The 10 Most Important West Coast Indie Hip Hop Acts

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If you spent any time here at P&P recently, you may have noticed our little “30 Best Underground Hip-Hop albums” list. In choosing our top 30, we caught our share of flak. As commenter +00+ astutely put it, “making this list is like drawing a hop-scotch board in a mine field.” In particular, we drew criticism for the exclusion of certain West Coast luminaries. A few thoughts, before we get to a new list.

While our list was an attempt to create a broad overview of a certain period in a specific stratum of the Hip-Hop universe (however loosely or ill-defined you may have found it), it was impossible to divorce our choices from the coloration of taste. A lot of albums made the list because they were personally relevant, but in our many back and forth e-mails and conversations, Confusion and I often found ourselves asking, “but was this album important.”

This question of importance—of weight—is a difficult one to measure, particularly when you limit yourself to the unit of the album (for example, the influence of artists like DJ Screw or Three 6 Mafia gets muddled by this metric). For many of the artists on this new list, one album would provide an inadequate stylistic overview. On our 30 Best list, we considered each work to be representative or, otherwise, notable. The difficulty of assembling this second list arises largely, as you’ll see, in the stylistic variety of the parties involved. Some of these selections may seem like head scratchers juxtaposed next to one another, but they were chosen for quality and contributions under the banner of an “independent” mindset.

For the purposes of critiques volleyed at P&P and this particular addendum, West Coast seems to have been taken to mean “California.” Of course, Cali looms large over both the the underground and the mainstream in Hip-Hop. To any Northwesterners out there, apologies in advance. While the Northwest can’t be ignored (it has been and continues to be a hotbed of indie Hip-Hop creation, birthing a diverse array of artists like Common Market, Blue Scholars, Grayskul, Nasty Nes and partner in crime Sir Mix-A-Lot), California has one of the nation’s richest histories of independent artists that were stylistically influential, commercially successful, and critically lauded (not always in equal measure)–more so than any of its neighboring states.

A lot of questions arose—in the comments and on forums—about the exclusion of certain West Coast artists, particularly considering which ones were included. Make no mistake: we fully recognize the importance of artists outside of the Def Jux-Rhymesayers-MF Doom axis that dominated the list. During our discussions, a lot of the names you’re about to see came up, but were, for one reason or another, left off. So, Con and I agreed it would be a good idea to shine light on some of the important artists, groups, and labels we didn’t include. This list is an addendum and an acknowledgment that the business of making lists is a science both imprecise and incomplete.


Additional input provided by scholar, author, and DJ Oliver Wang.

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  • marc

    tanners you’re a beast

  • Jon Tanners

    Oh Marc, you’re far too kind.

  • CD

    LOVING the Mac Dre shout out!



  • Nebeu

    how did heiro not make this list? THATS THAT SHIT I DON’T LIKE

  • Jon Tanners

    Largely because there was plenty of Hiero to go around on this list:

  • Matt

    Really tho, Hieroglyphics should have been in the top 3 at least.

  • Meh

    I don’t mean to be rude, but I would be shocked if you’re over 30 yrs old….

    just saying “project blowed” is a bit of a cop-out from making a decision, but i do understand why you did it (again, tough job narrwoing it down)…

    but again, no pharcyde…?

  • Meh

    no disrespect intended though so just to clarify… i only say you might be young because if you’re saying “most important…acts”, then freestyle fellowship should be higher and/or nix project blowed and have a category for abstract rude & aceyalone (since they started it–not everyone under project blowed is as important)… because “important” to me means “influenced” and they definitely made a huge mark. peace

  • Jon Tanners

    @ Meh — the list isn’t ordered.

  • Meh

    daaah, just assumed that the order they appeared meant something….
    my bad :-P

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