“I'm from where the hammer’s rung/News cameras never come/You and your man's hung in every verse in your rhyme where the grams is slung.” —Jay-Z, "Where I’m From.” Such complex portraits of Brooklyn pepper Jigga’s catalog. And much like the proud Marcy-bred MC, rappers can’t quit boasting about the city that made them. Even with the Internet pretty much abolishing borders, hometown pride still runs ratchet (see: Wiz Khalifa’s "Black and Yellow"), with artists vying for a spot on the hip-hop Google Map. Here, VIBE ranks the cities that have played the most crucial role in the culture, whether through historical impact, mammoth movements, a bustling underground scene or the rappers who lay their heads there. Rep yo set!
Compiled by Tanya Tien Chen, Johnathan Cruse, Clover Hope, John Kennedy, Stephanie Long, Niki McGloster, Iyana Robertson
25. AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
Rappers Who Rep: Extince, Yes-R, Lange Frans & Baas B
City Anthem: Partysquad “Dat Is Die Shit”
Unofficial Mayor: Brainpower
Why It’s Important: Reefer madness aside, there’s a reason Amsterdam is popular among American rappers (see: red light district). But this Dutch capital houses its own hub for hip-hop beyond our Western influences. Known as “Nederhop,” Dutch rappers are recognized for their competitive MC battles, genre crossovers, and more basically, their seeded passion for hip-hop. Puff, puff, and pass on the knowledge.
Rappers Who Rep: Guru, Ed O.G., Benzino (The Almighty RSO), Akrobatik
City Anthem: Gang Starr "Mass Appeal"
Unofficial Mayor: Guru
Why’ It’s Important: Hip-hop heads don’t know (or fail to admit) that Boston’s hip-hop scene is a contemporary of the New York City scene. Flourishing at about the same time, both cities began to plant seeds of the culture on their respective grounds. Though Boston has never earned Big Apple-level fame, their contributions span from the early b-boy days with The Floorlords to Ed OG’s “I Got to Have It” to the current uprising of underground clubs and MCs. Oh yeah, and Benzino.
23. KANSAS CITY
Rappers Who Rep: Tech N9ne, Strange Music, Kutt Calhoun, Krizz Kaliko
City Anthem: Tech N9ne “Caribou Lou”
Unofficial Mayor: Tech N9ne
Why It’s Important: Kansas City isn’t exactly one of the most expected locales to garner a hip-hop following or feature a top rapper. But Kansas City native Tech N9ne is proving that wrong. With over 20 years of experience carving a kooky niche, Tech sold over 1,000,000 albums as an independent artist solidifying his place as a self-made hip-hop entity—word to Maybach Music. Dorothy’s Kansas has gotten a little more edgy.
22. PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA
Rappers Who Rep: Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller
City Anthem: Wiz Khalifa “Black and Yellow”
Unofficial Mayor: Wiz Khalifa
Why It’s Important: The land of black and yellow has been quietly bubbling in the shadows of Philly. But Steel City residents are finally getting a moment in the sun thanks to Wiz Khalifa singlehandedly putting the city on the hip-hop and pop radars with a monumental anthem dedicated to his metropolis, plus multiple cult mixtapes (Kush and Orange Juice). As the blonde-coifed rapper once told MTV News, “We always had love for Philly. It was harder for Philly to embrace us because we’re a little bit slower to them or to more East Coast towns. Philly is more East Coast than Pittsburgh. It’s closer to New Jersey and New York, so the vibe is way more fast-paced. Pittsburgh, it’s just laid-back... Midwest, almost on some country stuff.”
21. JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
Rappers Who Rep: David Banner, Boo Rossini
City Anthem: David Banner “Cadillac on 22s”
Unofficial Mayor: David Banner
Why It’s Important: Among the last batch of Southern cities to come onto the mainstream hip-hop scene, Jackson has since left a mark by way of David Banner repping the M-I-crooked letter. From producing (T.I.’s “Rubberband Man”) to dropping subtle gems (“Cadillac on 22s”), Banner always ensures that Jackson won’t just be noted for its gospel and blues contributions. Its stamp on the genre also paved a way for Mississippi’s surrounding cities to produce artists like Big K.R.I.T.
