Artists Who Were Born There: Afrika Bambaataa, Akinyele, A$AP Rocky, Big Daddy Kane, Big L, Cam'ron, Chubb Rock, Cyndi Lauper, Dion, Ace Frehley, Jay Z, Kool G Rap, Lord Finesse, Lou Reed, Marley Marl, N.O.R.E., Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Pete Rock, Prince Paul, R.A. the Rugged Man, Teddy Riley
Bands Formed There: Beastie Boys, Blondie, Blue Oyster Cult, Boogie Down Productions, Chic, Contortions, D.N.A., De La Soul, Dirty Projectors, EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, Kiss, LCD Soundsystem, Mars, The New York Dolls, Public Enemy, The Ramones, Run D.M.C., Simon & Garfunkel, Sonic Youth, The Strokes, Suicide, Talking Heads, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Television, A Tribe Called Quest, Ultramagnetic MCs, Wu-Tang Clan
Punk rock and hip-hop were invented in New York City. That's it. That's all we have to say to justify placing New York at the top of this list. Without punk rock, rock 'n' roll in general would have been dead in the water 35 years ago. However loathed it might have been by the general public at the time, it moved the center of rock back toward youth, rebellion, and innovation, at a time when it'd become bogged down in excess, studio-bred perfectionism, and endless displays of musicianship at the expense of songs. Hip-hop, meanwhile, is the most influential and widely copied genre birthed since rock itself. It sent a seismic wave through the globe, changing how we dress, dance, speak, and even vote.
Punk in New York starts with the Velvet Underground, a quartet (and Nico) that snuck in the backdoor of the psychedelic rock movement fashionable in the mid-'60s, stuffing their music with wild experimentation and lyrics about then-taboo topics such as drug use and sexual deviancy. The Velvets stepped out of Andy Warhol's Factory and started the scene that eventually gave us the first wave of bands that could be considered punk (whatever that meant). The scene was centered in the East Village, nurtured at the legendary CBGB's, and featured bands like the New York Dolls, Television, Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads, and perhaps most importantly, the Ramones. England had a punk scene of its own before too long, as did California, but it started here.
Hip-hop in New York, meanwhile, starts with the DJ, namely Kool Herc, a Jamaican who moved to the Bronx in 1967. In the '70s, he decided to get behind the turntables because, as he recounted in the 2002 book Yes Yes Y'all, he was so often dissatisfied with the DJs at the parties he attended. "I had heard a lot of gripe on the dance floor, 'Why is this guy not playin' the music? Why's he, you know, F-in' up?' And I was agreeing with them." His simple action of refining and improving how a DJ serviced a dance floor led to the invention of hip-hop, particularly when MCs got involved to lead the party. Over time, the focus shifted to the MC, and this deceptively simple role—rhythmically speaking rhymes into a microphone over a beat—proved explosive.
Rap's imprint on New York (and vice versa) is indelible: It started in the Bronx (just ask KRS-One); the first rap song, "Rapper's Delight," was by the Sugarhill Gang, named after a neighborhood in Harlem; the greatest MC of all time is from a massive housing project in Queens—unless you think the greatest MC (or MCs) hail from Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn—and its most unique group emerged from the slums of Shaolin, aka Staten Island. Everywhere you go in New York, hip-hop is there, and everywhere hip-hop has gone in the last three decades—every corner of the globe—it's brought New York with it.
Jazz started in New Orleans, but New York City is where its power was consolidated. Particularly in the mid 20th century, during the birth and evolution of bebop, free jazz and fusion, New York served as a focal point, where the largest talents from all over the country (particularly the American South) and world gathered, collaborated and innovated, establishing new directions in music. A similar process occurred with salsa music; only there it was drawn from Latin America.
In the early 1960s, Greenwich Village was home to a vibrant anti-establishment folk music scene that supported the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements that grew throughout the decade to a culmination at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, held on a farm upstate in the summer of '69.
In the '70s, disco began at clubs like Studio 54, though once it was no longer fashionable it was shipped off to the Midwest to get converted into house and techno.