Rap reflected its location in the 90s and early 2000s. The sound of New York had a distinct style as did the South and the West Coast. New York had the boom bap beat and the grimy yet lyrical wordplay, where the South made trap and crunk music popular with the 808s and party content, and Cali flourished with Gangsta Rap and its laid back, melodic flow. Even outside of the three major Mecca’s of hip hop, smaller locations sprouted such as Detroit and Houston representing a different but defined sound that was confined to the area. Hip hop was nowhere near predictable, but chances are you could identify a rapper’s origins by his flow, content and beat selection.
Nowadays, when emcees are just a soundcloud away and producers can tweet any artist their beat, the regional lines in hip hop are getting very blurry. A$AP Rocky was found at first innovative for his clearly Houston influenced sound and flow and then somewhat scrutinized for being a New York native and not representing any of the characteristics of NY hip hop. Big K.R.I.T. stands as one of the most lyrical rappers in the game and despite hailing from Mississippi, his music is deep and thoughtful, completely opposite from the typical crunk music that the south became famous for. Detroit, known for its aggressive and even filthy sound, G.O.O.D. Music’s Big Sean has been the front runner from the city for some time now while making music that is playful and catchy. And there's Freddie Gibbs, one of the most respected gangsta rappers out right now with roots in Gary, Indianna.
Although some artists are insistent on bringing back the sounds of the city, as A$AP Nast most recently showcased with his single “Trillmatic” featuring Method Man, the regional distinctions in hip hop are on their way out. There are no characteristics of New York sound right now and the same goes for the other regions as well. Producers are sending their beats all over the country and artists are having the freedom to not only be inspired by hip hop everywhere but it has expanded the rap genre immensely. More sub-genres are being created which is much more defined by lyrical content and flow than location. Some of the most popular turn up rappers (which is similar to crunk music) are from NY, real talk and the gangsta rap genres also include artists from all over and in 2013 there has been a huge rise in emcees crossing into other genres completely.
The boom bap style of production will always be iconic as will the rise of gansta rap and trap music, yet as hip hop is continuing to evolve, it’s exciting to see artists break out of the boxes that confined their sound to their location. I’m glad that artistry and inspiration is being prioritized. There has been a lot of backlash surrounding the New York hip hop scene this year and it’s important to welcome new styles and sounds as the music continues to grow. Although I love a good retro flow, allow artists to be who they are, which is not necessarily defined by where they come from.