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The State of U.S. Hip-Hop

May 22, 2013
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Hip-Hop, once consider a fad that wasn’t supposed to last long, has not only become a staple genre in music but a global wide phenomenon. With it being the phenomenon that is, Hip-Hop have taken elements from other genres and experiences from new areas other than New York – such as LA, Atlanta, DC, Philly, Houston and even new hotspots such as Canada and Pittsburgh. With each city brings new styles, beat rhythms and flow, and it’s elements such as these that make diversify Hip-Hop throughout the world.

Well let’s start with the Mecca of Hip-Hop in the five boroughs: Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan. These five boroughs have been embedded with the culture and every fan knows what these areas represent without even thinking about it. New York has been know for using funk and soul samples such as James Brown and Parliament Funkadelics, and adding a boom bap sound along with the clever wordplay, great delivery and storytelling in the lyrics. This blueprint made rappers such as KRS-One, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick and LL Cool J are legends in the game. These emcees ushered in this music source and by the time the Golden Era came around, rappers like Nas, Notorious B.I.G and Jay-Z, took it to a new level. Big L started the Harlem movement and after his untimely passing, Harlem rappers Mase and Cam’Ron ushered in a smooth delivery with New York’s slick talking style that gravitated millions. When you look at New York today, the sound is expanding further with A$AP Mob using styles from other cities such as Cleveland, Houston and other genres of music but the boom bap lives in Joey BadA$$ and Action Bronson, who represent a different era in Hip-Hop. Safe to say, New York is making a comeback.

There was a time when Hip-Hop took its talents West as artist such as Ice-T and groups like N.W.A. became pioneers in the game and ushered in what we know as ‘gangsta rap’. These ferocious lyrics captivated the ears of the Hip-Hop fiend and struck fear into corporate America. As crazy and ignorant as the lyrics were, this was the soundtrack to the LA Riots as well as the Rodney King trial which painted a vivid visual of life was on the west side. After the breakup of N.W.A, the West sound was divided as funk was introduced and started influencing sounds and transitioned into the flows of The Chronic, and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle became more appealing than lyrics because it was how you said it and not what you said. Although the lyrics were there with Ice Cube and E-40, it wasn’t until 2Pac broke out with his heartfelt, uplifting rhymes that West Coast sound found its balance. As the West died down after Pac’s death, rappers such as Game brought it back to prominence with the help of Dr. Dre. Today there are several rappers who are keeping the West alive and kicking such as the TDE movement (which includes Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul & Jay Rock) as well as others like Nipsey Hussle and Fashawn. If you still want to have fun, the West also have artists like YG, IAMSU and Problem who are taking over with their well-rounded and prime persona flexed with flawless exhibition of story-telling lyrics over a fire beat. These artists possess the appeal class themselves as power-players in Hip Hop.

As the West had Hip-Hop in the palm of its hands, the South quietly took shape and inevitably became the new Mecca for not only Hip-Hop but black culture as well. Houston started the movement with the The Geto Boys with the classic “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”. This was a statement to Hip-Hop that the South had something to say and they could be just as good as the rest. Coming from Houston, they ushered in the Chopped & Screwed style which slows down the music. They also introduced “sizzurp”, turning DJ Screw and Pimp C into legends. Houston has always been a problem lyrically with lyricist such as Scarface from Geto Boys, Bun B and Z-RO and been hit makers with UGK, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall and Mike Jones.

Even though H-Town may have alerted the Hip-Hop culture that there was a new sound on the come-up it was Atlanta that transitioned rap into another level. The Dungeon Family (OutKast and Goodie Mob) became a huge success with hits like “Player’s Ball” and “Soul Food” respectively. Even with these dope rappers, ATL took over with something new; an introduction of Kris Kross. The thought of kids successfully rapping had never entered into the minds of Hip-Hop heads, and when their album topped charts, this paved the way for future stars like Bow Wow and Romeo. From that point on, Jermaine Dupri became a fixture in the Atlanta music scene creating hit after hit. In the early 2000′s with OutKast still doing well, new rappers such as Ludacris and T.I. began to represent a new era of the South. Luda represented as a Southern lyricist producing Word Of Mouf while T.I. introduced Trap Muzik. This in turn created a lane for future stars like Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and others to be successful in the game today. The South has continued their dominance by branching out in new cities like New Orleans, Miami and Memphis. These cities are home to some of the biggest moments in rap history such as Master P’s “No Limit”, YMCMB, 2 Live Crew, Trick Daddy and Three 6 Mafia. Today we hear rappers like 2 Chainz, Flocka, Future, J. Cole, Trinidad James and Big K.R.I.T., just to name a few, represent what the south is all about. From the party music and Trap Muzik, real lyricism and creativity is what made the South the biggest force in Hip-Hop history.