20. AUSTIN, TEXAS
Rappers Who Rep: Kydd, Zeale 32
City Anthem: Chamillionaire “Texas 4 Life”
Why It’s Important: While Austin, Texas hasn’t churned out iconic rappers like their sister cities (Houston and Dallas), it’s been a breeding ground for a fast sprouting hip-hop scene in the past few years. You can thank South By Southwest (SXSW) for that. Hosting over 2,000 performers in over 90 venues, it’s one of the biggest entertainment venues in the world, and more recently, one of the biggest aggregators for hip-hop performances. This year alone attracted appearances from Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Big Sean and Talib Kweli. The ATX might not have given birth to hip-hop, but it’s been the surrogate mother to some of its most renowned Megaupload-generation rappers.
19. TORONTO, CANADA
Rappers Who Rep: Drake, Maestro, Main Source, K-Os, K’Naan, Kardinal Offishall
City Anthem: Drake “City Is Mine”
Unofficial Mayor: Drake
Why It’s Important: Unbeknownst to some, the T. Dot has been leading and holding the hip-hop scene down since the early ’80s. Although a few deft acts—Maestro, Main Source, and K-Os—have rippled the indie world of hip-hop, not until recently have artists like Drizzy and K’Naan splashed onto the mainstream, officially putting Toronto on the map. Don’t undermine the Canadians. The Biebs isn’t the only good thing that’s come out of the land up North.
18. WASHINGTON D.C. / BALTIMORE
Rappers Who Rep: Wale, Phil Adé, Tabi Bonney, Fat Trel, XO
City Anthem: Wale “Nike Boots”
Unofficial Mayor: Wale
Why It’s Important: Sure, the nation’s capital is often associated with the ’70s genre it birthed called go-go, but D.C. has recently transformed into an underground go-to for rappers. With a ride-or-die campaign by Baltimore-born rapper DMX (yes, he counts) and an ambitious preliminary from D.C. native Wale, the community has established a throng of hip-hop hopefuls including Phil Adé and XO. The high-energy pulse of go-go has infused the city’s rap culture with a rejuvenated bounce over the last four decades.
Rappers Who Rep: Three 6 Mafia, 8 Ball & MJG, Yo Gotti, Project Pat, Zed Zilla, Gangsta Boo
City Anthem: Yo Gotti “Touchdown”
Unofficial Mayor: Juicy J
Why It’s Important: Known for more than just their finger-licking barbeque, Memphis hip-hop is out of the growing stages. Many would say if it wasn’t for hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia, Memphis would still be a figment in many imaginations. However, we at VIBE beg to differ. Memphis, Tennekeys had a major surge in hip-hop following the release of Hustle and Flow which made room for local talent to break through in 2005. Not to mention the Oscar Three 6 Mafia brought home for “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” #NeverForget
14. TOKYO, JAPAN
Rappers Who Rep: King Giddra, Nujabes, Nitro Microphon Underground
City Anthem: Teriyaki Boys “Tokyo Drift”
Unofficial Mayor: DJ Krush
Why It’s Important: There arguably hasn’t been a greater adoption and embracement of hip-hop than in the heart of metropolitan Tokyo. Some of the sickest b-boys to graffiti crafters to beat-boxers now inhabit Japan’s capital. In fact, each year, Crazy-A, a pioneer of breakdancing organizes the event “B-Boy Park” to draw in floods of aspiring dancers in order to pay homage to old school rap music through the street art of “Soul Dancing.” While Tokyo stays obsessed with NYC street fashion, the sartorial fascination goes both ways. Pharrell and Kanye have jacked plenty of swag from designers like Nigo and Murakami.
