This song is ostensibly about one thing, and that one thing is there in the very first line. “California. Knows how to party.” But it’s also about 2Pac’s return to the rap scene after his time in prison, a salvo of West Coast love against his East Coast rivals. 2Pac died young and famous and was thus granted with a posthumous solemnity at odds with the fun-loving rapper we experience in songs like “I Get Around,” “How Do You Want It” and “California Love.” This is why he was so popular, because he put together bangin’ songs like this, the ones you want to hear loud in a club or while driving in a car with amazing bass or as soon as you walk through the door into a party.
The backbone of the song is an infectious seven-note sample taken from an Ultramagnetic MCs song (which took it from Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman”). On top of that is funk singer Roger Troutman and early echoes of Auto-Tune, as he sings the chorus through the distorted talkbox he was known for. On All Eyez on Me —considered to be hip-hop’s first real double album — 2Pac includes a remix version of “California Love” that is more chill, more laid back, more California. The original, the better song, is urgent and hot and mind-erasing. By the end, you’re just as exhausted as the person who comes in at the four-and-a-half minute mark, panting heavily. There’s no thinking when you hear this song: there is only dancing and rapping along.
(Browse the All-TIME 100 Songs and more than 100 other pop culture lists on TIME’s Populist iPad app)
Next ‘Common People’