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Looking Back At "We're All In the Same Gang"

When Hip-Hop Had Enough: "We're All In the Same Gang"

In 1990, the West Coast All-Stars released the seminal single "We're All In The Same Gang." The song was an effort to reach the youth and curb the violence that was plaguing so many communities in California.

Michael Concepcion was one of the original Crips, and he was adamant about using his influence to create something to counter the gangbanging that had become pervasive in Los Angeles. It was reported that, by the late 1980s, there were more than 450 street gangs, with over 36,000 members, operating in Los Angeles. Additionally, the National Institute of Justice's Police Chief Journal reported:

"In 1989, there were 1,113 drive-by shooting incidents, accounting for 1,675 victims. The Los Angeles Police Department estimates that up to half of gang victims are not even remotely associated with any form of gang activity."

Concepcion had been paralyzed from a gunshot, and saw a way to try and use his clout as one of the most respected godfathers in the Crips to bring together rap stars to help raise awareness and reach the youth. In 1988, "Self-Destruction" had been the brainchild of the Stop The Violence Movement, famously started by KRS-One after the murder of Boogie Down Productions co-founder Scott La Rock, and amidst rising violence at rap concerts. "We're All In The Same Gang" would address California's gangbanging culture, and it would prominently feature the West Coast's stars of the time.

Concepcion would tap Dr. Dre of N.W.A. to produce the track. Ruthless Records heavily factored into the success of "...Same Gang." In addition to Dre's production, Eazy and MC Ren from N.W.A. make appearances on the song; as well as label stars Above The Law, and J.J. Fad appears in the music video. Ruthless co-founder Jerry Heller wrote in his memoir about the call from Concepcion that led to the label's involvement in what became "We're All In the Same Gang."

"I got this idea, Jerry," Concepcion reportedly told Heller. "I'm trying to broker this peace deal between the sets, you know. Because this killing has got to stop." The high profile contributions of Ruthless Records meant that one of the West Coast's biggest stars wouldn't be involved with "We're All In The Same Gang." A now-solo Ice Cube isn't on the song or in the video. The South Central native was newly-departed from N.W.A., and on the cusp of one of Hip-Hop's most infamous feuds. Ice Cube's absence from "...Same Gang" was conspicuous, to say the least; but Ice-T participated in the track and would later state that it wasn't anyone else's place to judge or comment on the disagreement between Cube and his former label and bandmates in N.W.A.

"Once N.W.A. and them had their little situation, we all stepped back," Ice-T told Soren Baker in 2020. "That was a family feud. It was nobody's business. Me, Ren, Cube and all of us—we used to tour together, so we were all friends. But how do I get involved in a family feud."

Over a flip of a James Brown instrumental that had been included on the Godfather of Soul's 1988 compilation Motherlode, and "I'm Mad" by Pleasure (along with Syl Johnson's "Different Strokes"), N.W.A., Young MC, Tone Loc, King Tee, Body & Soul, Above The Law, J.J. Fad, Michel'le, Digital Underground, MC Hammer and Ice-T contributed verses about the violence in the community. The "West Coast All-Stars" (as the collective was dubbed) would also perform the single on a memorable episode of The Arsenio Hall Show.

"I think '...All In the Same Gang' and 'Self Destruction' made an impact," Ice-T said in 2020. "If for nothing else, to show that all the rappers on the West Coast were together, and could be on the same track, and united and not beefing and fighting with each other. Anytime you show solidarity, it's good."

But the rap legend has no misgivings about how much songs like "...Same Gang" helped shift the violence and change hearts and minds of bangers in the community.

"As far as changing things, it's an effort," Ice said in 2020. "All you can do is try to make an effort. Somebody who's hardcore, locked off into the set, bangin'—you ain't movin' them. But you might catch a kid before he goes in and make him think that it's not that cool. You have to make the effort. You have to be applauded for the effort."

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In the immediate aftermath of "We're All In The Same Gang," there was a tremendous amount of positivity towards the project. The song would earn Dr. Dre his first Grammy nomination; it was up for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group in 1991. "...Same Gang" wouldn't take home the statue (it lost to the title track from Quincy Jones' Back On The Block.) And the much-publicized peace treaty between the Crips and Bloods in 1993 seemed to be a carryover from the impact of of "We're All In The Same Gang."

The song was also noteworthy for not being just a showcase of "gangsta" or street rappers. From poppier artists like Loc and Young MC, to more notorious rap acts like N.W.A. and Ice-T, everyone was contributing to the cause. And it was welcomed, because everyone as affected.

"When you [grew] up in So. California, in that era, whether you was not in a gang, you most likely from the neighborhood and you were affiliated with that gang," Cold 187Um (aka Big Hutch) told Soren Baker in 2021. "If you were Def Jef and you lived in this area, you were affiliated with that gang. You were impacted by it, I don't care what you were rapping about. If you was Tone Loc, and you was from this area of the city, you were affiliated with that gang."

It should be noted that a single like "...Same Gang" (and it's East Coast counterpart "Self Destruction") was largely an attempt from Hip-Hop notables to address the violence that was gripping their community and audience. Today, there are similar concerns, as day-to-day headlines emphasize the dire circumstances facing so many Black youth. And the recent murders of notable rappers like Takeoff, PNB Rock, Pop Smoke, Nipsey Hussle and so many others seem to point to a spiking wave of violence that stalks a generation.

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