Rakim said, "It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." But Mobb Deep said, "It ain't where you're at, it's where you're from." Truth is, both are right. But certainly, in hip-hop, your geographic roots are very important. The genre is rooted in community, and those communities each interact with the genre in different ways, establishing and spreading regional sounds, touchstones, and sub-genres. There's a reason rappers are always repping their cities—most of us are proud of where we're from, even if we're just proud we made it out.
Although the Internet and national radio conglomerates like Clear Channel and Radio One have blurred regional dividing lines, and, to some extent, homogenized the sound of rap, local variations, scenes, and history are still important. So much of the way people interact with music is local—whether it's hearing a song blasting out of a neighbor's car, listening to friend's rap, or dancing to a song in the club.
That's why some cities will always have an allure for rap lovers. It's not just an issue of which famous artists are from a place or which cities have the most promising new crop of talent—the community matters, too. In truth, the two are closely connected. Cities with lots of ways to hear and spread hip-hop naturally develop movements of artists, an infrastructure to support them and distinctive sounds that are locally rooted. For those who love rap, living in a place with strong local institutions, unique histories, and opportunities to go out and hear the music is important. Of course, having some rappers who are local heroes matters, too. Taking each of these ideas into account, here are the best cities for rap lovers.
Written by Kyle Kramer (@KyleKramer)