The influence of Death Row Records, and artists like 2Pac, still resonates 30 years after the label’s inception.

When Suge Knight strongarmed Dr. Dre, Michel’le and The D.O.C. away from Ruthless Records, it caused a seismic shift in hip-hop.

No longer did rappers just talk about gangsterism, artists started using street principles to get their desired result in the entertainment industry.

With the formation of Death Row Records, Dr. Dre and Knight created arguably the most iconic and influential hip-hop record label of all time.

Think about it.

Except for Motown Records in the 1960s and 1970s, no urban independent record label could truly boast of having talent on their roster like Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, 2Pac, Tha Dogg Pound and more.

Death Row had the biggest rappers in the industry, the most feared CEO and some of the most unforgettable songs in pop music history.

In honor of Dr. Dre putting it down for the Super Bowl and the 30th anniversary of the first album on Death Row Records (“The Chronic” by Dr. Dre), has ranked the 10 best songs in Death Row Records history.


  1. “Murder was the Case” by Snoop Doggy Dogg—Just think about it. One song from Snoop’s debut album led to his most iconic performance of all time at the MTV Awards, a short film, a soundtrack and an upcoming television show from 50 Cent. The song is still Snoop’s deepest song content wise, dealing with haters, surviving a murder attempt and selling his soul to the devil for success.


  1. “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Doggy Dogg—Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg provided the soundtrack for many people’s teenage years like throwing house parties when the parentals left them alone in the house. When the parentals left the house, the opposite sex came through, the friends came through and the alcohol and marijuana mysteriously appeared out of thin air. But if the homies did not chip in, they could not get any of that Seagram’s gin.


  1. “New York, New York” by Tha Dogg Pound—Tha Dogg Pound did not get the star treatment that they deserved being sandwiched between icons like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac at Death Row Records. But no true hip-hop head could ever doubt Kurupt’s lyrical prowess. Additionally, no hip-hop head could doubt the production value Daz brought to tha Row. Amid the East Coast/West Coast beef, Tha Dogg Pound dropped a lyrical masterpiece initially as a salute to the “Big Apple.” But after the video dropped, the beef reached dangerous level with knocked over building and sniper fire at the video shoot.


  1. “Who Am I (What’s My Name)” by Snoop Doggy Dogg featuring Dr. Dre—When “Doggystyle” dropped in 1993, not only did the hip-hop community stop and take notice, but the entire pop world also stopped. Never had a debut album generated so much buzz after Snoop became a star because of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” album. The debut single “What’s My Name” introduced Snoop as a true solo performer, with a brief vocal appearance from his producer/mentor, Dr. Dre.


  1. “Hail Mary” by Makaveli (aka 2Pac) featuring Outlawz —2Pac had truly reached a creative zenith by 1996 in the same way that Stevie Wonder hit his classic period in the mid-1970s. “Me Against the World” dropped in 1995, while “All Eyez on Me” dropped in 1996 and “Makaveli” dropped posthumously that same year. On “Hail Mary,” Pac dealt with all the violence coming his way in a spiritual manner. But despite the spirituality, the venom in his lyrics remained for those that pushed him.


  1. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” by 2Pac featuring Danny Boy—Who can’t relate to 2Pac’s classic “I Ain’t Mad at Cha?” The iconic jam talks about friends who grew up together but grow apart when they get older. One friend eventually goes to Youth Authority before changing his life once exposed to the Islamic religion. The other friend remains in the streets chasing money and females. Despite being happy for his friend who has found religion and a wife, the other friend still misses the days when they kicked it. But when someone tries to improve their life, how can you be mad at them?


  1. “Dre Day” by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg—In the history of hip-hop, one of the most legendary beefs was Dr. Dre and his former bandmate and label head, Eazy-E. Their longtime friendship made the beef genuine because even though Dre left Eazy’s Ruthless Records for Death Row, it was still hard to see such an epic rap group in N.W.A fall by the wayside because of money issues. Luckily before Eazy’s death, the two came to amends and even discussed reuniting with N.W.A. The song also disses fellow rappers, Tim Dog and Uncle Luke.


  1. “Hit Em Up” by 2Pac featuring Outlawz—People often say that the Notorious B.I.G. never came out with a true diss song about his former friend, 2Pac. But after “Hit Em Up,” how can anyone respond when your rival talks about sleeping with your wife and taking your life, the life of your crew and the life of your label head? While the song might be harsh, even by today’s standards, what do you expect from a person that spent time in a jail for a rape that he always denied, then got shot five times at a recording studio where his eventual rival was recording with his crew, Junior Mafia?


  1. “California Love” by 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman—On the first song that 2Pac released after linking up with Death Row, he encapsulated how his adopted hometown Los Angeles reacted when he touched down fresh from Clinton Correctional Facility in New York. 2Pac unloaded, “Out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreamin,’ soon as I step on the scene, I’m hearin’ hoochies screamin’…Bumpin’ and grindin’ like a slow jam, it’s westside so you know the Row will bow down to no man, say what you say, but give me that bomb beat from Dre, let me serenade the streets of L.A.”


  1. “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg—Hip-hop needs to have a separation point in history. Before “G Thang” and after “G Thang.” It truly introduced the world to Dr. Dre as a true solo artist after the title track to the “Deep Cover” soundtrack. It truly introduced the G-funk production style to the world although Above tha Law had used the sound before. It introduced the next superstar from the West Coast in Snoop Doggy Dogg. More importantly, it introduced Death Row Records as a music juggernaut that would dominate a half decade of urban music.
Todd A. Smith
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