91. Tupac - California Love

It's hard to talk about Tupac Shakur without referencing his tragic death in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996. Groundbreaking career and life cut short, all of that. Not to minimize the tragedy, but I'm not going to get into any of that. This song came from the sessions that Tupac and Dr. Dre began soon after Tupac's release from prison on a sexual assault conviction (a charge he denied up until his death). He wanted to do a party album and a party anthem. All Eyez on Me was the album and "California Love” was the song.

The main track is based on a couple of loops from an old Joe Cocker song (really, where do these guys find these records to sample? Joe Cocker? That's just too awesome. You know Snoop's delving into obscure Captain & Tenille songs, right? An old Leo Sayer b-side? Dre has it, I'm sure) and a just as obscure tune by a band called Kleeer. Roger Troutman, lead singer of the early 80's soul group Zapp, provided the talk box work and the rest of the singing. So in true hip-hop fashion, Tupac gets top billing only because this song eventually ended up on his album. In a style that we haven't seen since the late sixties and early seventies rock scene, everybody's on everybody's records in hip-hop.

The lyrics aren't all that revolutionary. It's a hip-hop ode to the state he calls home:

California knows how to party
In the city of L.A, in the city of good ol' Watts
In the city, the city of Compton
We keep it rockin', we keep it rockin'

Tupac gives a shout out to all of his favorite towns, from San Diego all the way up to the Bay, and all points in between. He doesn't mention Fresno specifically, but you know there's some love in there.

It's easy to discount hip-hop lyrics for their self-serving banality, but this is art in a new and dynamic way that many baby-boomer rock critics just don't understand. Hell, I'm no baby boomer, and even I think parts of it are pure misogyny and narcissism. But that's the point. These songs are about puffing your chest out and thumping it King Kong style, because nobody else is ever going to do it. These guys kicked their way out of the parts of L.A. that us Valley boys can't even find on a Thomas Brothers (I know I'm an Cali snob, too. Ask someone from California what a Thomas Brothers is), much less have ever been to. There's a certain gladiator side to the way the west coast hip-hop community arose and keeps fighting for their existence and their respect. It's no wonder why these guys love the movies Scarface and Gladiator. They're living the same lives, just a decade (or couple thousand years) later.

So maybe I'm not supposed to understand it. But that's okay, because "California Love" is still a great song, maybe even more so since it's not even meant for someone like me.

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