In our constant search for an imagined golden age of hip-hop, the early '90s shines particularly brightly in our imaginations. It was a rough period for artists, though. Major labels regularly tossed albums onto the market with no clue how to promote them and then summarily dropped those artists when the albums didn't yield results. The multiplatinum success of Dr. Dre's The Chronic initiated seismic changes in the rap world, so mainstream fans and record executives weren't enthusiastic about anyone who couldn't hang with the G-funk formula. And since hardcore rap fans thought real hip-hop came from the East, and the West Coast was full of Crips, Bloods and pimps, West Coast emcees that weren't gangstas found it difficult to get heard.
With the exception of Tha Alkaholiks and The Pharcyde, nearly all of the artists on this list endured short, painful major-label careers and only found redemption with the rise of indie hip-hop in the late '90s. Despite all the obstacles, however, they pioneered a free-flowing style, heavy on sunshine beats and off-the-dome lyricism, or freestyling, that reverberates to this day. Early '90s West Coast hip-hop may have been the musical revolution that wasn't, but it was still fun.