Death Row Records changed music ​and​ the music industry. The Los Angeles-based company, formed in 1991 and now celebrating its 30​th​ anniversary, catapulted gangster rap into mainstream consciousness, housed a number of superstars, and showed how successful black-owned rap labels could be.

Owned and operated by Dr. Dre and Marion “Suge” Knight, Death Row Records made an instantand dramatic impact in 1992 when Dr. Dre and his new protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg appeared on the title track of the ​Deep Cover​ soundtrack. Death Row built on that promise with its first full-length project, Dr. Dre’s ​The Chronic​. The album changed the sound and the direction of rapas a whole and gangster rap in particular, as Dr. Dre flipped the aggressive, loud, and angry feel of the music into something that was crisp and sometimes smooth, almost inviting. Similarly, Dr.Dre largely eschewed the gruff, menacing type of delivery he flexed on much of N.W.A’s material for a tone that was still muscular and powerful, but much less aggressive. Snoop Doggy Dogg, who appeared on more than half of ​The Chronic​’s 15 selections, rapped on several songswith a laid-back, conversational presentation that was as distinctive as it was chill.

One such track was the lead single “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang.” The song arrived with a breez ysonic vibe, ditching the menace of the ghetto streets for the feel-good vibes of a summer barbeque, an aura that carried over to the song’s landmark music video. ​The Chronic​’s other singles “Let Me Ride” and “__ Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)” showcased bright and heavy funk sonics, respectively. On the former, Dre and Snoop detail a day cruising in the streets of Los Angeles, while on the latter they admonish their rivals.

Death Row showed it was no fluke with the October 1993 release of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut single, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” The tune was as much a coronation of Snoop Dogg as the new face of rap in general and gangster rap specifically as it was a celebration of Snoop Dogg himself. The song’s uptempo, funky vibe was deliberately fun and celebratory, and it rocketed up the charts. The Dr. Dre-produced song hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chartand No. 8 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart, identifying it as the eighth most popular song that week in any genre of music, not just rap.

The song was the perfect set up for the Long Beach rapper’s debut LP. Released November1993, the Dr. Dre-produced ​Doggystyle​ made history by being the first debut album in music history to enter the Billboard charts at No. 1. In other words, despite never having released an album, Snoop Dogg had the best-selling album in all of music the first week ​Doggystyle​ arrived in stores.

With the release of its first two albums, Death Row was now rap’s preeminent company. In 1994, the imprint expanded to soundtracks. The ​Above The Rim​ soundtrack sold more than 2 million copies on the strength of Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate” and The Lady Of Rage’s “Afro Puffs.” Also in 1994, Death Row Records took the innovative step (in the rap world, at least) of releasing a ​Murder Was The Case​ short film and soundtrack. The latter moved 2 million units on the strength of former N.W.A members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube’s reunion for the searing “Natural Born Killaz” and Tha Dogg Pound’s pulsating “What Would U Do?”

The hits kept coming. In 1995, Tha Dogg Pound’s ​Dogg Food​ album moved 2 million thanks to the smash singles “Let’s Play House” and “New York, New York,” which showcased group members Kurupt and Daz’s smooth and hardcore sides, respectively.

Already on top of the musical world, Death Row had a breakthrough year in 1996 thanks in large part to its newest act, 2Pac. The massive “California Love” single produced by Dr. Dre and featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman stands as one of the decade’s most enduring songs. 2Pac’s first Death Row album, 1996’s ​All Eyez On Me,​ spawned the hit singles “How Do U Want It” with KC and JoJo, and “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” with Snoop Dogg, on its way to earning Diamond certification, meaning that it was 10-times platinum.