Diversity within the genre of hip-hop is a luxury not often appreciated. Similar to other music genres, different subsets have distinguished themselves, but rap is the only to have sounds exclusive to location. Different cities adapt their respective preferences, whether it be rhyme delivery, use of inflection, utilized tone, or even subject matter. Although every city has its exceptions, most tend to follow the mold created by the surrounding environment. Just as distance between areas allow the development of different cultures and behaviors, rap has its own separate corners each directly influenced by local issues and lifestyles.
Houston: Houston is widely known for its heavy utilization of the boom-bap sound. Known for the drunken quality of its rhythms, producers often use slower drum kits never going past the quarter note level. One may ask, how did this slurred and trippy audiology establish itself in Houston? One direct cause may be the glorification of lean. Lean is a concoction ideally made up of prescribed cough syrup (promethazine codeine) and vodka or sprite. The effects include feelings of euphoria along with motor-skill impairment and lethargy to the point of feeling dissociated with one’s physical body. Houston rappers wanted to channel this same euphoria into their music, creating the slow boom-bap sound that Houston has come to embody. This is seen in work such as Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ Dirty” as well as in the discographies of artists like Paul Wall, Pimp C, Mr. Mike, Baby Bash, and Kirko Bangz.
Eric B and Rakim of New York
New York: New York, the birthplace of hip-hop, has one of the genre’s richest histories. It is undeniably difficult to draw parallels between groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Pro Era. However, it would be a crime to ignore the fact that the city of New York itself is central to what New York rappers talk about. Hip-Hop in the Big Apple is territorial. Pro Era went so far as to create the Beast Coast movement. New York artists are constantly shouting out their respective blocks, boroughs, or neighborhoods. Any rapper from the South Bronx will make it known that’s his hood. The same goes for Jamaica, Harlem, Flatbush, and so on. This characteristic can be attributed to the fact that anyone raised within New York City lives and breathes alongside the city itself. The city is its own being, and why wouldn’t one mention a childhood friend?
Compton: Compton is the site of hip-hop’s mainstream revolution, headed by the N.W.A., who made the most of their opportunities with their raw honesty in the 90’s. Ever since, Compton has sought to speak on the issues plaguing its citizens as accurately as possible. Whether it be political injustices or the issue of growing gang violence, Compton artists put it all out on their tracks. This sense of social and political awareness is unique to the MAAD City, and even today’s artists from the area have sought to uphold the example set by N.W.A. With artists like Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad, Jay Rock, The Game, and Vince Staples all verbally bleeding out on their instrumentals, it is safe to say Compton hip-hop is in good hands.
Bay Area: Bay Area rap has only recently grown in popularity, seeing how most Bay Area artists are underground, or still on the come up. This particular region has developed a culture very different from the traditional urban scene, making use of a more breathy tone and allowing the instrumentals to be the central point of attention. These more ‘withdrawn’ vocals are a result of the welcoming and pristine appearance of suburban environments. Bay Area artists try to implement these misconceptions into their works. This being said, artists like Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Sage the Gemini, IAmSu!, and the HBK Gang are all at the forefront of the Bay Area’s rise, speaking to the flaws of suburbia and the more subtle self-destruction enacted within this perceived paradise.
Chicago: It would not be far from the truth if one said that Chi-town is married to the glorification of violence. Chicago is referred to as “Chiraq” by its own residents. If that doesn’t speak for itself, it would help to bear witness to the content put out by Chicago’s artists. Chief Keef, Lil Durk, BJ the Chicago Kid, Fredo Santana and countless others constantly give voice to a central theme of firearms. Hip-hop has always been known to encourage pride and ego. Chicago rappers pride themselves in their aggressive natures, as that is the means to validation in the environment. It doesn’t help that access to guns is always an inviting opportunity, seeing how even children in their pre-teens walk around strapped. However, it should be noted that many other artists have made an active effort to go against the mold set by the city. These include Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Lupe Fiasco, and Common.
Atlanta artist, Raury, performing.
Atlanta: Atlanta could be considered hip-hop’s “lab” or testing ground. Especially as of recent, Atlanta has been testing the boundaries of the genres. Fortunately, this has not hurt the success of the city’s artists. Artists like Future, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan have patented the ‘rap mumble’, which entails low and rapid vocals that could be difficult to understand. Other artists and groups like Migos have made use of the machine-gun flow. This style has rappers spitting at a set rhythm with very few breaks in the flow. And then there are those who implement southern soul into the genre, creating a smooth and effortless vibe. Big K.R.I.T. and Raury are great examples of this subset within genres. Taking all this into consideration, Atlanta is easily rap’s most diverse city, and collaborations between its artists are consistently revolutionary.
Hip-hop, as a collective, cannot be denied its diversity. Progression and additions to the genre are guaranteed and will continue to satisfy the cravings of hungry listeners.