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Other areas that may get slept on in Hip-Hop but have made serious contributions are the Midwest. Each major section of the Midwest from Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis made significant contributions during the early 90′s till this very day; Chicago being the most notable in the Midwest for its rapper’s lyrical ability starting with Common. Twista was also one of the emcees who did not invent his own style but created a signature fast flow that became his staple sound. Then, in the early 2000s, Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco brought to the table how lyricism and a new sense of style can impact rap. The style they introduced was the standard sound of Chicago until recently, when another new wave emerged with rappers like Rockie Fresh, Chance the Rapper, Chief Keef and Lil Durk. Cleveland has been known for its fast paced flows ushered in by the legendary Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Their melody in rap changed how we view rappers and has influenced some of today’s most acclaimed artists such as A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa. After their reigns came to an end, you really did not hear of anyone out of Cleveland until Kid Cudi came along and brought his partner Chip Tha Ripper or King Chip, as he is now known to create a new wave of ‘trippy hipster’ music. This new style had the beats of an alternative artist but the flows of a loner i.e. solo dolo. Even more recently, Machine Gun Kelly has taken the throne as hottest Cleveland rapper and it’s up to him to see where he takes it from here.

Detroit is home to some of the best spitters of all time. Since the days of Kid Rock, Detroit have always brought a different flavour which is heavily influenced by the infamous 8 Mile. Although Kid Rock made some noise, it wasn’t until Eminem took the game by storm in the late 90s that really put Detroit on the map. Em became the highest selling rapper of all time and he is arguably the greatest rapper to ever spit a 16. With Em, Royce Da 5’9 and D12 became stars and representatives as D-Town’s best. After them, there was no rapper to take the torch until Big Sean made his presence known just a few years ago. St. Louis which has been quiet lately, was at one point it the hottest city in the rap game. Nelly created the opportunity with Country Grammar followed by Chingy, Murphy Lee, Huey and Jibbs. Their mainstream sound captivated America causing them to sell countless records. Nellyville defined that sound.

When you talk Hip-Hop you can’t forget PA; the city of Brotherly Love has held its place as one of the best breeders for rappers. Known for its ferocious bars and wordplay, rappers such as Beanie Siegel, Freeway, Cassidy and Eve have become legends off this. Their ability to freestyle and live up to bar for bar made them household names. Even artists like Meek Mill embody the way Philly has been brought up. His style is so passionate that rap fans have to love him. Also, one cannot forget this about the Burgh – since Wiz Khalifa’s popularity skyrocketed only a few years ago, Pittsburgh has become an area to scout talent. As Wiz was making a name for himself, fellow Rostrum labelmate Mac Miller sprung up and has made independent cool. His debut album Blue Slide Park became the first independent Number 1 album since Tha Dogg Pound. Pittsburgh draws influences from all the other cities creating a sound that is experimental, melodic and smooth.

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Canada has entered the realm of rap mainly because of Drake. The OVO/YMCMB phenomenon claims half the radio station’s playlist in America and Drake was the first rapper to break the surface. Look out for fellow Toronto rapper Tory Lanez to make noise as well as OVO signee PartyNextDoor and OVO affiliate P. Reign. Their choice of slow smooth beats with the combination of rapping and singing makes it a combination that cannot lose at the moment. The Weeknd, although no longer connected to the OVO conglomerate, have also undoubtedly played a role in placing Canada in the centre of the urban world.

These geographical locations continue to have an impact in the game of Hip-Hop as the sound and trends evolve. The continued pattern is that each region adds something new to the table. So the question is… what sound will blow up next?


Written by: Jerrell Leeper (@DapperJ)

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