G-Funk, one of the most iconic sub-genres in hip-hop history, was a defining chapter in the West Coast’s rise to become the hip-hop powerhouse that we know today. Although G-Funk enjoyed a relatively short-lived golden era, the producers and samples behind the classic West Coast sound remain as influential as ever.
Music is never created in a vacuum. It’s an ever-evolving dialogue of trends, movements and ideas, fuelled by colliding scenes and inspired collaborations. That’s a dynamic that lends itself to personification: if P-Funk, George Clinton’s amorphous musical collective, traded in youthful musical rebellion throughout the ‘70s, then G-Funk, the funk-infused strain of 1990s West Coast hip-hop, was the son it had too soon. These movements were united in their radical ideas: whilst P-Funk pushed the boundaries of funk music, G-Funk pushed the boundaries of artistic liberty, shooting off violent lyrics and regaling debaucherous stories that flew in the face of the conservative establishment.
Despite the name, there was hardly ever a time when gangstas went without funk: both King Tee and Too $hort was flipping George Clinton jams in the mid-’80s, and DJ Quik made slight hints at the developing G-Funk movement in 1991.
Andre Young, cutting his teeth as Dr. Dre, was doing much the same. He first sampled Parliament-Funkadelic in 1987, on two tracks included on the unofficial, label-pushed N.W.A compilation, N.W.A. and the Posse. The potential didn’t immediately catch on and, for the next five years, Dre would sample P-Funk on and off in his work with N.W.A and The D.O.C..
It wasn’t until Dre started working on his first album, The Chronic, that he fully committed to the possibilities of a funk-heavy hip hop sound. The East Coast had lent heavily on disco in the early ‘80s, moving into new-school minimalism, soul sampling and, eventually, the jazz flips of producers such as DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Funk was a vast, untapped resource, brimming with explosive eccentricity and distinctive sounds, and a crack team of West Coast pioneers would come to realise the potential of such a groove: we’re talking Snoop, Warren G, Nate Dogg, Daz Dillinger and Kurupt, now famed in their own right.
G-Funk would prove a true phenomenon. The Chronic remains an all-time great debut, giving an entire generation a new weed vernacular and shipping an admirable 5.7 million units in the States. Doggystyle, an explosion of G-Funk-soaked charisma and controversy, has since sold 11 million copies worldwide, with 7 million in the US alone. Even as the G-Funk era came to a close, the records still sold: Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food, though lower in profile, amassed 2 million US sales in less than 3 months. 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me – the only Death Row record released in his lifetime – has since shipped 10 million copies.
G-Funk’s Defining Producers
Whilst it’s widely known that Dr. Dre ‘broke’ the subgenre on his solo debut, 1992’s The Chronic, his contributions to the development of the sound have been called into question. The production on Doggystyle, the two-punch of G-Funk that pushed it even further into popular consciousness, has been a particularly contentious topic in the years since.
Dre is credited for production across the entire album, a claim that almost immediately arouses suspicion: just the fact that he was working with a team including his stepbrother Warren G and Daz Dillinger, two talented funk-inclined producers, suggests some level of collaboration. According to Daz himself, he contributed more than just the odd suggestion: “I did ‘Ain’t No Fun.’ I did a slew of songs. I did [‘Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat’ from The Chronic]. I did a bunch of songs I just got [credited as] ‘programmed drums,’ ‘programmer,’ or something like that on there.” Even Suge Knight – a longtime adversary of Daz – substantiated his claim. “Everybody thought [Dr. Dre] would be doing the records, but Daz pretty much did the whole album,” he said of Doggystyle.
Amongst fans in the know, the greater Death Row Records roster – namely young artists such as Snoop, Warren G, Daz Dillinger and Nate Dogg – are often regarded as the sonic aesthetes. Indeed, some of the movements most critically acclaimed efforts – namely, Regulate… G Funk Era and its lead single, “Regulate” – didn’t involve Dre at all.
