We're long past the East/West rivalries of the '90s, but place isn't as irrelevant in modern hip hop as some would have you think. Sure, sounds and styles fly more freely between area codes than they used to, but they're more often than not traceable to a specific time and location where certain tempos, slang, and flows bear traces of local history in their DNA. Moreover, in an era when collaborations are more frequently born in the DMs and not in face-to-face meetings, certain regions seem more in demand, more likely to get tapped by out-of-towners for their swag.
We've made our picks for the most prolific/influential regions around the country in 2015, ranking them in order of strength. Sometimes these are single cities with local scenes strong enough to put a single area code on the map, sometimes they're larger regions with cities too small to make the list on their own, but bear enough similarities to each other to be grouped together. Not everyone listed in each scene was born there, as many artists seem to migrate to the closest hotbed (like Tupelo, Missippi natives Rae Sremmurd, or Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa's recent abandonment of Pittsburgh in favor of greener pastures in L.A.). We're taking albums, singles, mixtapes, production work, and influence into account, oftentimes referring our own hottest songs and albums of 2015 lists. Before we get to our top ten though, we're taking a minute to highlight the honorable mentions.
Newcomer Cousin Stizz really made a name for himself this year with his local-repping mixtape Suffolk County, showing that he could really be New England's first bonafide star in a few years' time. His more lighthearted friend Michael Christmas had a banner year too, releasing his debut album, What A Weird Day, and touring with Mac Miller. Meanwhile, the region's top producer, Statik Selektah, kept churning out top shelf boom bap like it was 1996.
Big Sean was the undisputed MVP of his hometown this year, delivering his biggest album and best single to date (Dark Sky Paradise and "Blessings," respectively). DeJ Loaf was a close runner-up, though, proving that she's no one-hit wonder with the excellent #AndSeeThatsTheThing EP. Although it seems too late for them to ever break through to a national audience, Doughboyz Cashout shone with yet another mixtape, and kept their local fanbase strong as ever. Among the city's dormant artists this year were Eminem, Royce da 5'9", Danny Brown, and BLack Milk, but rest assured that they'll all return in big ways in 2016.
The only non-North American city to appear on the list this year, the UK capital reinvigorated everyone's interest in grime this year. Skepta was the most visible star over here, thanks to chumming around with Drake and dropping his biggest track to date, "SHUTDOWN," but Skepta, JME, Novelist, and Krept & Konan made sure that we knew that the scene was deep as ever.
With a few consistent mixtapes and his continuing reign as Taylor Gang's ratchet elder statesman, Juicy J stayed on top of his city yet again. The Tennessee city's trap scene similarly showed its staying power with Yo Gotti, Young Dolph, and Snootie Wild all improving upon their past years, and in th underground, Xavier Wulf led a strong young class.
Forget everything about the Drake feud-- Meek Mill still had a great year, thanks to his best release yet, Dreams Worth More Than Money. Resident hitmaker Jahlil Beats shone bright as ever with beats on releases by Rick Ross, Boogie, and others, and Lil Uzi Vert proved he was truly the hottest in his city with Luv Is Rage.
With a hugely varied local scene, DC remains one of the most diverse locations on the list. MMG's Wale and Fat Trel continued their friendship despite careers and projects that couldn't be more different, Shy Glizzy continued making the best trap the area's ever scene, and the consistently thrilling Goldlink only got better. Watch out for DC in 2016.