13. CLEVELAND, OHIO
Rappers Who Rep: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Kid Cudi
City Anthem: “Land of Tha Heartless” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Unofficial Mayor(s): Bone Thugs
Why It’s Important: The first rappers out of the Midwest to go platinum hail from Cleveland. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s 1994 debut, Creepin On Ah Come Up, placed the group onto the hip-hop spectrum and revolutionized the genre’s sound. Mixing West Coast G-Funk influences with harmonizing and fast rapping, the Thugs branded a harmonious sing-rapping style that’s now (almost) everyone’s guilty pleasure. Clevelander Kid Cudi carved his emo niche with trippy electronic influences. The city’s rise to fame has also opened doors for Ohio to yield acts like Bow Wow (Columbus) and Machine Gun Kelly (Shaker Heights).
Rappers Who Rep: Devlin, Dizzee Rascal, Estelle, Lady Sovereign, Ms. Dynamite, Tinie Tempah
City Anthem: Tinie Tempah “Til I’m Gone”
Unofficial Mayor: Ms. Dynamite
Why It’s Important: Not only does London rap integrate a hodgepodge of styles (trip hop made its way into the U.S. market by way of the U.K.), but it’s proven to be a hot spot for U.S. MCs as well (newbie Azealea Banks hit big there). It makes sense—rappers like Derek B sought to emulate their American predecessors while on the rise. Next thing you knew, London rappers were crossing over, and in came the Devlins and Dizzee Rascals to show the world how London got down. Now Estelle and Tinie Tempah reign supreme, with an underground scene constantly bubbling under the surface.
12. NEWARK, NEW JERSEY
Rappers Who Rep: Redman, Naughty by Nature, Pop Dukes, Queen Latifah, Lords of the Underground, Shaquille O’Neal
City Anthem: Redman “I’ll Bee Dat”
Unofficial Mayor: Redman
Why It’s Important: For years Newark has gone unseen for its contributions to hip-hop, becoming overshadowed by its much successful neighbor New York City. Though an unfair comparison, the city continues to thrive due to the music of some of its key predecessors, mainly Redman, who has been able to garner accolades all while still repping Brick City. Further proof: Queen Latifah's a household name.
16. ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Rappers Who Rep: Nelly and the St. Lunatics, Chingy, J-Kwon
City Anthem: Nelly “Country Grammar”
Unofficial Mayor: Nelly (who else)
Why It’s Important: At one point in the early 2000s, you couldn’t escape Nelly’s sing-songy lilt even if you tried—and many did. Before Mr. “E.I.,” the extent of our St. Louis knowledge was probably the Cardinals. But Nelly (and later Chingy) made the STL twang a national treasure, taking country grammar all the way pop.
11. VIRGINIA BEACH
Rappers Who Rep: Clipse, Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliot, N.E.R.D., Timbaland
City Anthem: The Clipse “Grindin’”
Unofficial Mayor: Pharrell Williams
Why It’s Important: Hear that Neptunes sound? Besides the Clipse championing coke rap, V.A. Beach is a hotbed for dope producers. Timbaland rose in the mid-’90s, laying monster tracks for everyone from Ginuwine to Aaliyah, Jay-Z and Ludacris, while Pharrell and Chad Hugo produced almost half of what was on airwaves and paved a landscape for newcomers like Odd Future to break sonic boundaries.
10. PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA
Rappers Who Rep: Beanie Sigel, Will Smith, Cassidy, Freeway, Eve, The Roots
City Anthem: Freeway Feat. Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel “What We Do”
Unofficial Mayor: Questlove
Why It’s Important: Before Will Smith was murking aliens, the Fresh Prince (West Philly, born and raised) and his flashy sidekick DJ Jazzy Jeff brought rap’s first Grammy to P.A. in 1989 for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” The city’s popular street battle circuit famously birthed the careers of Cassidy and Meek Mills, and on the conscious flip side, OG’s The Roots have made it to primetime TV. Though recognized as the City of Brotherly Love, Philly also co-signed the ladies, developing artists like Eve and Charli Baltimore (and, er, Amber Rose). Meek Mill is the latest Illadelphian to put on for his city, proclaiming it as the “new Iraq,” drawing casualties in rap battle.
