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  • Charlie Taylor

#5E Top 5: The GOAT Hip-Hop City

So I was chilling one fine evening. Sipping some tea, having a YouTube session, you know how it is. And I came across something by a channel that I have started watching recently.

Justin Hunte's channel "The Company Man" regularly posts snippets of his talks with radio personality Rude Jude on his radio show "All Out Show". They talk about Hip-Hop at length and they provide very entertaining arguments. The people that call the show sometimes steal the show, such as when they talked about the Kevin Hart scandal a few months back.

But the one I saw the other day, the one I wanted to talk about, was this:

Jude & Hunte were joined by rapper and Compton native Problem and the conversation created was "What is the greatest Rap city?". D'you know what I love? I'm not sure about you, but I have never thought of this conversation!

I've heard best State, best region. But never a City in particular. Such a great argument, hiding in plain sight. So, I thought I would do my own Top 5 of Hip-Hop cities.

I kept my criteria simple. Firstly, the number of artists hailing from there and the quality of those artists. And secondly, the influence that the city has on Hip-Hop culture. So, let's start off throwing some cities out there that didn't make my Top 5, call them honourable mentions if you like.

Newark, New Jersey

Now, I asked followers of the 5th Element FB page (why don't you become one if you haven't yet.) if they had any thoughts on what is the best Hip-Hop City and I got an answer from Luis Reyes where he threw up Newark, New Jersey. Very dark horse pick! But considering some of the people that hail from Newark, should they?

Redman, The Fugees, Rah Digga, Poor Righteous Teachers, Naughty By Nature, Fetty Wap. That's not a bad set and we could've given more. The Fugees are one of my favourite Hip-Hop groups ever and Redman has been steadily spitting bars for over 2 decades but the city itself, in my opinion, lacks in the influence category.

Memphis, Tennessee

A very underrated city that doesn't get love as an Hip-Hop City. Partly because Memphis and Tennessee as a whole is a Country Music hotbed, but nevertheless, it deserves a shout.

Only three Hip-Hop acts have won an Oscar. (Four if you count Jamie Foxx) Eminem, Common... And Three Six Mafia. The group hail from Memphis, getting an Oscar for the song they created for the 05 film "Hustle & Flow" starring Terrace Howard and Taraji P Henson. That alone is a feat in itself. They practically invented horrorcore, went all in on the Crunk era and had so many affiliates they could rival Wu-Tang for the sheer number of "honorary members".

It's not just 36M, have to shout out MJG and 8Ball for being the pioneers of Rap in Memphis. Lyrics, beats. They were essential listening if you were into Southern Rap back in the 90's.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Jazz central. New Orleans. It's Hip-Hop history is deeply rooted, but didn't really take off until the mid 90's. It didn't make my Top 5, but it's a City definitely worth talking about it.

With NOLA and Hip-Hop, all you need to know is two things. Cash Money and No Limit. Those two labels put New Orleans Rap on the map. Master P, Birdman, Slim, Hot Boyz, Mannie Fresh. Not as many names as the big cities, but big names nonetheless. No Limit were the originators, but Cash Money took commercial success to a higher level.

And in these days, even though No Limit has moved to California, NOLA Rap still has representatives. Jay Electronica, Curren$y, but with people like Lil Wayne flying the flag for New Orleans, it is still a city that can be a destination in the ultimate whistle stop tour of Hip-Hop.

Houston, Texas

Now we're getting into the big time. The cities that are worthy of Top 5. But alas, there are only five and some have to get left out. Sorry, Houston. But let's not get it twisted, you can definitely make a case for Houston being Top 5.

Where do we start? Well how about the first legitimately successful Southern Hip-Hop act and how they hailed from Houston. I'm talking about the Geto Boys! You could say that Scarface, Bushwick Bill & Willie D put, not just Houston on the Hip-Hop map, but Southern Rap as a whole! With "Grip It! On That Other Level" and "We Can't Be Stopped", those two albums are still some of the best albums in Southern Rap history. As we know, Scarface went solo and has made a genuine case of being the GOAT. Another notch for H-Town. (That's for another article)

We also can't talk about Houston without talking about the Crunk Era. UGK were Houston's Crunk kings and for better or worse, we have to mention "Drank" culture. Something that is all too familiar in contemporary Rap. With the death of DJ Screw, "Drank" hasn't lost steam since being popularised in the early 2000's. Whether you drink it yourself or consider it a black spot in Hip-Hop history. The culture and the sound Screw created from it has been around for over a decade now.

Chicago, Illinois

It pained me to leave Chicago out. But that's why Top 5's are always great, because there's always someone/something worthy outside the five. Chicago is another City that can get in, but not in mine I'm afraid.

Common was the first to rep Chi-Town, flows for days, beautiful stories of the streets. He was the pioneer for future Chicago rappers and boy did they come. With Twista popularising "Chopper" style, Da Brat, Do or Die and Crucial Conflict repping Chicago as well.

And then came Kanye... One of the most recognisable faces and names in music history. In Kanye's shadow, Chance The Rapper, master lyricist Lupe Fiasco and also Rhymefest are doing their thing.

And we can't mention Chicago without the rise of Drill Music. Which has declined a little, but it shows that Chicago has been a real melting pot of viewpoints and descriptions of day-to day life.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ah, Philly. Home of the 76ers, Cheesesteak and the word "Jawn". Their Rap history runs deep. With being neighbours to New York, it was bound to become a Hip-Hop hotbed. Shout out to Lady B, one of the first female rappers.

