Music News

Various Artists

No gangsta-rap label is more infamous than Death Row: Federal criminal probes, coastal beefs, strong-arm violence, unsolved murders, and shady business practices exemplified Suge Knight's Los Angeles-based conglomerate, whose artists, known as "inmates," represented a '27 Yankees-caliber pool of rap talent, including 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre. Now known as Tha Row, the label hasn't had a new hit in a while, but as The Very Best of Death Row shows, beyond all the drama, during its glory years, it defined and perfected West Coast G-funk.

Eight years since its release, 'Pac's "Against All Odds" shines in a new light, easily standing up to anything by 50 Cent or the Game. And for moments of pure pop-culture brilliance, try Nate Dogg interpolating "London Bridge" on the Dogg Pound's "Let's Play House," Roger Troutman's electrofunky vocoder on "California Love," Snoop's catchy sing-along "It's like this and like that and-a" on "Nuthin' But a G Thang," or Warren G jacking Michael McDonald for the infectious hook to "Regulate." While sadly misogynistic (with the exception of the Lady of Rage's "Afro Puffs"), Death Row's prolific output has proved as influential and timeless as the P-Funk melodies Dr. Dre sampled to make 'em that way.

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Eric K. Arnold