Snoop helmed ‘Doggystyle,’ his charisma and languid flow emblematic of G Funk’s laid-back philosophy, whilst Warren G – Dre’s stepbrother – produced all twelve tracks from his own debut, including “Regulate,” one of the movement’s most enduring singles. Daz, however, might be the great unsung hero of G Funk: he had more production credits than Dre on Snoop’s Murder Was The Case, Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, and the 1994 Above The Rim soundtrack. Spurred by experience, his 1995 record with the Dogg Pound, Dogg Food, rode the G Funk wave to the top of the Billboard 200.
G-Funk’s Iconic Samples
“Funky Worm” by Ohio Players
Though it doesn’t actually appear on too many G-Funk cuts, Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm” contains one of the subgenre’s most instantly identifiable sounds. The synthesizer progression that enters at 0:46 conjures images of cruising down Sunset in the middle of a hot, mid-’90s summer, local hip hop blaring and hydraulics presumably pumping.
Dre first sampled “Funky Worm” in 1987, when he was working with an early incarnation of N.W.A. The group’s first record – the unofficial, label-released compilation N.W.A. and the Posse – contained an early edit of eventual Straight Outta Compton cut “Dopeman,” which made prominent use of the distinctive synth. N.W.A manager Jerry Heller called the album “a trial run,” but onetime group member Arabian Prince was less forgiving:
Macola, they were thieves at the time; they ripped everybody off. So when we left, they went back and took our EP and put a bunch of other crap on there — that wasn’t even us — and called it N.W.A. and the Posse and turned it into an album.”
That marked just the second time the song had been sampled. Dre flipped it again on “Gangsta Gangsta,” a standout track on ‘88’s Straight Outta Compton. The sample rapidly increased in popularity in the early ‘90s: whilst it was only sampled twice in ‘87, it made no less than 27 separate appearances in ‘92, one of which was on Ice Cube’s “Wicked.”
The track was ushered into G-Funk history on Snoop Dogg’s “Serial Killa,” which made use of an extensive and obvious interpolation. It also featured prominently on Ice Cube’s “Ghetto Bird,” included on ‘93’s Lethal Injection, his most G-Funk infused solo effort. Even though seldom sampled, “Funky Worm” provided the movement with a base from which to build, with the exotic chord progression undeniably informing much of the subgenre’s slick funk.
“Flash Light” by Parliament
Another particularly storied sample, “Flash Light” by Parliament has appeared on a mean bunch of West Coast hip hop cuts. In the beginning, the track was flipped by producers such as Hurby Luv Bug (Salt-N-Pepa’s “I’ll Take Your Man”) and, funnily enough, NYC producer Doctor Dré (Original Concept’s “Runnin’ Yo Mouth”). It graced high-profile releases from Kool Moe Dee, Brand Nubian, Jungle Brothers and Public Enemy before making a mark on the West Coast scene in 1991.
Though it first appeared on a Sir Jinx remix in ‘90, the track came to sampling prominence in Cali after appearing twice on Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, gracing both “Man’s Best Friend” and “The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit.” Cube himself had production credits on both of these tracks, and his fondness for “Flash Light” was again reiterated when the song was sampled on Del The Funky Homosapien’s “Sunny Meadowz” later the same year. Cube and frequent collaborator Boogieman produced that LP as reciprocal payment: Del, Cube’s cousin, was ghostwriting lyrics for Da Lench Mob’s upcoming debut, 1992’s Guerillas in the Mist. The title track from that record also featured a prominent “Flash Light” sample.
In fact, one thing that seemed to bridge N.W.A’s acrimonious split was their affection for this track: it was sampled on MC Ren’s “Final Frontier” in ‘92 and both “Mr. Fuck Up” and “One False Move” the year after. This was about the time that the sample transitioned into G-Funk: whilst it failed to appear on The Chronic, it made a sole appearance on Snoop’s Doggystyle.
