Hip Hop, more than any other genre in history, has very distinct regional styles and today we'll look at how rappers are, or are not, using those influences in their music, and where they do get inspiration if not from a zip code.
Soooo, I was assigned an article about tracing the origin of a lot of the flows in hip hop to different regions around the country. Originally, I thought that would be fairly easy to do, and to a certain extent it is, but the article really went in a different direction the more research I was doing. While there are clear regional influences in today's music, it's almost minimal in the grand scheme of things. Hip Hop as a genre was born in New York, did a lot of growing up out in California, and has even spent some formative years in places like Houston, Chicago and Miami. But as hip hop has grown up, it has become more and more of an enigma, ever increasingly more difficult to pinpoint where the next hot spot will be. In the 90's and early 2000's, it was easy to determine where an artist was from just by listening to their music. Whether it was the spine-tingling keys that blared from every lowrider in South Central LA, or the syrup-dipped chopped and screwed movement in Houston, every region had their unique identity and, for the most part, stuck to it.
The internet age has revolutionized music as a whole, but no genre has capitalized on it quite like hip hop. There's no site like HNHH for country music, where kids intently watch countdown clocks waiting for their free Tim McGraw mixtape to drop. So just like in college sports, where competition is so fierce that you can't just recruit new talent in your backyard, you have to widen your scope, broaden your search for the next big thing. This means people aren't just working with producers they grew up with, or getting features from artists around the corner. They're working with top talent from anywhere and everywhere, regardless of hometown. This has elevated the quality of the music greatly, because artists are becoming the best possible versions of themselves and not constricting themselves to the sound barriers of their city's past.
Of course you'll always have artists who stick to the blueprint, making music that resonates with their city and pulls it's influence from the region's hip hop heritage. For example, artists like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg will always sound East and West Coast respectively. But the first time I ever heard A$AP Rocky, I would've thought he was from down South, if not for the Harlem references. Even veterans like Hov have constantly switched up their styles to stay ahead of the trends. You can't tell me "Tom Ford" sounds like any New York record from yesteryear. Cities like Toronto don't necessarily have their own signature sound, yet Drake has made a career out of being a chameleon of sorts, switching from a southern style trap flow, to a gritty Brooklyn-born flow, even crooning sometimes as if he were the 5th member of Boyz II Men. We wouldn't have it any other way, either. We want our music to evolve just like everything else. We'd swear we were in prison if we only had single digit TV channels like our parents did growing up, it's just the natural progression of entertainment.
To keep it fairly simple, there's two different ways to trace the origin of a flow. You can trace the origin of the sound to a region, but as I said before, it's a lot harder these days as people pull more and more from other places. Even still, there are a lot of cultural differences between these cities and you hear it in the music. I'll give you some examples below:
Wheelchair Jimmy hails from hockey country, but lots of his music feels right at home in other locales. Here's two primary ones he channels frequently:
Sounds Like: Memphis
Sounds Like: Houston
That PMF is from Dipset-land in Harlem, but with the early help of guys like Clams Casino and Ty Beats, he was able to make you feel like he was straight out of the other H-Town.
Sounds Like: Houston
Durk and the entire Trap movement in "Chiraq" owe a lot of their success to southern trap, especially from Atlanta, where the style has been around for many years.
Sounds Like: Atlanta
Mac is one of the hardest artist to pin down style-wise, because he simply keeps changing. Over the last few years, he's reinvented himself into a truly creative lyricist and producer, though he always made music that was catchy to say the least. Although he pulls influences from many different things and places, it's impossible to ignore the profound impact moving to the Left Coast has had on him.
Sounds Like: Southern California
Some artists, while not necessarily sounding like the music of a specific region, remind us of certain artists from the past. This is because a lot of artists model their delivery and rhyming patterns on artists and lyricists they like or admired growing up. Some may deny it, but it's impossible to ignore the similarities between some of these new and old artists. Here's some examples:
Obviously the gritty, raspy vocal cadence plays a big part in the similarity, but their delivery and pace is also quite close. Before anybody accuses me of saying this is a bad thing, hip hop needs artists like DMX and Jay always. It's not biting a style if you're building on it further and making something new out of it.
Sounds Like: DMX
Tyler the Creator
Odd Future's fearless leader has a vast array of qualities that remind me of an early Marshall Mathers, but a few stick out. They both possess the unique ability to release a harrowingly dark, introspective song right after releasing a zany, parent's horror inducing, carnival fun house record. They also both give zero fucks about what anyone thinks and make music that makes themselves happy first and foremost. They both constantly switch up their flow, sometimes all within one song, or even verse, making it difficult to predict what's next for either MC at any time.
Sounds Like: Eminem
Meek is known for his high-energy delivery, but he draws a huge influence from the gritty coke raps that started in the late '90s just a quick drive down I-95 in Virginia with the neighborhood Pusher. I know, I know, you're going to say Millzy's flow is way faster, but the more and more I listened to him, the more similarity I heard. He may have cut it up for sale, but it's clear where the original product came from, if you know what I mean.
Sounds Like: Pusha T
Charisma. Versatility. One-of-a-kind Voice. These are all qualities Channo shares with the legend 3 Stacks. You never know what each will bring to a track, because every verse and hook they do is uncharted territory. That being said, they're similar in the way they pattern their songs and switch flows as needed. It may not make sense, but they're alike in their uniqueness.
Sounds Like: Andre 3000
Who's got the best flow these days? Sound off in the comments.