In the mid/late 80's, Schoolly D, became the pioneer of what I call "Real Rap". Realism in the lyrics, talking about what the rapper sees on a daily basis. That influenced Ice-T and Ice-T influenced artists such as NWA. So, you could say. Without Philly's own Schoolly D, the West Coast wouldn't gain the edgy tone that it was known for.

Fresh Prince & Jazzy Jeff, taking Rap and making it accessible to all. Winning several Grammy's in the process.

Can't forget The Legendary Roots Crew! Revolutionising Hip-Hop with a full band behind lyrical leader Black Thought. There's no sound that is as unique as The Roots.

Eve, Jedi Mind Tricks, Beanie Sigel, Cassidy and of course Meek Mill. Philly has always had at least one torch bearer. And they've always been raw and real. Philly Grit on wax.


It was tough trying to create this one, but I think I'm happy with it. If there are any cities I've missed out overall or you have an opinion on what your Top 5 is, please let me know.

Bay Area gets into the Top 5

5. Bay Area, (Oakland/San Francisco) California

Oh yes! We kick off the Top 5 with the forever real Bay Area/Oakland. Too $hort started the Bay Area wave, with that unique voice and his favourite word. (I know you just said it out loud) he brought the bay to the national Hip-Hop stage.

From then on, Digital Underground, with a young 2Pac, repped Oak Town. Along with Hieroglyphics, The Coup, Luniz and many, many, many more.

I had to give a whole paragraph to E-40, the embodiment of Bay Area Rap. Not a lyrical genius, but to consistently drop heat for over 3 decades is something to applaud.

And that is what's so interesting about the Bay. Other than Pac, lyrics weren't the flavour. Instead, it's the Bay Area sound that we all know. You could say that some LA acts took the Bay Area sound and made it theirs.

It was unique but universal. From funk samples to that dark bass that makes you pull a face as if you can smell something nasty. Bay Area has inspired rappers and beatmakers across both coasts, you might not realise it, but it's there.

The D gets number 4

4. Detroit, Michigan


Number 4 in my Top 5 is "The D". Unlike the number 5 city and the phenomenon that originally put Detroit on the map, (Motown) Detroit doesn't really have a definite sound like NY's boom bap or the South's Trap, but in the lack of unique sound, Detroit makes up for it in BARS!

Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, Royce Da 5"9, Slum Village, Obie Trice, Proof, Big Sean, Trick-Trick, Black Milk, Danny Brown, a legendary underground Battle Rap circuit. We might as well call Detroit BARS CENTRAL!

And how can I say Detroit doesn't have a distinct sound? Why not just say that J Dilla IS the sound of Detroit? I'm happy to say that, he's that legendary.

Detroit have held and honed a dark & dirty grit that only Detroit natives can depict on wax. Detroit VS Everybody indeed.

The ATL gets on the podium

3. Atlanta, Georgia

On the podium is The A. T. L.

I know that old heads hate most Rap today, you can thank Atlanta for most of it. If this Top 5 was about right now instead of All-Time, Atlanta will be number 1. The Atlanta sound (which I said in a previous article that it could be traced back to Zaytoven) is everything. The Trap sound is everything.

Granted, compared to the other cities, Atlanta didn't really get on the map (other than Kriss Cross) until OutKast dropped "Southernplayalisticcadillacmusik". From then on, Atlanta has been a force in Hip-Hop. OutKast practically carried the national reputation of Atlanta for over a decade. Other than Goodie Mob & Jermaine Dupri, there really wasn't anyone else on the national stage.

Then came the new millennium and finally some new blood. And boy, did the floodgates open. In the 2000's alone. Ludacris, TI, Jeezy, Lil Jon, Gucci Mane all took over. And I won't even name the present ones because they're all on the charts right now. You could say that Atlanta has been the mainstay of mainstream Hip-Hop from 05 to present. They SNATCHED the mainstream torch from New York. Everybody wanted Crunk in the 2000's and everybody wants Trap now. They have created the two latest "Waves" and for that, on top of OutKast's unprecedented carrying of an entire city, Atlanta gets the number 3 spot.

The City of Angels, Number 2

2. Los Angeles, California

I think it would be silly not to put LA in the Top 2. We know what the Top 2 should be, it's up to you where you put them. For me, LA is number two but I wouldn't be mad if you put them number one.

Let's just understand how influential Los Angeles and the artists cultivated in them. The aforementioned Ice-T was the original, spitting what he saw, the "Reality Rap" may have started with Philly's Schoolly D, but "The West" took it and ran with it.

From Ice came NWA, the rawness was fresher than a Prime Rib. More raw than a 3rd degree burn. The freaking FBI were shook. That is how influential NWA was. And it didn't stop there. You can take the Tree of Dr Dre, call it a city and that might just make people's Top 5's.

Los Angeles has consistently been innovative, fresh and I don't care who you are, everybody has an LA artist they listen to.

It was no contest. NY is Number 1

1. New York, New York

And the award for most obvious number 1 goes to...!

It was not a contest to what the Top 2 was going to be, and it wasn't a contest as to what I was going to pick as no.1.

It birthed the music, the culture, the Five Elements that this site is it's namesake. I could go into the artists but there are so many. Way too many.

And I know that NY has had a dry spell this decade in terms of the sound becoming less mainstream and not many artists dominating the national scene. But considering that none of the other cities I have named in this article couldn't have gained a reputation in Hip-Hop if it wasn't for the Holy Trinity creating the whole damn thing, what would we do without the NY Hip-Hop legacy?

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