Dre interpolated the track on “W Balls,” the faux-radio skit that acts as a segue between “Gin & Juice” and “Tha Shiznit.” He adapts the song’s central refrain into a more fitting, Snoop-esque jingle: “Everybody’s got to hear the shit, on W Balls, W Balls, W Balls…”
Less than a month later, Cube flipped the same lyrics on “Bop Gun (One Nation),” a hit single that featured George Clinton himself and sampled 10 different P-Funk joints. Unsurprisingly, that track was included on Lethal Injection. Finally, it made a third notable appearance on Tha Dogg Pound’s “Respect,” included on their seminal G-Funk offering, Dogg Food — yet another interpolation.
“Mothership Connection (Star Child)” by Parliament
Much like “Flash Light” before it, “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” was brought to prominence by NY producer Hurby Luv Bug, who flipped it on Sweet Tee’s “On The Smooth Tip.” It wouldn’t be until three years later that one of the West Coast tastemakers got ahold of the beat: Ice Cube and his collaborator Sir Jinx sampled the track on Yo-Yo’s “Make Way For The Motherlode.” Whilst their vocal grab – “let me ride!” – was understated, it wouldn’t be long before another N.W.A member had seared the phrase into mass consciousness.
“Let Me Ride” was the third and final single from The Chronic, featuring Jewell and – as he was then known – Snoop Doggy Dogg. Whilst it’s likely a coincidence that Cube flipped the sample just one year prior, the “Let Me Ride” music video also acted to squash the beef between Dre and Cube, the latter of whom appears in a peacemaking cameo. You can check that out at 2:46.
Though it’s only been sampled a total of 61 times, the track managed to bounce between some of the subgenre’s most iconic tracks. It appeared on Cube’s “Bop Gun (One Nation)” – unsurprising, seeing as it’s credited alongside nine other P-Funk cuts – and Warren G’s “Regulate,” which makes a lyrical interpolation by way of Dre’s own “Let Me Ride.”
“Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” by Parliament
Boasting a mouthful of a title, “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” is as West Coast a sample as there is. It came to prominence in the late ‘80s, appearing on tracks by King Tee (“Just Clowning”), Ice-T (“The Syndicate”) and Fat Boys (“Get Down”).
It found a national audience on Ice Cube’s Bomb Squad-produced “Rollin’ With Da Lench Mob,” and again on Cypress Hill’s “Psycobetabuckdown.” Cube continued to associate the track with his satellite hip hop outfit, sampling it on Da Lench Mob’s “Lost In Tha System,” a cut from their 1992 debut. It also cropped up on his own ‘92 effort, sampled by Mr. Woody on “Dirty Mack” and DJ Muggs “Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha.”
Funnily enough, the track was introduced into the G-Funk canon on Snoop’s “G Funk Intro,” where the backing vocals interpolate the wild screams from the opening of “Aqua Boogie.” The titular bird sounds on “Ghetto Bird,” also released in 1993, are actually the very same interpolation.
Though only infrequently a G-Funk artist, Cube continued to be the most loyal P-Funk disciple, interpolating another lyric from “Aqua Boogie” – “with the rhythm it takes to dance to” – on “You Know How We Do It (Remix).” It cropped up again on Tha Dogg Pound’s “Cyco-Lic-No (Bitch Azz Niggaz),” a track included on their classic debut, Dogg Food. The oft-sampled bird sounds make an appearance at 1:17, and the titular refrain – “cyco-lic-no-bitch-azz-niggas” – is adapted from the nonsensical subtitle from the Parliament original.
Soon thereafter, the decline of G-Funk rendered the briefly-popular sample obscure. Despite this, it remained a fixture in onetime G-Funk emcees catalogues. The bird sound opened both Snoop’s No Limit Top Dogg single “Bitch Please” and Warren G’s Dr. Dre-produced “Game Don’t Wait (Remix).” As “Aqua Boogie” petered out in the early 2000s, it made three last-ditch appearances on Snoop’s “I Can’t Swim,” DJ Quik’s “I Wanna See” and Tha Dogg Pound’s “We Livin Gangsta Like.”
