Compton, California. The place where it all started from for West Coast legends like N.W.A., DJ Quik, and MC Eiht. The birthplace of reigning rap superstars like Roddy Ricch, YG, The Game, and of course, Kendrick Lamar.
As the epicentre of West Coast hip hop, Compton has had an outsized influence on the culture these past four decades. From Eazy-E setting up Ruthless Records to Dr. Dre changing the music landscape with The Chronic to Kendrick Lamar becoming the best rapper alive, Compton has always had a strong presence in the rap game.
From Kendrick Lamar, MC Eiht and DJ Quik to The Game, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, here are the top 10 best Compton rappers of all time.
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10. Guerilla Black
Discography: Guerilla City (2004), God Bless The Child (2007)
With his narrative storytelling rap style and sizable physique, Guerilla Black is often compared to Brooklyn rap legend legend, The Notorious B.I.G. In a way, Black embraced the comparison during his prime years, paying homage to the fallen icon on “Real Niggaz Say Real Shit” and then later on “Letter to B.I.G.”
Coming into prominence more than five years after Biggie passed, the Chicago-born Guerilla Black made his name in Compton. After getting his start as an independent MC back in the ’90s, Black’s career got put on hiatus after the tragic death of his death, before returning to the rap game in the 2000s.
While his catalogue is lacking relative to the rest of the rappers on this list – he’s only dropped two official albums along with a number of mixtapes – the gruff-voiced rapper has more than earned his place as one of the best Compton rappers ever.
Discography: My Krazy Life (2014), Still Brazy (2016), Stay Dangerous (2018), 4Real 4Real (2019), My Life 4Hunnid (2020)
YG has kept one foot in the hood and the other in the limelight ever since dropping his breakthrough Ty Dolla $ign collab “Toot It and Boot It” in 2010. The Compton rapper was just 19 and an active member of the Bloods at the time. A decade of commercially successful releases, top 40 hit singles and critically acclaimed albums soon followed, with YG often being positioned on the other side of the coin that fellow Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar occupied.
While YG may not receive the same accolades as Kendrick has over the years, his catalogue is a testament to his ability to craft cohesive albums that demand replaying. Although his fame has now risen to superstar status, YG’s personal life has remained that of a ‘young gangster’. He’s been shot, arrested and faced harsh public scrutiny, but through it all, YG has continued to chronicle his troubles in his music with an autobiographical and confessional rap style.
8. MC Ren
Discography: Shock of the Hour (1993), The Villain in Black (1996), Ruthless for Life (1998), Renincarnated (2009)
Before he had even graduated high school, MC Ren was helping build a West Coast hip hop empire and was a founding member of one of the most influential rap groups of all time. The teenage rapper got his start writing rhymes for his friend Eazy-E. Like E, Ren was also deeply involved in Compton’s gang culture. Soon he was asked to join N.W.A.
MC Ren’s main function in the crew was as a lyricist. Much like the group’s primary wordsmith Ice Cube, Ren layered his gangsta stories with deeper socio-political themes. After N.W.A, MC Ren launched a solo career, although his output has been sporadic and less impactful than his group work. Still, there’s no way you can talk about the greatest Compton rappers of all time and not mention MC Ren.
7. King T
Discography: Act a Fool (1988), At Your Own Risk (1990), Tha Triflin’ Album (1993), IV Life (1995), The Kingdom Come (2002)
From the dawn of the genre, hip hop’s story has been one focused on geography. Through each era there are parallel but separate narratives from each corner of the map. On the West Coast, the old-school was defined by the likes of Ice-T, Kid Frost and King T, an oft-forgotten but majorly important rapper who helped to define the L.A. rap scene during the ’90s.
King T’s 1988 debut Act a Fool is considered a West Coast classic by hip hop heads who now their history. The confrontational work was very much an album of its time, but further exploration will help listeners understand his place in West Coast history. King T may not be mentioned in the same breath as Dr. Dre or Eazy-E when it comes to Compton rappers, but best believe he is cemented as a legend of the city.
6. Dr. Dre
Discography: The Chronic (1992), 2001 (1999), Compton (2015)
The secret to N.W.A.’s success was in their deep roster of talented people. In addition to talent, each one of those smart young guys seemed to know exactly in which role to step, in order to ensure the group’s success; from Ice Cube the defiant lyricist to Eazy-E the business brains.
As the dust settled on N.W.A.’s short and legendary career, DJ and producer Dr. Dre walked away as a master of all the above. While Dre’s lyrical talents and technical abilities might not be his strong suit, there is no way you can’t have him on this, especially when he’s dropped classics like The Chronic and 2001.
