New York, California, Georgia, Maryland, Texas
Hip Hop in the USA: Exploring the Cities Behind the Music
- New York
After leaping from the streets of 1970s Brooklyn, it didn’t take long for hip hop to become a cultural touchstone worldwide.
Hip hop evolved from the sampling and dominant lyricists of the mid- to late-1980s to socially conscious rap in the ’90s. Today’s innovators blend electronic music, soul and Funk to take the genre to new places. Explore these footholds where it took root, transformed and spawned revolutionary artists.
Hip Hop’s Birthplace
In New York City, New York, where lyricists have always been king, there’s a hip hop legend for every borough: The Sugarhill Gang in the Bronx, Run-D.M.C. in Queens, The Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls) in Brooklyn, the Wu-Tang Clan in Staten Island and Kool Moe Dee in Manhattan. The 1,500-seat Apollo Theater is the undisputed palace of hip hop. The theater has diversified since its days as a launching pad for future stars, but hip hop shows and festivals are still prevalent on the calendar. Brooklyn also continues to serve as a hub, and its Flatbush neighborhood teems with bumping clubs like the Social Butterfly and restaurants, where Southern flavor comes north at Butterfunk Kitchen while the Safari Room at El Cortez serves Latin fare and hosts underground musicians. In Manhattan, the future of hip hop can be found in Soho at S.O.B.’s, a music venue and eatery, and Miss Lily’s, serving retro Jamaican. Several history tours are available, including those offered by Hush Hip Hop Tours.
The historic Apollo Theater in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City
A West Coast Tour
Los Angeles, California, is the capital of West Coast Rap, home of the G-funk sound consisting of layers of synthesizers and mind-altering grooves perfected by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur. L.A. is also the birthplace of Gangsta Rap, the explosive anti-authority genre launched in 1986 by several groups and artists such as Ice-T, N.W.A and Public Enemy. The experts with L.A. Hood Life Tours can guide you through the city’s key hip hop spots. For live shows, The Novo brings in the newest acts, The Airliner covers the underground, and Echoplex and the Shrine Auditorium serve as top-notch feature stages. Check the offerings at the Hollywood Bowl and sit under the stars as you see favorite stars from other genres perform onstage. Walk along Hollywood Boulevard or Rodeo Drive for more celebrity sightings.
Listening to a DJ on a Los Angeles rooftop
Hip Hop’s Epicenter
Atlanta, Georgia has spawned everything from afrocentric hip hop (Arrested Development) and megastars (Outkast and Ludacris) to Crunk (Lil John) and Trap (Lil Yachty). Smiths’ Olde Bar and The Masquerade capture the ever-evolving scene, while the legendary lineups offered by MJQ Concourse live on at The Drunken Unicorn. Top landmarks include the Fox Theatre, recently restored to its 1929 glory; Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, featuring the Civil Rights leader’s boyhood home; and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, where exhibits focus on human rights throughout the world. For a taste of the city, don’t leave Atlanta without eating at Miller Union, Chef Steven Satterfield’s ode to Georgia.
Break dancing on the street in Atlanta
Walking in the Steps of Tupac Shakur
The late Tupac Shakur was, and still is, considered West Coast, but he actually dropped his first rhymes during high school in Baltimore, Maryland. Those who follow Pac’s footsteps can be found at genre-jumping venues like The Ottobar and Baltimore Soundstage. All of music’s top players come to play at the big house, Royal Farms Arena. If you’re going to do Baltimore, you must go to the Inner Harbor, which includes the National Aquarium, an array of diverse shopping and noshing options at Harborplace as well as day and evening boat tours. Baltimore is a vastly underrated sports town. The Ravens, always a competitive football team, play at M&T Bank Stadium while baseball’s Orioles occupy one of the league’s most beautiful parks next door at Camden Yards.
Inner Harbor district of Baltimore
Where Legends and the Space Program Collide
The hip hop scene in Houston, Texas, began taking shape in the early 1990s with a mix of G-funk and Big Beat. Legends include the late DJ Screw, inventor of the chop and scratch sound; master lyricist Scarface; and local hero Z-Ro. Two of the city’s most well-known spots are downtown, the House of Blues and Warehouse Live, and both cross several genres. Beer aficionados can check out the 8th Wonder Brewery and Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. Sports fans will also find heaven here, as baseball’s 2017 World Champions, the Astros, play at Minute Maid Park and the city’s basketball team, The Rockets, call Toyota Center home. If you want to know the history behind the phrase “Houston, we have a problem,” head to Space Center Houston.