“(Not Just) Knee Deep” by Funkadelic
Dr. Dre first flipped “(Not Just) Knee Deep” on N.W.A. and the Posse cut “Scream,” performed by little-known LA emcee Rappenstine. That track, released in ‘87, would soon after be sampled by Ultramagnetic MC’s, Original Concept, De La Soul and LL Cool J. The next prominent West Coast sample came on Cube’s “How To Survive In South Central,” which he recorded for his turn in John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood.
Cube and Sir Jinx sampled the bass from the Funkadelic jam on Yo-Yo’s “Ain’t Nobody Better,” released in 1991. Dr. Dre – then in a fued with Cube – sampled the very same bassline on 1992’s “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’),” the second single from formative G-Funk record The Chronic. The release of that album brought forth yet another “(Not Just) Knee Deep” sample: Snoop interpolates cadence and melody on “Stranded On Death Row,” where he spits “I’m not flaggin’, but I’m just saggin’ / I betcha don’t wanna see the D-O-double-G” in the style of Funkadelic’s titular lyric.
The next G-Funk effort was Snoop’s Doggystyle, which again made use of “(Not Just) Knee Deep).” Dre opened “G Funk Intro” with a dirty interpolation of the song’s bassline, over which he has George Clinton himself offer some dogg-centric narration. That same bassline opened “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?),” Snoop’s debut single.
MC Hammer made use of the track’s synthesizer during his G-Funk era, sampling it on “Straight To My Feet,” a track included on the Street Fighter OST. Another 1994 sample came courtesy of Ice Cube, who quoted the titular lyric – “not just knee deep, she was totally deep when she did the freak with me” – on “2 N The Morning.”
Perhaps the most unique sample of “(Not Just) Knee Deep” came on 2Pac’s “Can’t C Me,” the Dre-produced, George Clinton-featuring G-Funk jam included on All Eyez On Me. Pac recorded a handful of G-Funk infused tracks during that era, including smash hit Dr. Dre collaboration, “California Love.”
“Can’t C Me” would mark the last of the track’s major G-Funk samples, and whilst “(Not Just) Knee Deep” has enjoyed some continued success in the 21st century, it’s suffered at the hands of the stringent copyright laws that have made sampling a more prohibitive practice.
“Atomic Dog” by George Clinton
It comes as no surprise that the composition and recording of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” his debut solo single, was just as laidback and easygoing as the tracks it would inspire. In a 2008 copyright case, the circumstances of recording were discussed:
Songwriters David Spradley, Garry Shider, and George Clinton created Atomic Dog in a recording studio in January 1982, working without a written score… the song was composed spontaneously – Spradley recorded the initial tracks in the studio and recalled that “when George arrived he had been partying pretty heavily so he was, you know, feeling pretty good,” and was unsteady at the microphone. Spradley and Garry Shider “got on either side of him. We just kind of kept him in front of the microphone” while Clinton recorded the vocal tracks that same night. “
Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” was sampled intermittently throughout the early ‘80s: a notable flip came on LL Cool J’s Radio cut “Dear Yvette,” though the track hit the West Coast the following year, when Too $hort sampled it on “She’s A Bitch.”
It wasn’t until Ice Cube linked up with East Coast production team The Bomb Squad that “Atomic Dog” re-entered the West Coast palette. The famously sample-savvy producers sampled the drums on Cube’s incendiary sonic assault, “The Nigga You Love To Hate,” having already flipped elements of Clinton’s original on Public Enemy’s “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” just one month prior.
Even without The Bomb Squad behind the decks, Cube remained interested in the track and the potential of the sounds within. He sampled the distinctive drum-and-synth intro on “How To Survive In South Central,” included on the Boyz N Tha Hood OST, before flipping Clinton’s composition three times on Death Certificate: he used the titular refrain on “Man’s Best Friend,” the bass-heavy synth on “My Summer Vacation,” and the introductory drums on the outro to his infamous N.W.A diss, “No Vaseline.” An early cut of the latter used Clinton’s drums throughout.
