The early 90s. Still in short trousers, rap was breaking new ground and there was much yet to be built. War raged between the East and West Coasts of the United States over who would emerge as dominant on the US rap scene. A ceasefire was settling over LA, where rap seemed to be adapting to the sun beating down through the palm trees as life was lived by the pool. G-Funk was taking over the world. Prepare for a decade of bouncy bass, synthesizes, and a rich dance-y groove.
Why G-Funk? The term reveals the genealogy of the genre: G for gangsta, as in gangsta-rap, a form that had spread to underprivileged suburbs of the country, from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago and San Francisco. G-Funk follows in the footsteps of rappers glorifying easy money and the outward signs of wealth, even if they were obtained illegally. Its name also refers to its inspiration, P-Funk, a festive version of funk born in the 70s with artists like Parliament and Funkadelic, George Clinton and Bootsie Collins.
But rather than sampling funk or soul, G-Funk prefers to put instruments in the spotlight, creating an organic, X-rated groove, with bass and synths that remind you of the band Zapp. Although daily life in the ghetto and the settling of scores remain present in the lyrics, they mostly serve to glorify and tell stories about individuals, rather than any collective cause. Any political consciousness of their elders fades away in favour of the cool lifestyle symbolised by the presumed consumption of illicit substances, and musically by slowing down the rhythms, almost as if they’re trying to take a break from the urban stress of Public Enemy and N.W.A.’s beats.
If Cold 187um’s band Above the Law claims to have invented G-Funk, it is Dr. Dre that perfected the genre with his debut album a solo artist The Chronic released in 1992. From there, the style spread like wildfire all over California, among ex-members of his band like Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren, and his close friends like Warren G, Nate Dogg, or Tha Dogg Pound. Their productions were infused with his touch and his protégé Snoop Dogg became a master of the genre with his 1993 album Doggystyle produced by Dr. Dre. With a few exceptions (The Lady of Rage, Yo-Yo), this essentially male genre spread to Northern California and places like Oakland (Spice 1, E-40), as well as other cities around the country, and as far as New York where The Notorious B.I.G. occasionally peppered his hardcore rap with a few splashes of G-Funk.
Dr. Dre's influence on musical production even tinged a few songs by Tupac Shakur and Eminem with the colours of G-Funk, a genre that wouldn't survive much past 2000 as the new masters rap, from Pharrell Williams and his Neptunes, to Timbaland via Jay-Z and Kanye West began their reign.