup) and received well in gangsta circles. The Vocally Pimpin’ EP appeared in 1991, and the full-length follow-up Black Mafia Life was released in 1993. G-Funk was given its name by Laylaw but initially just remained a term used within the group. Although their Vocally Pimpin’ EP had elements of the G-Funk sound, the term wasn’t publicly coined until the song “Call it What You Want” which featured Digital Underground rappers 2pac and Money B with 2pac being the rapper to first use the term G-Funk. The song was recorded prior the music from Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” album but since it was released two months later, many believe that Dr. Dre started G-Funk.
Cold187um and KMG claim that Dr. Dre did not credit the group for pioneering the style when he released The Chronic, his Death Row debut album. They both released records on Ruthless Records prior to that. Warren G and Snoop Dogg were with Cold187um before joining Dr. Dre and Death Row. Also, it has been noted that songs such as Snoop’s “Ain’t No Fun” and 2pac’s California Love Remix” were produced by Above the Law even though Dre is credited as the album’s sole producer.
The earliest use of the signature G-Funk sine wave synthesizers and Parliament-Funkadelic-style bass grooves found in Dr. Dre’s work appeared on N.W.A’s single “Alwayz into Somethin'” from their 1991 album Niggaz4Life, and on N.W.A’s early compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse on which he produced a song with the same style called Dope Man.
Another early G-funk pioneer, also from Compton, was rapper and producer DJ Quik, who was already using P-Funk instrumentals as early as 1991 in his debut album Quik Is the Name, though his most recognizable G-funk album would be 1995’s Safe & Sound. Also, Battlecat, whose aesthetic is a progression from the early-’90s G-Funk sound pioneered by the group Above the Law.
G-Funk originated in Los Angeles, the subgenre drew a large amount of influence from the earlier Bay Area-based sound known as Mobb music of the mid-to-late 1980s, pioneered by Oakland rappers like Too Short & E-40. Too Short had experimented with looping sounds from classic P-Funk records over bass-heavy tracks during this period. However, unlike Bay Area Mobb music, Southern California-born G-funk used more portamento synthesizers and less live instrumentation. Too Short’s lazy, drawl-heavy delivery was also a major influence on later G-Funk rappers like Snoop Dogg.
The early pioneers of the G-Funk sound include Compton producers DJ Quik and Dr. Dre, Long Beach producer Warren G, and Pomona, CA producers Above the Law. After the sound was established in the early 90s in Los Angeles, it quickly spread to the Geto Boys in Houston and Master P in New Orleans. By 1994 it had spread to acts outside the city. Rappin 4-Tay from Oakland, CA used a G-Funk sound as well as Chicago rapper Da Brat accompanied by Atlanta’s Jermaine Dupri G-Funk production.
During the peak of G-Funk it was primarily described as West Coast music. It had a presence in the Midwest and South but never became the dominant subgenre. A few songs on the east coast had a G-funk style but overall it was rare.
G-Funk Artists and Albums
DJ Quik is from Compton, California and was chiefly inspired by funk and soul artists such as Roger Troutman and George Clinton. Quik’s love for music began at 2, as his mother had an extensive record collection. By age 12 he was already playing instruments, and by the age of 21, he was a platinum-selling artist.
He began selling homemade mixtapes (notably The Red Tape, 1987) after he received a turntable for his 8th grade promotion. He then began doing shows DJing around Southern California, many of which ended in rival gang related altercations. He was a member of the Westside Tree Top Piru. In the 11th grade, Quik dropped out of high school. For a period of about three years he was homeless after his mother lost her home, due to foreclosure.
After gaining a buzz for himself in the streets from his self-made mix tapes, he began to gain the interest of many major labels, including Profile Records and Ruthless Records. He signed to Profile Records in the summer of 1990, reportedly as the label’s first six-figure signee. Quik later went on to regret his contract with the label and was offered an advance of one million dollars by Eazy-E. This left Profile Records with no other choice. They began to send letters to Ruthless Records, asking for them to cease and desist.
His debut album, “Quik Is the Name,” was released in 1991 which ended up going Platinum by the RIAA. Although the term G-Funk wasn’t coined yet, the album utilized P-funk samples with street level rapping that set the groundwork for G-funk music. None of his successive albums reached the success of his debut, though they have been well received.
Way 2 Fonky is the second studio album by DJ Quik which was released by Profile Records in July of 1992. The album was certified Gold three months after its release on October 9, 1992. Safe + Sound is his third album which featured the heaviest G-Funk sound. It was released on February 21, 1995 on Profile Records. It was certified Gold by the RIAA on July 11, 1995. The album was executive produced by Suge Knight.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Dr. Dre was born in Compton, California and was a member of Los Angeles groups World Class Wreckin’ Cru and N.W.A. prior to becoming a solo artist for Death Row Records.