Vocal elements were sampled on the hook of MC Ren’s “Hounddogz,” released in ‘92, though the song truly took off when Snoop Dogg interpolated the now-famed refrain – “bow wow wow, yippy yo, yippy yay” – in his verse on “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’).” This is where “Atomic Dog” became a pop culture staple: the ongoing affiliation with Snoop’s subsequent debut album has kept it in the public consciousness for decades.
Snoop’s debut single, “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?),” made use of two seperate elements: a direct sample of the deep “dog” vocal and a voicebox-filtered interpolation of the same “bow wow wow” refrain. Another lyric from “Atomic Dog” – “why must I feel like that, why must I chase that cat?” – is actually scrawled on the Doggystyle cover, along with the character of the Dogg Catcher, who’s mentioned by Clinton in his original track.
That was just the beginning of the song’s longstanding association with G-Funk. It appeared on two of Cube’s Lethal Injection tracks: there’s a shoutout on P-Funk love letter “Bop Gun (One Nation)” and an interpolation of the bass on “Ghetto Bird.” Clinton’s spoken word intro is sampled at the open of ‘94’s “2 N The Morning,” and Cube himself raps “why must I be like that, chase the cat” on “Friday,” the title track from his classic 1995 stoner comedy.
It crops up three times on MC Hammer’s 1994 G-Funk LP The Funky Headhunter, with the percussive panting gracing “Don’t Stop,” and the drums punctuating both “Pumps and a Bump” and “Somethin’ for the O.G.’s.” It continued to impact beyond Death Row when the distinctive synthesizer lick graced DJ Quik’s “Hoorah 4 Tha Funk,” a cut from his funkiest project, ‘95’s Safe + Sound.
At the end of the nineties, “Atomic Dog” was becoming a rarer sample. It saw off the end of the G-Funk era the way it helped ushered it in: alongside Snoop. Though it failed to appear even once on Tha Doggfather, Snoop’s sophomore album, it appeared twice on his No Limit Records release, Tha Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, with panting on “Doggz Gonna Get Ya” and the classic “bow wow wow” refrain on second single “Woof!”
Though the track has continued to inspire tracks well into the 21st century, the general decline of G-Funk – a subgenre rooted in a time and place – has directly impacted the fervour surrounding it.
Whilst it was late-’80s gangsta rap that launched the West Coast to national prominence, it was G-Funk that threatened to upend the NY-centric view of hip hop. The sun-soaked, synth-laden subgenre was tailor-made for drop tops and palm trees, a stylistic signature to the West as boom-bap was to the East. In many ways, it represented the peak of the West Coast’s most vibrant era: whilst figures such as Too $hort, Ice-T and Egyptian Lover predated the stalwarts of the ‘90s, members of Death Row Records would ultimately become some of the coast’s most ubiquitous emcees.
The subgenre’s short life span – roughly the half-decade spanning ‘92 to ‘98 – only helped foster the movement’s greater aesthetic, one almost inherently tied to mid-’90s streetwear trends and VHS-quality music videos. G-Funk is as much a time and place as a distinctive musical palette, informed by the overarching fashions and attitudes of the greater era. That’s not to say the hits won’t go off at a summertime pool party: it’s just not the same without the retro bathing-suits, pimped-out drop tops and flagrant and unapologetic kush clouds (which isn’t quite as rebellious when they’re legally selling it down on the corner).
Nonetheless, G-Funk remains one of hip hop’s classic sounds. The Clinton-inspired, funk-infused palette backs a distinctive style of gangsterism, one that’s as much techs and glocks as it is sunny escapism. The passage of time has imbued the music with a nostalgic sheen, whether it’s steeped in the childhood memories of veteran fans or the imagination of those too young to recall it. Though the mainstream has well and truly moved on, it’s easy to see why that smooth West Coast sound remains a favourite.