The West Coast sign, as seen above, is formed by intertwining the middle finger and ring finger. During the 1990s, I first saw my brother making the hand gesture in pictures or whenever he would listen to rap music. When I asked him about the significance of such a sign, he explained that in 1992 rap music began shifting toward gangster themes, with a rift forming between West Coast rappers and East Coast rappers. Prominent artists such as the late Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube started using the sign as a way to affirm their allegiance to the West Coast and represent their gangster way of life.
However, because rap at the time was so closely affiliated with gang styles and motifs, people often misconstrue the gesture as something that might come from actual gang members. In addition, since the West Coast-East Coast feud eventually culminated in the shootings and deaths of two major rap artists Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., people have even more reason to think the West Coast W might have more serious or even dangerous connotations.
Although the West Coast W was made popular at a time when gangs where at high prevalence, I believe the hand sign should not be considered in a negative light. No gangs claim the gesture and even though gangster rap artists used the W, the only rapper who actually hails from a legitimate gang is Snoop Dogg. So then, why do people continue to use the W gesticulation even after the gangster era of rap is over? Because the symbol simply stands for west side, which can apply to virtually anyone anywhere granted they hail from a western orientation. This means it could be the west side of a town, state, or a coast as evident in 1992. Even though the W can be used by almost anyone, Californians who take pride in being from the west coast and who wish to honor the late great rapper Tupac mostly use it. His legacy lives on through the symbol he helped make famous, for he even appears on one of his album covers while gesticulating the W with his fingers.