Dr. Dre produced and performed for much of the group’s second album Efil4zaggin. He also produced tracks for a number of other acts on Ruthless Records, including Eazy-E’s 1988 solo debut Eazy-Duz-It, Above the Law’s 1990 debut Livin’ Like Hustlers, Michel’le’s 1989 self-titled debut, The D.O.C.’s 1989 debut No One Can Do It Better, J.J. Fad’s 1988 debut Supersonic and funk rock musician Jimmy Z’s 1991 album Muzical Madness.
The Chronic is the debut studio album by American hip hop recording artist Dr. Dre. It was released on December 15, 1992, by his own record label Death Row Records and distributed by Interscope Records and Priority Records. The album is named after a slang term for high-grade cannabis, and its cover is a homage to Zig-Zag rolling papers. It was Dr. Dre’s first solo album after he had departed from hip hop group N.W.A and its label Ruthless Records over a financial dispute. Although a solo album, it features many appearances by American rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, who used the album as a launch pad for his own solo career.
The Chronic has been certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America with sales of 5.7 million copies in the United States. The album popularized the G-funk subgenre within gangsta rap. Also, The Chronic has been widely regarded as one of the most important and influential albums of the 1990s and regarded by many fans and peers to be one of the most well-produced hip hop albums of all time. The production on The Chronic was seen as innovative and ground-breaking, and received universal acclaim from critics. It is also noted, for shifting the hip hop scene to the West Coast for the next few years.
Above The Law – Black Mafia Life
Black Mafia Life is the second studio album by American hip hop group Above the Law released on February 2nd, 1993. This album is what would be considered the blueprint sound similar to Dr Dre’s The Chronic. The album was recorded in 1991 into 1992 but was held back due to legal issues with Epic And Dr. Dre’s Departure from Ruthless Records. It was released on February 2, 1993 via Ruthless Records. As on the group’s previous works, Livin’ Like Hustlers and Vocally Pimpin’, this album’s audio production was mostly handled by the group themselves, but this one excluded any contributions from Lay Law.
Go Mack left the group shortly thereafter, and Above the Law stuck with the trio format for their last Ruthless album, 1994’s Uncle Sam’s Curse, which featured greater contributions from KMG.
Following Eazy-E’s death, Above the Law left Ruthless for Tommy Boy, debuting in 1996 with Time Will Reveal; although the lyrics stuck with the group’s well-worn gangsta themes, it demonstrated that Big Hutch’s skills as a G-funk producer were becoming ever more polished. Above the Law continued to release music later on in the G-Funk style.
Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle
Snoop was born in Long Beach, California. As a boy, Broadus’s parents nicknamed him “Snoopy” because of his appearance and love of the cartoon character from Peanuts, but usually addressed him as Calvin at home.
Shortly after graduating from high school, he was arrested for possession of cocaine, and for the next three years was frequently in and out of jail or prison. With his cousins Nate Dogg and Lil’ ½ Dead and friend Warren G, Snoop recorded homemade tapes as a group called 213, named after the Long Beach area code. One of his early solo freestyles over En Vogue’s “Hold On” made it to a mixtape that was heard by influential producer Dr. Dre, who called to invite him to an audition. Former N.W.A. associate The D.O.C. taught him how to structure his lyrics and separate the thematics into verses, hooks, and chorus.
Doggystyle is the debut studio album by American rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg. It was released about a year after The Chronic on November 23, 1993, by Death Row Records and Interscope Records. The album was recorded and produced following Snoop’s appearances on The Chronic, to which Snoop contributed significantly. Snoop was praised for the “realism” of his lyrics and for his distinctive vocal flow. Doggystyle earned recognition from many music critics as one of the most significant albums of the 1990s, as well as one of the most important hip-hop albums ever released.
Doggystyle held the record for a debuting artist and the fastest-selling hip-hop album ever when it was released. The album was certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). By November 2015, the album had sold 7 million copies in the United States, and over 11 million copies worldwide.
Warren G – Regulate
Initially Warren G had formed a group in Long Beach California called 213 that included Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg. He developed a relationship with Above the Law and his stepbrother Dr. Dre that landed Snoop on “The Chronic.” Despite showcasing talented production and aspirations to be an artist he was overlooked by Death Row and signed by the New York founded label Def Jam. This made him the first G-Funk star put out by an East Coast label.
