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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"California Love" was a perfect soundtrack to this year's Super Bowl Sunday

...especially considering the halftime's West Coast hip hop theme perfectly matched the game's outcome.


The NFL and Roc Nation pulled out all the stops for a long overdue hip hop halftime performance, featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem, with Anderson .Paak also appearing on drums. Sure, not all performers were from Southern California, but the geographic emphasis was apparent through a combination of the show's staging and some of its musical selections. Case in point: "California Love," the 2Pac original which Dr. Dre both produced and featured in alongside Roger Troutman. An evergreen distillation of 90s G-funk through an ode the California lifestyle, "California Love" remains a favorite up, down, and beyond the Golden State, and the halftime show wouldn't have been complete without it.

Dr. Dre built "California Love" from a sample of Joe Cocker's 1972 song "Woman to Woman," a track frequently sampled in the hip hop repertoire both before and since. Its main riff starting on an upbeat produces a push and an extra bounce that makes it fun to move along to. Dr. Dre doubles the rhythm on a piano throughout the track, keeping it prevalent even when the direct sample itself is not present.


As much as the track is based in Joe Cocker, it owes just as much to 80s funk. Roger Troutman, of Zapp fame, sings his iconic parts with the help of his signature talk box. Furthermore, Troutman draws upon two funk songs from 1982 in his vocal contributions: the chorus ("California knows how to party") is taken from Ronnie Hudson & The Street People's "West Coast Poplock," while the "Shake it" post-chorus is taken from Troutman's own material in Zapp's "Dance Floor." Thirteen years on, both tracks were revived and then some by their use as samples.


In their verses, Dr. Dre and 2Pac expound upon their appreciation for California — "the state where you never find a dance floor empty," as Dre puts it — while also talking up themselves ("Diamonds shinin', lookin' like I robbed Liberace"). In doing so, the two rappers establish a connection between California, particularly areas around Los Angeles, and their success and lifestyle. Yet they aren't taken aback or tainted by the glitz and glam of Hollywood; rather, they celebrate areas that are historically important to rap, which also happen to be poorer and rougher areas. Troutman's chorus mentions Watts and Compton, while Pac cites Bloods turf "from Long Beach [Blvd] to Rosecrans [Ave]" in Compton as well as Westside.


Rap's connection to these areas and others like them across the United States and beyond has always been prevalent, and the connection is in itself a statement on the art form becoming a pathway for the disenfranchised — especially in the Black community — to elevate themselves. Pac ends his verse be acknowledging more of these areas in California, "from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down," expanding the song's reach and truly making it a statewide anthem. Further ad libs make nods to Long Beach, Snoop Dogg's hometown; San Francisco, near which Pac spent some of his teenage years in Marin City; and Inglewood, home of Mack 10 among others, a city Dr. Dre says is "always up to no good." I now find this nod to Inglewood poetic, considering its role as host of the Super Bowl and the halftime in which the song featured.


"California Love" is an iconic track not only in the annals of rap, but in all popular music, and not just within the state it praises. As a California native, though, I have to think there's something special about hearing it in my home state, especially when it's performed on the world's biggest stage in an area that inspired it.

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