Behind the History and Meaning of Tupac Shakur’s “California Love”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

On “California Love,” Shakur’s verse begins, Out on bail, fresh outta jail, California dreamin’! It’s a classic opening that is still blasted on highways and in dance clubs today.

But what is the history of the track?

Meaning The Production

The meaning of the song is, essentially, love and freedom.

The listener can hear Shakur celebrating his newfound freedom after being released from jail (more on that below). It’s also an ode to his beloved west coast and the state of California, from Sac-town, the Bay Area, and back down!

[RELATED: The 15 Best Tupac Shakur Quotes]

“California Love” features two of the biggest names in rap history, Tupac and producer-rapper Dr. Dre. It also features singer Roger Troutman, singing with his signature “talk box” accouterments, which helped to accentuate and distort his vocals.

As for Dre, he is hyped on his home state, rapping:

Now let me welcome everybody to the Wild Wild West
A state that’s untouchable like Eliot Ness
The track hits your eardrum like a slug to your chest
Pack a vest for your Jimmy in the city of sex
We in that sunshine state where the bomb-ass hemp be
The state where you never find a dance floor empty
And pimps be on a mission for them greens
Lean mean money-making-machines servin’ fiends

The prominent single was released as Shakur’s comeback song after the rapper was released from prison in 1995. Shakur had served eight months in prison on sexual abuse charges, which he claimed were bogus. He was released pending an appeal of his conviction. Following his release, he signed to Marion “Suge” Knight’s label, Death Row Records, and became, sadly and later to his detriment and death, heavily involved in the growing East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Notorious B.I.G.

The remix of “California Love” was featured on Shakur’s 1996 LP, All Eyez on Me. The song hit No. 1 in the United States and topped the charts in Italy, New Zealand, and Sweden. Tupac was posthumously nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1997.

Not Available

For years, the original version of the song was not available on any of Shakur’s or Dre’s studio albums because it was intended for Dr. Dre’s shelved 1997 LP, The Chronic II: A New World Odor (Poppa’s Got A Brand New Funk). Later, it appeared on Shakur’s Greatest Hits LP and on the U.K. version of All Eyez On Me.

Multiple Versions

Dr. Dre produced two songs for Shakur’s All Eyez on Me LP. One is “California Love” and the other is “Can’t C Me.” When Shakur heard the original “California Love” song during a session at Dre’s house studio, he asked the producer to put him on the song.

But there are, reportedly, several versions of “California Love.” The first includes three verses, featuring Dr. Dre. Allegedly, the only copy of that song is in the possession of DJ Jam, who is Snoop Dog’s personal concert DJ.

There is also an additional remix by the producer Laylaw, often wrongly credited to Dre. It’s also been suggested that the alternate version is one of the reasons a wedge formed between Shakur and Dre months after their collaboration.

The original version was meant for Dre’s The Chronic II. The remix was included on Shakur’s All Eyez on Me. Shakur’s lyrics on the song were reportedly written in 15 minutes after he first heard the song at Dre’s home. The weekend the song came out, a video was shot and soon after released.

[RELATED: 5 Songs You Didn’t Know Dr. Dre Wrote for Other Artists]

The original song includes a sample from Joe Cocker’s 1972 song, “Woman to Woman.” The remix version includes a sample from Kleer’s 1984 track, “Intimate Connection.” The chorus for the song—California knows how to party—was sung by Troutman via his talk box and sampled from the 1982 song, “West Coast Poplock,” by Ronnie Hudson & The Street People.

The Music Video (Multiple Versions)

Famously, the video for the song is a play on the 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The idea for the shoot came from Jada Pinkett Smith, an old friend of Shakur’s. She was in fact set to direct the movie but later bowed out. Hype Williams took over the film. It was filmed in El Mirage, California, from November 10-13 in 1995 (but takes place in 2095) and has since become one of the most recognizable rap music videos.

There is a second video based on the remix of the version, too. It’s a continuation of the first video’s story. The premise of the second video is that the first was a nightmare Shakur was having. But now when he wakes up, he finds himself in bed beside a young woman. He calls Dre, who tells him to come over because he’s throwing a party. The rest of the video is a home movie of the party, which welcomes Shakur to Death Row Records (today, incidentally, owned by Snoop).

In a recent performance at Coachella in 2018, Dre. and Eminem performed a medley, including part of “California Love,” which you can see, HERE.

Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

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