The origin of rap music is a commonly disputed subject; one volatile and impassioned enough to lead to the deaths of several hip-hop legends.
The origin of rap music is a commonly disputed subject; one volatile and impassioned enough to lead to the deaths of several hip-hop legends. Biggie and Wu-Tang carried the flag for the east coast, while Tupac, Dre, Snoop and Nate Dogg claimed to have perfected the craft on some “California Love” shit (not to mention Uncle Luke and Andre 3000 pioneering their own dirty style for all those southern belles to get down to).
However, throwing my sideways hat in this sphere of controversy, I claim that gangsta rap originated on the west coast, but not by Eazy-E or Ice-T or anyone like that. When you think of the true origins of gangsta rap, only one name should come to mind: Joe Walsh.
Already established as guitarist for The Eagles, Walsh was chilling in SoCal in 1978, when he decided to drop a track dubbed “Life’s Been Good,” still one of the biggest bangers of the 20th century. With the release of this single, Walsh subsequently created the genre of gangsta rap, with each bar becoming influential to numerous future hip-hop artists who give Walsh mad juice for being the real OG.
Breaking down the song, the three main facets of gangsta rap are present: money, hoes and respect. Along with the these primaries, many secondary themes make an appearance too, such as partying and vandalism, among others. Some of the most famous gangsta rap artists have made their living emulating this style and spitting about these topics. And although it may be about who does it right, no one can argue that Walsh didn’t do it first.
“I have a mansion/forget the price/ain’t never been there/ they tell me its nice.”
This opening bar might be the most braggadocious, declarative statement in the whole track, letting the audience know that his humble come-up with The Eagles has passed and now he’s wildin’ out in one of the many mansions he owns. This line has been used by gangsta and non-gangstas, alike. In Childish Gambino’s 2013 single “Sweatpants,” he brags “Got a penthouse on both coasts/ PH balance.”
And, who exactly are the “they” he is referencing? Could “they” be the many women he entertains at his houses on a regular basis? Already, two of the three facets are covered and we haven’t even got to the hook.
Waka Flocka Walsh goes on to expand on how many ladies want to get with him in the bar: “I’m making records/ my fans they can’t wait/ they write me letters/ tell me I’m great.” These sentiments are directly echoed in Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 classic joint, “Juicy” where he raps, “Girls used to diss me/ now they write letters cause they miss me.” Walsh is obviously not shy about letting us know about all the groupies willing to get with him and his crew.
However, the influences do not stop there. After the first hook, J-Walshy talks about driving his Maserati and ridin’ dirty on that speed limit that’s far less than 185 mph, a popular trend in gangsta rap — see Public Enemy’s “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” Rick Ross’ “600 Benz,” and OutKasts’ “Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac).” And, along with his houses and whip, Walsh mentions his “gold records,” “limo,” and “fortune and fame,” cementing his image as a true thug who’s been around the block a few times, rising up from the underground and taking over the game.
Lastly, Walsh covers the topic of respect, completing the trifecta. Among the general aura of the song, the line, “Just leave a message/ maybe I’ll call,” shows that Joe Walsh doesn’t care how many people want to hit him up to jump on a track or hang out, he knows he’s already made that bread and earned his G-pass. Rapper Lil’ Mouse may have paid tribute to this line in his 2012 track “Get Smoked,” which includes the bar “Bitch calling my phone/Leave me alone.”
In the hook, he has backup singers crooning the phrase, “He’s cool,” telling everyone that he can be as ignorant as he wants because he knows everything he touches will eventually be a hit.
“Life’s Been Good,” is a testament to how Walsh knows that he has earned money, hoes, and respect, allowing him to live life like a true gangsta, and letting others know that fact. It’s about as iconic a track to him as “Straight Outta Compton” is to N.W.A. or “Bring Da Ruckus” is to Wu Tang Clan. The track solidifies Ghostface Walsha as the founder and godfather of gangsta rap, whose vision is still influencing rappers of today. Now, in honor of this man, go to Mike’s Dog Shack, grab a forty and some swishers, and blast some Eagles mixtapes from your ghetto blaster.
Luke Furman is a freshman at Ohio University studying journalism. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @LukeFurmanOU.