Welcome to L.A. Week on First We Feast. As part of our continuing initiative to devote more coverage to Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week to explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its most vaunted chefs, to its gritty underbelly.
Starting in the early-1990s, West Coast hip-hop and its signature G-funk sound—a thumping, trunk-rattling distillation of 1970s P-funk—took hold of mainstream American music. Artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, DJ Quik, and The D.O.C. burst onto the scene, depicting the sunny, but oftentimes violent lifestyle of urban Los Angeles at a time when SWAT vehicles patrolled neighborhoods as regularly as the ice-cream truck.
The trappings of the so-called “gangsta rap” lifestyle were articulated most viscerally through the era’s music videos: sunshine, low-riders, 40s, and, more often than not, barbecue cookouts.
“It’s just one of the things we do in L.A.,” says rapper and native son Nipsey Hussle. “Young dudes in L.A. know how to do certain things, like work on cars and barbecue. If you don’t know how to do it, ni**as will laugh at you. And most people in L.A. have roots down South—in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It’s something that’s been a part of our culture longer than I’ve been alive.”
While it’d be disingenuous to suggest West Coast emcees invented the rap barbecue (hip-hop famously arose from South Bronx block parties), these gatherings have always been central to Los Angeles-based rap. Year-round balmy weather, coupled with the aforementioned Southern heritage, made L.A. the ideal place for this tradition to prosper.
“I just remember being six or seven years old, and my granddaddy’s in the back of the house cooking,” Hussle says. “If it was a nice day, he’d just say ‘fuck it’ and pull out the pit. They’d get shopping carts, put a barrel in the middle, and cut the barrel in half, and it would be a bootleg barbecue grill.”
Young dudes in L.A. know how to do certain things, like work on cars and barbecue. If you don’t know how to do it, ni**as will laugh at you.
Hussle, who grew up in L.A.’s Crenshaw neighborhood, paints a vivid picture: On festive days like Fourth of July, thick smoke rises 30 feet in the air from buildings where barbecues are happening. People line the block at iconic spots like Phillip’s and Woody’s, while liquor stores are bustling with people getting drinks for whichever cookouts they’re attending.
One key aspect of barbecue in West Coast hip-hop videos is the location. Several notable clips, including the cookout scene in Dr. Dre’s classic “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” feature cookouts in public parks; however, the reality is that South Central L.A. barbecues aren’t as laissez-faire as they look on screen.
“A lot of parks in L.A. are controlled by different gangs,” Hussle says. “The parks in our hood, like Van Ness Park, were controlled by the Bloods. Same thing with Jim Gilliam Park in the middle of the Jungles, and this other park in Inglewood. As kids we’d go to it, but as we got older [they were] kind of off-limits.”
Nipsey does note that kids, families, and older adults are always safe to head to the park for barbecue gatherings, typically to spots within their neighborhood; however, to avoid trouble completely, many will travel to areas far from the city to hold their cookouts.
The next (and perhaps most crucial) element of a classic L.A. cookout is the soundtrack. In L.A., many of the West Coast classics blared from car trunks and stereos, while some other notable artists crept into the mix, too.
“We played whatever the city was playing,” Hussle says. “Whatever was important—Snoop, Dre, Warren G, Nate Dogg. And in the ’90s, people were also playing So So Def, like Da Brat and Kriss Kross.”
Many of those legendary emcees paid homage to the cookout tradition by incorporating it into their videos. In honor of L.A. Week, here’s a look at the West Coast hip-hop videos and films that best showcased L.A. barbecue.
Dr. Dre Feat. Snoop Dogg, “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang”
Dre and Snoop’s 1992 mega-hit “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Thang” and its accompanying video can be summed up in one word: classic. Director Dwight Patillo says the authentic look resulted from his and Dre’s approach: “We just tried to keep it as loose as possible and get the little nuances that just popped up and happened.” The barbecue scene itself is brief and almost nonchalant, but the nearly four-minute clip—partly shot at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area—has become one of the most iconic distillations of West Coast hip-hop culture.
Boyz n The Hood
“Domino, motherfucker!” The barbecue scene from 1991’s Boyz n The Hood is one of its most important. Tre, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., reunites with his buddy Doughboy, played by Ice Cube, at the cookout being held by his other buddy Ricky’s mom. It’s a big moment as neither Tre nor Doughboy has seen the other since Doughboy’s release from prison. The scene also features a crucial barbecue etiquette lesson from Tre: The men of the party can get their food after the women.
Snoop Dogg, “What’s My Name?”
One of Snoop Dogg’s singles from his groundbreaking debut, Doggystyle, featured a slightly funnier take on L.A. barbecue. Snoop is literally a dog in the majority of the video, as are several of his homies, and they set out to disrupt a family’s pleasant park picnic at the video’s midway point. The family has a nice spread, too, complete with fruit, an assortment of bread, and a thick slab of ribs. But Snoop and the gang bum-rush DELETED ENSURED BUMRUSHED the gathering, proving that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
Menace II Society
This is one of the great public-park barbecue scenes, with one of the characters cooking up ribs on a barrel-style grill. Beer and “chronic” also factors heavily into the get-together.
Mack 10, “Backyard Boogie”
Inglewood emcee Mack 10 shot the video for his 1997 single “Backyard Boogie” in some trippy, D-12-esque technicolor, but he still managed to make the clip’s house party look enticing with low-riders, beer, and lots of dancing. But if we’re being honest, the best part is the cartoonishly large slab of ribs some random cook’s putting on an over-sized grill. The meat looks like something straight out of Alice In Wonderland.
Tha Dogg Pound, “Cali Iz Active”
The amount of West Coast star power in this video is staggering. Ice Cube, DJ Quik, Too Short, Dilated Peoples, and Snoop Dogg, among others, all join Kurupt and Daz Dillinger at what looks like the greatest barbecue of 2006. The video for “Cali Iz Active” is reminiscent of “Nuthin’ But a G Thang”: the public park is the center of the action as people dance, low-riders bounce, and meat sizzles on the grill. Hell, you could call the video the 21st century version of Dre’s iconic clip—it’s that similar.
The Game feat. Chris Brown, Tyga, Lil Wayne, & Wiz Khalifa, “Celebration”
This video is sort of like “Cali Iz Active” (and, by extension, “Nuthin But a G Thang”), if only because the entire thing centers on a cookout, and there’s some notable star power. The Game and his friends look like they reserved the entire park for a bit of quality summertime fun, and there’s some great-looking wings at the beginning of the video. But skip the middle of the clip, because Breezy and Tyga are given a little too much screen-time for our liking.
YG, “Left Right”
YG’s mini-film for his 2014 hit single sells itself more on sex appeal than cooking, but there’s a brief shot of a barbecue that’s going down at the L.A. rapper’s epic house party. YG also takes the crew to Roscoe’s (where Nipsey joins him on the roof) to showcase the O.G. chicken-and-waffles restaurant.
BONUS: The Dove Shack, “Summertime in the L.B.C.”
There are no explicit barbecue shots in the Long Beach crew’s 1995 video, but Nipsey makes the case that you should add it to your barbecue playlist this summer, regardless:
“That was one of the biggest records in L.A. That’s classic shit. It’s a picnic anthem. You probably wouldn’t have even heard of it if you weren’t in L.A. It’s just classic barbecue, L.A., picnic music. That’s exactly what you need to put in your article. Give me credit for that, too, man!”