9. THE BAY AREA
Rappers Who Rep: Mistah Fab, Keak da Sneak, Too $hort, Mac Dre, E-40, Lil B
City Anthem: E-40 “Tell Me When To Go”
Unofficial Mayor: E-40
Why It’s Important: Yes, we know the Bay Area isn’t officially a city (it actually includes San Francisco, Vallejo and Oakland), but The Bay as a whole is too legendary to ignore. Early ’90s OGs like Digital Underground not only shifted the game with their funky bars but also took one of the greatest rappers under their wing in Tupac Shakur. E-40 has made it a mission to help the Bay get its just dues. And sonically, the area’s influence continues trickling down to the next generation. Drake’s “The Motto” and Tyga’s “Rack City” are infused with the heavy bass and drum lines popularized in the Bay. Without The Bay Area’s contributions, our lives would be a lot less bouncy.
8. MIAMI, FLORIDA
Rappers Who Rep: Uncle Luke, 2 Live Crew, Trick Daddy, Rick Ross, Pitbull, Ace Hood, Flo Rida, Trina
City Anthem:Trick Daddy’s “Take It To Da House”
Unofficial Mayor: Rick Ross
Why It’s Important: Don’t sleep on the city of sweltering heat and string bikinis. Miami’s sparked more than a few hip-hop waves amidst a lot of booty bouncing. Although hosting a small roster of MCs, this hip-hop haven has birthed the top names in the biz both stateside and across the pond. Miami bass purveyor Uncle Luke nabbed respect by pushing his lyrics to the limit of parental control, sparking a Supreme Court battle. While Rozay reigns as a consummate throne-stealer, Pitbull and Flo-Rida have wrangled in international looks with their Ibiza-style raps. Even outsiders jet to this town to carve their sound—both Lil Wayne and Fat Joe have claimed second homes there.
7. DETROIT, MICHIGAN
Rappers Who Rep: Eminem, Big Sean, J Dilla, Royce Da 5’9”, Slum Village, Danny Brown, Black Milk
City Anthem: Eminem “8 Mile”
Unofficial Mayor: Eminem
Why It’s Important: Detroit’s rap roots run deep. Before Eminem introduced the trap to the trailer park and became hip-hop’s most gargantuan MC, before Dilla revolutionized hip-hop production, before Kid Rock’s breakout rap LP Devil Without a Cause moved a gazillion copies, before D-12 popped “Purple Pills,” before Royce Da 5’9” became one-fourth of the supreme hip-hop supergroup Slaughterhouse, before Big Sean grinded Nicki Minaj’s ass—inhale—there was Motown, a bottomless well of soul sampling for records like Erick Sermon’s “Music” and Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Factor in underground wordsmiths like Elzhi and Black Milk and it’s easy to see that the coldest hip-hop lives in the D.
6. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
Rappers Who Rep: Kanye West, Common, Twista, Lupe Fiasco, Rhymefest, Cool Kids
City Anthem: Common “Chi City”
Unofficial Mayor: Kanye West
Why It’s Important: The Windy City has been dictating the currents of rap since the ’90s when Chicago MCs like Twista converted their hood raps into national hype. Some could argue that Common Sense unveiled the South Side sound after dusting off the ’70s soul and funk samples—“I Used To Love H.E.R.,” etc.—pairing it with working class lyricism. Yet, no one’s put the city on his back more than Kanye, who brought his quirky Chicago-isms to the mainstream. Lately, Lupe Fiasco occupies the streets just as much as he occupies pop charts, while up-and-comers Rockie Fresh and Cool Kids’ own Mikey Rocks are still building on the Chi’s rep as a hip-hop hot spot.
Rappers Who Rep: Scarface, UGK, Bun B, Pimp C, Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Paul Wall
City Anthem: Mike Jones “Still Tippin’”
Unofficial Mayor: Scarface
Why It’s Important: The influence of Houston’s languid flows and candy paint swag can be heard from Toronto via the likes of Drake, all the way to New York via Harlem’s trillest, A$AP Rocky. Rap was all about the East and West coasts until The Geto Boys hit the map around 1989. All of a sudden, southern hip-hop bubbled up and H-Town was at the heart of it. Though it wasn’t until 2005 that the city hit the mainstream gold mine with Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’ and Paul Wall’s “Sittin’ Sidewayz” steering the movement, respect was long overdue.
4. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Rappers Who Rep: Master P, Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Birdman, B.G., Jay Electronica, Currensy
City Anthem: Juvenile “Nola Clap”
Unofficial Mayor: Lil Wayne
Why It’s Important: Everyone knows N’awlins is an army, better yet… you know the rest. Weezy’s been dropping extraterrestrial metaphors since his pre-skinny-jean days. But back when “movements” were really movements (circa the late ’90s), No Limit and Cash Money reigned supreme—see: classics like Master P’s “Make Em Say Ughhh!” and B.G.’s “Bling Bling”—while granting much-needed shine to the home of gumbos and Mardi Gras. Not to mention introducing us to bounce music. Insert booty clap.
3. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Rappers Who Rep:NWA, Ice-T, The Game, 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar
City Anthem: 2Pac “To Live And Die In L.A.”
Unofficial Mayor: Dr. Dre
Why It’s Important: So dope is the Left Coast that 2Pac claimed it as his first home despite being born in Harlem (ahem), while Ice-T, originally birthed in Newark, New Jersey, became a father of gangsta rap after settling in Crenshaw. We all know the tragic role the West played in the mid-90s coastal beef. But there’s more to L.A.—Cali’s most populous city—than beef. Compton’s own NWA provided a historical snapshot of the city’s race wars. Snoop Dogg, though from Long Beach, might as well be an honorary citizen. And more recently, the City of Angels spawned the hellion clique Odd Future, super lyrical Black Hippy crew and the jerkin’ movement via The New Boys. There's always a reason to go back to Cali, and when you do, make L.A. your first stop.
2. ALANTA, GEORGIA
Rappers Who Rep: Goodie Mob, Outkast, Dungeon Family, T.I., Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Lil’ Jon, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Ying Yang Twins
City Anthem: Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta”
Unofficial Mayor: Young Jeezy
Why It’s Important: Let’s face it. Atlanta is as much of a hip-hop hub as New York at this point, having dominated rap conversations for the past decade. Movements have spread far and wide, stemming from this epicenter where the strip club is like a trip to the grocery store. ATL is the home of all things crunk and turnt up. Its natives have manifested chart-topping club anthems, taking over the music biz with dance moves, ass-appreciation (at an all-time high), the rattle of souped up Chevys and heavy, Southern drawls. Stylistically, their flows have also gone unmatched with spitters like Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo mastering a raw lyricism and storytelling that some have likened to the North. All we can say is welcome.
1. NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
Rappers Who Rep: LL Cool J, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent, Nas, Run DMC, Rakim…
City Anthem: Jay-Z Feat. Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”
Unofficial Mayor: Jay-Z
Why It’s Important: Back in 2003, when small town N.C. lyricist J. Cole had merely a dollar and a dream, he enrolled in St. John's University—not Clark Atlanta or UCLA—for a shot at real-lifing his rap aspirations in New York. And why not relocate to hip-hop's most storied city? Justifying why the Rotten Apple reigns the rap map doesn’t really take much explanation: New York mothered this shit (not to mention DJing, graffiti and breakdancing). And since, the city has steered the hip-hop ship for the greater portion of the culture’s 30-plus years. Whether you’re talking iconic masterpiece albums (Nas’ Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready to Die), fashion (Rev. Run’s shell toe Adidas, Fabolous’ Mitchell & Ness collection), deep crews (Wu-Tang, Boot Camp Click), or dances (b-boying, Harlem Shake), all were hatched within the five boroughs. And artists still save their most epic concerts for Gotham (i.e. Nicki Minaj's Times Square takeover in April). Sure NYC has taken a back seat in the past decade, but even without new jacks like A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks stepping up, New York will forever stand as hip-hop’s capital city.