Discography: Eazy-Duz-It (1988), Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton (1996)
Speaking of rappers who may not be known for their lyrical abilities, Eazy-E’s role in the history of hip-hop cannot be overstated. Without E there is no Ruthless. By extension, that means no N.W.A., Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg or the dozens of stars that those artists have helped introduce into the world, like Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar.
As a rapper, Eazy-E intentionally played the role of gangsta clown, with a style that was one part Whodini and one part Richard Pryor. With Ice Cube penning most of his raps, Eazy used his short stature and high-pitched voice to create almost a caricature of a West Coast gangsta rapper to get the attention. Behind the scenes he built a hip hop empire with extensions that continue to dominate the genre today, almost 40 years after he first rolled tape in his parents’ Compton garage.
4. MC Eiht
Discography: We Come Strapped (1994), Death Threatz (1996), Last Man Standing (1997), Section 8 (1999), N’ My Neighborhood (2000), Tha8t’z Gangsta (2001), Hood Arrest (2003), Veterans Day (2004), Affiliated (2006), Which Way Iz West (2017), Official (2020), Lessons (2020), Revolution in Progress (2022)
Through most of his three decade long career, MC Eiht has kept things pretty low-key. He’s had hits, first as the leader of Compton’s Most Wanted and later as a solo artist. However, he has never reached the same level of success as his 1990’s West Coast peers, though you could argue that his longevity in music has far surpassed many of them.
Still releasing quality music to this day, MC Eiht’s style remains loyal to his old-school West Coast sensibilities. With a sound that pairs boom-bap production, funky synths and classic R&B vibes with hardcore gangsta tales, MC Eiht’s voice has been engrained into hip hop culture forever. Is there any wonder why Kendrick Lamar chose to have Eiht step up to the mic on “m.A.A.d city”? A certified West Coast legend who’s still active in the game today, MC Eiht is absolutely one of the best Compton rappers of all time.
3. The Game
Discography: The Documentary (2005), Doctor’s Advocate (2006), LAX (2008), The R.E.D. Album (2011), Jesus Piece (2012), The Documentary 2 (2015), The Documentary 2.5 (2015), 1992 (2016), Born 2 Rap (2019), Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind (2022)
Since his landmark debut album dropped nearly 20 years ago, West Coast icon The Game has had a career marked by big wins, some losses and seemingly non-stop controversies. He has a hard, old-school lyrical gangsta rap flow and a combative style that seems to rub many other rappers the wrong way. Over the years the Compton rapper has had public battles with hip hop titans like 50 Cent, G-Unit, Jay-Z, Eminem and others.
Through it all, he’s continued to drop quality music at a relentless pace. With a catalogue of 10 albums and countless mixtapes to date, Game is one of the few rappers remaining in hip hop who still understands the craft of putting together a cohesive project.
Many people over the years have criticised the rapper’s tendencies to namedrop in his lyrics, but in my opinion, that’s just one of the many ways that Game showcases his absolute love for hip hop. What other big-name rapper consistently mentions old school legends like Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane in their raps?
2. DJ Quik
Discography: Quik Is the Name (1991), Way 2 Fonky (1992), Safe + Sound (1995), Rhythm-al-ism (1998), Balance & Options (2000), Under tha Influence (2002), Trauma (2005), The Book of David (2011), The Midnight Life (2014)
Even as a teenager dropping mixtapes on Compton, DJ Quik was known as a double threat. He was respected early on as both a talented rapper and producer. Since then he has enjoyed a 30-year career, working with some of the biggest names in popular music on the production tip; from Jay-Z to Janet Jackson.
He was a pioneer of the funk-infused, George Clinton inspired, analog synth-heavy West Coast sound made famous by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg during the early ’90s, though Quik deserves an equal amount of the credit. The prolific rapper-producer has been a West Coast staple ever he debuted in 1991, and his ability to make music specifically tailored to his laid-back rapping style has made him one of the best Compton rappers of all time.
1. Kendrick Lamar
Discography: Section.80 (2011), Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012), To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), DAMN. (2017), Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)
Ten years ago, Kendrick Lamar dropped good kid, m.A.A.d city and immediately set the bar for rapping higher than it had ever been in decades. The 25 year-old MC from Compton inspired by legends like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, DMX, and of course, 2Pac, charted a course for hip hop that is being followed by a new generation of rappers today.
Like many of his predecessors, Kendrick’s rhymes provided an intimate, real-life look at the streets of Compton. However, unlike many gangsta rappers, Kendrick’s stories were never glorified accounts of shootouts or drug-dealing tales. In his songs, victors are not always winners and their victims are not necessarily losers.
Over the past decade since releasing his major label debut, Kendrick hasn’t just become the best rapper to come from Compton, he’s steadily making the case for why he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time.