From the very beginning, Crooked I has demonstrated a unique versatility in Hip Hop. In the late ’90s as the Long Beach, California emcee was gaining recognition, he doubled his time appearing alongside Heltah Skeltah and Planet Asia on Sway & Tech’s This Or That, as well as sharing the mic with Tray Deee, Legacy and Sho Shot on the C-Style Presents… 19th Street compilation a year prior. As a result of that duality, Crooked I was recently asked to list five emcees he considers the most lyrical gangsta rappers.
“Oh man,” began the devout Hip Hop fan. He pointed to another This Or That alum: “Kool G [Rap]. For me, Kool G was gangsta as fuck.” A member of The Juice Crew, the Queens, New York lyricist went on to make street-stuck albums like 1992’s Wanted: Dead Or Alive with DJ Polo, in addition to 2002’s mafiaso-themed The Giancana Story.
Crooked then named Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound, who enlisted Crooked I for his gold-selling 1999 sophomore album, Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha. Throughout his career, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-born Kurupt has used the alias “Young Gotti,” taken from the late leader of the Gambino Family.
Crooked I then pointed to another collaborator and a Compton, California legend. “King T. When I was real young, King had some fuckin’ ill-ass rhymes. Look at how he spread that shit through Tha Alkaholiks, was instrumental with Xzibit’s career,” he said, referring to the Likwit Crew that the onetime Capitol Records star formed. Although his own albums largely focused on cars, drunken fun and neighborhood commentary, King Tipsy seamlessly appeared on songs such as Cypress Hill’s “Southland Killers,” and C-Bo’s “Bullets.”
Asked about the collaboration Crooked appeared on from T’s planned 1998 Aftermath Entertainment album Thy Kingdom Come, the emcee recalled. “I was a teenager. I was a kid. I was in the fuckin’ room with WC, King T, my homie Bo-Roc from The Dove Shack was doin’ the hook, Dr. Dre’s sitting in his chair, The D.O.C. is walkin’ around. I said ‘Wow.’ I thought I made it back then to be honest with you.” The material would not be included in the 2002 bootleg of the album, which Dr. Dre and Aftermath opted not to release.
The emcee then pointed to the man closely associated with the label that Crooked spent a lengthy tenure on. “To be honest with you, Tupac. There are so many shades of Tupac, but he had some gangsta shit. You know what I’m sayin’? There was so much to that man.” Crooked I’s vocals were paired with ‘Pac’s, on the 2003 posthumous Death Row release, Nu-Mixx Klazzics, on the single “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” Admitting this his list excedes five, Crooked said. “The list goes on, bro.”
He did however add, “To me, all the shit Jay Z was sayin’ was gangsta! A lot of that shit was gangsta. He talkin’ about shoot-outs. He’s sellin’ drugs, fuckin’ police, gangsta of the year. ’22 Two’s’—[quoting] ‘too much West Coast dick-lickin’,’ that was the only thing I didn’t like on [Reasonable Doubt]. That whole album is a classic—except that line. Nah, I fucks with all that [album].”