Updated: Feb 21, 2020
Famous rappers come from all over the world, so you never know where you’re going to find the next big thing. You can be from a small suburban and be the best thing nobody’s heard (yet). However, you’re never going to have the same advantages and opportunities in these cities than you will in some of hip-hop’s most famous cities.
It’s an unfortunate fact that I’ve came to realize over the years. As a writer and a lover of music, rap has always made sense for me. However, some cities just won’t embrace the idea like others. I want up-and-coming rappers to have the best opportunities they can possibly have, so I came up with a list of some of the best cities to be recognized in. I hope it helps you find the best places to move to gain rap success.
8. Memphis, Tennessee
Famous rappers from the area: Three 6 Mafia, Juicy J, BlocBoy JB, Young Dolph, and Yo Gotti.
Underground hip-hop gained prominence in the early 1990’s in the form of horrorcore in Memphis. This macabre sub-genre of rap, which was spearheaded by Three 6 Mafia, often features low tempo beats, quick flows, and deep basslines. Another rap group from the time period, 8Ball and MJG, brought an unprecedented bout of lyricism from the south. These sounds and influences make up much of what Memphis rap is today, proving that more than just blues can survive here.
7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Famous rappers from the area: Eve, Chiddy Bang, Lil’ Dicky, Meek Mill, Asher Roth, and Will Smith.
Because Philadelphia is just 90 miles southwest of the music mega-center of New York City, it created an area of undeniable hip-hop history. Will Smith and Jeff Townes (DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince) began to popularize rap music in the area in the mid 1980’s. The Roots brought about a unique flair to the hip-hop world when they combined rap and jazz in the 1990’s. The underground scene still thrives in Philadelphia, and websites such as PhillyRap helps local artists gain recognition.
6. New Orleans, Louisiana
Famous rappers from the area: Lil Wayne, Birdman, Kevin Gates, Jay Electronica, Master P, and Juvenile.
From the mid 1990’s to the early 2000’s, No Limit Records, headed by Master P, owned the hip-hop scene in New Orleans alongside the likes of Cash Money Millionaires, best known now for Lil’ Wayne. These independent record labels helped bring underground work mainstream as the area was becoming popular for a type of hip-hop called “bounce”, which was known for its fast beat and random party-influenced shouting. Sadly, Hurricane Katrina had a majorly negative effect on the scene, with many area rappers relocating. New Orleans rap isn’t what it used to be, but its history keeps it alive.
5. Houston, Texas
Famous rappers from the area: Baby Bash, Chamillionaire, Kirko Bangz, Megan Thee Stallion, and Travis Scott.
Founded in 1987, Rap-A-Lot Records became the first record label in the south to focus primarily on the genre. The Geto Boys were the record label’s claim to fame, and they made heads turn as people finally considered the south as a rising hip-hop hub. The label is still operating out of Houston today. Perhaps the most famous sound that comes from Houston is the late DJ Screw’s “chopped and screwed” method, where music was slowed down and sounded more like storytelling than racing over a beat.
Writer Lance Scott Walker extensively covers the world of Houston rap in three books: Houston Rap, Houston Rap Tapes, and Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip Hop. In Oral History, Walker interviews rappers, DJ's, and record label producers to dig deeper on the topic than in his previous books. Each book provides an up-close look to the scene that you won't find anywhere else.
4. Detroit, Michigan
Famous rappers from the area: Eminem, Big Sean, Royce Da 5’9, Dej Loaf, Kash Doll, and Proof.
Areas of great poverty often produce some of the best art, and Detroit is a prime example of that. One of the most celebrated rap artists of all time, Eminem, dropped his first album Infinite in 1996. It didn’t shoot to fame, but it wasn’t long until his demo was in the hands of Dr. Dre, where magic was made in the form of the Slim Shady LP. Along with Eminem, his band D12 and frequent collaborator Royce Da 5’9 also hail from Detroit. To propel the Detroit rap scene into future success, rapper Big Sean has opened a recording studio at Cass Tech High School.
3. Atlanta, Georgia
Famous rappers from the area: 21 Savage, Akon, 2 Chainz, Childish Gambino, Gucci Mane, Ludacris, T.I., Ying Yang Twins, and Outkast.
Getting a bit of a late (but great) start, rap music in Atlanta didn’t quite take off until the mid 1990’s when Outkast burst upon the scene. However, it wasn’t until Ludacris began his wildly successful run in the 2000’s that the city was truly bustling. World famous record producer L.A. Reid began his record label LaFace Records alongside Babyface in the 1980’s, which eventually housed Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Recordings. Today, up-and-coming rappers in Atlanta have the chance to be signed by Ludacris’s Disturbing Tha Peace, or Lil Jon’s BME Recordings.
2. Los Angeles, California
Famous rappers from the area: Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, Tyga, and Snoop Dogg.
Los Angeles and the surrounding area has a history of rap dating back to the late 1970’s when two DJ’s came together to perform at local clubs and events before going their separate ways. One of them, DJ Alonzo Williams, went on to form the World Class Wreckin’ Cru while the other began a mobile DJ team called Uncle Jamm’s Army. Fast forward to 1988 and one of the most popular rap albums, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, was released. While Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren were stirring up controversy with F**k Tha Police, Tupac Shakur was gaining his footing with 2Pacalypse Now.
Tupac became a driving force in getting the city to recognize police brutality, poverty, and racism. In 1992, a solo Dr. Dre released The Chronic with Death Row Records led by Suge Knight. It wasn’t long before Snoop Doggy Dogg graced the scene with Doggystyle, and Cyprus Hill started to impact the community with their debut album Cyprus Hill. Unfortunately, the feud between the west coast and east coast resulted in violence, which eventually led to the death of Tupac Shakur in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.
More recently, Nipsey Hussle, YG, and Kendrick Lamar have led the rap initiative on the west coast, and they have not disappointed. In early 2019, Nipsey was killed by gunshot in a parking lot. He was an active member of the Los Angeles community and a hard loss to face. Movies such as Straight Outta Compton offer a more personal look into west coast rap and its impact in the 1990's.
1. New York City
Famous rappers from the area: 50 Cent, The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Nicki Minaj, Nas, Jay-Z, and Raekwon.
New York City is known as the home of hip-hop, kicking off in the early 1970’s. Rap from this region is highly regarded for its focus on lyricism and wordplay. In the early 1990’s, NYC rapper Nas debuted his popular work Illmatic, and the Wu-Tang Clan released Enter the Wu-Tang. The Notorious B.I.G. also gained recognition at this time under the leadership of P. Diddy (Sean Combs) with Bad Boy Records. Just months after west coast rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down, The Notorious B.I.G. faced the same fate and was killed at the age of 24. Documentaries such as Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders cover both deaths further.
Today, artists like Jay-Z are still releasing music, and newer artists like A$AP Rocky, A Boogie With Da Hoodie, and Cardi B are digging their feet into hip-hop’s rugged surface. Many rappers pack their bags and head to New York City because of the various ways to network and a plethora of night clubs to perform at. As you may be aware, the city of New York is where dreams come true.
These aforementioned cities offer great opportunities to new artists, but the best advice I can give you no matter where you live is to perfect your craft. Also, don’t pick up your life and move unless you know this is what you want to do, and you have the patience and resilience to make it happen.
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