Regulate… G Funk Era is the debut studio album by American rapper Warren G. It was released in June 7, 1994 by Violator Records and distributed by the Def Jam record label. The album’s biggest hit was the eponymous single “Regulate”, a gritty depiction of West Coast gang life which samples singer Michael McDonald’s hit “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” and featured Nate Dogg.
The album later went on the sell over 3 million copies in the US and has been certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Warren G continues to release G-Funk music sporadically even in present times.
Da Brat – Funkdafied
In 1992, Da Brat’s big break occurred when she won the grand prize in a local rap contest sponsored by Yo! MTV Raps. For the prize, she met the young rap duo Kris Kross. They introduced her to their producer, Jermaine Dupri, who signed her to his So So Def label. Dupri cultivated Da Brat’s image as a “female Snoop Doggy Dogg,” and she became one of the first female rappers with a “gangsta” image. Da Brat told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her stage name was inspired from being “a spoiled only child.”
Funkdafied is the debut album by American rapper Da Brat released on June 28, 1994 by So So Def Recordings. It sold over one million copies, making her the first solo female rapper to go platinum.
Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food
Before “The Chronic” album came out, Kurupt & Daz were solo artists, however having heard the chemistry the two had whilst recording the album, Dr. Dre suggested they make a group. The two went on to feature on Doggystyle and various features and soundtracks as Tha Dogg Pound.
Dogg Food is the debut studio album by the American hip hop group Tha Dogg Pound released October 31st, 1995. It is the last Death Row album to be predominantly produced under the G-funk subgenre. Though Dr. Dre was Death Row’s top producer, the album was mostly produced by Daz Dillinger of the group, with Dr. Dre doing the mixing. Dogg Food led the way for Daz to become the top in-house producer for Death Row until his departure in the late 1990s.
2Pac – All Eyez On Me
All Eyez on Me is the fourth studio album by American rapper 2Pac (and the last to be released during his lifetime), released on February 13, 1996 by Death Row and Interscope Records. Moreover, All Eyez on Me made history as the first ever double-full-length hip-hop solo studio album released for mass consumption globally.
The album was certified Diamond by the RIAA on July 23, 2014, eighteen years after Shakur’s death. Although most of the songs on the album didn’t have the G-Funk style it is notable for being one of the biggest hip hop albums of all time that include G-Funk music.
In October 1995, Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine paid the $1.4 million bail necessary to get Shakur released from jail on charges of sexual abuse. At the time, Shakur was broke and thus unable to make bail himself. All Eyez on Me was released following an agreement between Knight and Shakur which stated Shakur would make three albums under Death Row Records in return for them paying his bail. Fulfilling part of Shakur’s brand new contract, this double-album served as the first two albums of his three-album contract.
Most of the album was produced by Johnny “J” and Daz Dillinger, with help from Dr. Dre on the songs “California Love”, which he himself appeared in also as an album guest spot, and “Can’t C Me”, which was George Clinton’s appearance. DJ Quik also produced, mixed and made an appearance on the album, but had to use his real name on the credits because his contract with Profile Records prevented him from using his stage name.
Rise of Other Subgenres
By the late 90s, the Dirty South had gained a lot of momentum utilizing live instrumentation and electronic production. R&B and hip hop blended much more and the shared fanbase led to making crossover Hip Hop outside of G-Funk. In later releases, G-Funk pioneer Dr. Dre has taken on more soulful style with more classical piano as opposed to keyboard, having claps replace snares.
Many contemporary West Coast rappers have released albums with strong G-Funk influences in recent years, including Kendrick Lamar with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, YG with Still Brazy and Schoolboy Q with Blank Face LP. G-Funk also, perhaps surprisingly, has had some influence on the development of modern Christian hip hop and gospel rap. For example, many of the albums of Christian recording artists Gospel Gangstaz, who have also enjoyed relatively mainstream success in the past, have exhibited token G-Funk musical elements.
Gangsta Rap – Street-level rap that embraces the gangster persona and edgy material.
Hardcore Rap – Rap characterized by anger, aggression, confrontation, and/or the uncensored reflections of street life.
Chillhop Rap – Laid back Hip Hop that can be produced with electronic techniques or in Boom Bap style that was initially derived from the smooth Hip Hop produced by J. Dilla, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and others.
Crossover Hip Hop – Hip Hop featuring melody, catchy hooks, and general disco, R&B, and pop elements.
Mobb Music – Hip Hop subgenre from the Bay area featuring basic instrumental style derived from funk music, strongly focused on synthesizers and the Roland TR-808 rhythm machine, among others. The content deals with sex, drugs, and violence.
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