Hear The Original Version Of California Love & It’s Nuthin’ But A Dre Thang
When Tupac Shakur got out of prison in late 1995, he boarded a private jet and went straight to Death Row Records’ Can-Am Studios in Tarzana, California. After pausing for dinner at Monty’s Steakhouse with his new label-mates, Pac wasted no time beginning the recording of his double-album All Eyez On Me. Now a diamond-certified release, the 2LP was a blockbuster for Valentine’s Day 1996 and Rap music.
A lot was going on at Death Row upon Tupac’s arrival. Tha Dogg Pound had just released their successful Dogg Food album. Snoop Dogg was in trial facing a murder charge. Acts including The Lady Of Rage, Nate Dogg, Danny Boy, and Sam Sneed were suddenly back-burnered to accommodate the new project from Pac, whose early ’95 Me Against The World had reached #1. Daz Dillinger had been working on beats to supply for the new release. Pac would bring longtime musical counterpart Johnny J to the fold. DJ Quik, DJ Pooh, and QDIII would also join the party, as well as the Bay’s Mike Mosley and Rick Rock.
Death Row’s co-founder was also working. The thing many fans were excited about was Dr. Dre handling Tupac’s music. Previously, Pac’s biggest moments had come from works with Digital Underground’s Shock G, 415’s DJ Daryl, Tony Pizarro, and Easy Mo Bee. While Pac had worked with Death Row, it had been limited to a cameo in Dr. Dre & Ice Cube’s “Natural Born Killaz” video, and work on the Dre-overseen Above The Rim soundtrack. It would seem natural that Death Row’s co-founder would be getting work in with its high-profile acquisition.
Within the first month of Pac’s release, he recorded a song called “California Love,” the first single. As legend has it, the song was a remix to a track Dre had already been working on for his Chronic follow-up (rumored first to be called The Chronic II: A New World Odor (Poppa’s Got A Brand New Funk)). At the time, Dre was also teasing a Helter Skelter album with Ice Cube, even wearing hats to promote the reunion of N.W.A.’s former band-mates. Many think that project halted following the death of Eazy-E earlier that year. Reportedly at the request of Suge Knight, the George Clinton-assisted “Can’t C Me” (first allocated for Helter Skelter) was ordered for Pac. Some rumors suggest that vocals were even haphazardly erased to Dre’s chagrin. “California Love,” rumored to be Dre’s next solo single after that year’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin,'” was recorded at the same time as the All Eyez… sessions. Despite whatever initial vision Andre Young had, that song also went to Tupac. Declaring himself “Out on bail, fresh outta jail…,” Pac’s opening words on the song are synonymous with a new, and tragically final chapter in Shakur’s life. The artist who had thrown fingers his whole career was big on the W on the song that celebrates the SoCal lifestyle.
The track features Roger Troutman of Zapp, who goes back to do what he did so well in the early 1980s: making funky riffs on the vocoder. The production flips a Joe Cocker “Woman To Woman” sample used almost a decade earlier by Ced Gee and his Ultramagnetic MC’s, and a vocal allusion to local Electro-Funk staple “West Coast Pop Lock” by Ronnie Hudson & The Street People.
The “California Love” video, part of a famed MTV News segment announcing Pac’s arrival and bond with Death Row, was Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome-inspired. Shot in the desert, the visual starring Pac, Dre, Chris Tucker, Tony Cox, Roger, and George Clinton was bigger than life. A month later, a new mix continued the storyline with its own video, set in more realistic surroundings. This version made Pac’s 2LP.
On All Eyez, it was credited as the “Remix,” giving way to the original to appear elsewhere. In its day, it never day—until compilations followed. A month after All Eyez On Me, Dre left Death Row (and his ownership stake) to launch Aftermath Entertainment. Sadly, one of his loudest critics after leaving was Shakur.
Heads can hear a version of the Dre original (uploaded by DJ Skanadalous courtesy of the 2PacLegacyBoard), with a second verse. “I’m back under ya cap with Zapp / Droppin’ them bomb-ass raps that hit ya like pimp-slaps / So everybody on the dance-floor, the wallflowers got to go, grab yourself a skirt and flow / ‘Cause it’s a grownup party and I’m glad that ya made it / ‘California Love,’ ladies gettin’ faded,” begins Dre in the second verse.
Notably, the MC who wrote Dre’s work is Dayton, Ohio’s J-Flexx, who also penned Dre’s parts on “Natural Born Killaz” and “Keep Their Heads Ringin’.” Upon Dre’s exit, Death Row implemented a tactic they used throughout the late 1990s. Dre’s Aftermath arrival was “Been There Done That,” signaling his change mentally and creatively. Death Row quickly followed with a similar-sounding “Who Been There Who Done That?” where the rapper cried foul. A video followed, mocking Dre. However, Flexx’s Street Scholars album never released.
The original version, nominated for a Grammy in 1997, landed on label compilation albums following Pac’s death and Dre’s exit.
Special shout out to Chad Kiser.