BX to DC: US Capital Rises as Next Rap Capital

An exciting rap scene is emerging in the DMV, and not the Department of Motor Vehicles



New York has always been a leading hip-hop hub, but D.C.is the newest U.S. region to challenge its reign.


On Sept. 4, IDK dropped his debut album “Is He Real?” to praise from both critics and rap fans alike. Coupled with Goldlink’s “Diaspora” and Rico Nasty’s “Anger Management” released earlier this year, it appears that 2019 will be the year that the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region (DMV) emerges as one of the next great hip-hop hubs. 

Like Fordham University, rap was born in the Bronx. Hip-hop has been a quintessential part of urban culture since 1973 when Kool Herc first started spinning the breakdowns of records in the basement of his housing building in the borough. Kool Herc was quickly followed by Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, thus birthing hip-hop and establishing New York City as the first rap mecca. 

MCs (short for mic controllers) and groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, the Beastie Boys and others insured that New York’s status at the top of the hip-hop game was secure well into the ’80s. In the mid-80s however, another city emerged within the rap game, ending New York’s monopoly on the genre. 

In 1986 in Los Angeles, Ice-T dropped “6 in the Mornin’,” and gangster rap was born. While it was clearly rap, this new sound on the West Coast was completely different then what was being made here in New York. When N.W.A. dropped “Straight Outta Compton” two years later, New York fell off from its spot at the top of the hip-hop game.

While other hubs like Houston, Miami and the Bay Area all had strong talent emerge in the ’90s, no one will deny that LA and New York stayed on top.

Flash forward to today, and we’re seeing more and more cities emerge as hip-hop cities, each with their own unique style and talented roster. Thanks to the internet and services like YouTube and SoundCloud, it’s become easier than ever to release your own music to large audiences. Today, you can find a popular rapper from pretty much every major city in the U.S. That said, a few cities still shine brightest.

First, we have Atlanta, the city that I’d argue currently sits atop the hip-hop city throne. With acts like Migos, Childish Gambino, Young Thug, 21 Savage, Playboi Carti, Gunna, Lil Yachty, Lil Nas X and more, Atlanta’s commercial success is undeniable and so is the city’s influence on the game. Migos’ 3-count flow popularized by “Versace” has become ubiquitous among rap songs on the Billboard Hot 100 today. 

Staying in the South, we can travel down the coast to Miami where Rick Ross, Denzel Curry, Ski Mask the Slump God and Kodak Black carry on the clout established by Uncle Luke in the ’80s. Miami is a party destination, so it’s no surprise that the songs coming out of the city make you want to dance. To quote Curry’s song “CAROLMART,” “How can you not catch a stunt in the most perfectest weather the Earth’s got?”

Go across a few states and you’ll end up in Houston, where Travis Scott undeniably carries the scene. Following Scott’s monumental rise to the top, other Houston rappers like Maxo Cream, Don Toliver and Megan Thee Stallion are able to prove that Houston has more roster depth than just la flame himself.

Up in the Midwest, Chicago consistently provides strong talent since Kanye West first broke into the industry. Drill rappers like Chief Keef and Lil Durk get you on your feet with heavy hitting beats while rappers like Common, Chance the Rapper and Noname make you think with their poetic lyrics. 

Returning to modern day LA, Kendrick Lamar and the entire Top Dawg Entertainment roster of ScHoolBoy Q, Jay Rock, SZA, SiR, AB-Soul, Isaiah Rashad and Zacari are proving that the City of Angels hasn’t slipped when it comes to great hip-hop. At only 32, Kendrick Lamar is already being touted as the “GOAT” by many, or at least one of the greatest in the game right now.

While it may not be on top at the moment, New York is still one of the most elite hip-hop cities in the U.S. New York’s incredible population, diversity and collective pride will always produce great talent. Today the A$AP Mob, Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie lead the charge, but it’s just a matter of time before someone else emerges from the boroughs. 

However, while hip-hop is without a doubt an American creation, cities around the globe are stepping up to enter the game themselves. Just across the border in Toronto, Drake is smashing music records left and right with other notable acts like Nav and Murda Beatz helping put the city on the map. Across the pond, London has produced its own subgenre of rap by combining hip-hop and garage music to form grime. Acts like Skepta, Stormzy, Dave and Slowthai are finally starting to pop up in the U.S. Even in Africa, talent like Burna Boy and Wiz Kid have emerged from the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. 

Unlike a lot of these other cities, it may look like the DMV is still finding its sound. Goldlink is jazzy, Rico Nasty is industrial and IDK is all over the map, but maybe that is the DMV’s sound. Washington, D.C., is a truly international city. As the capital of the U.S., there is abundant influence to pull from all over the country and the world as a whole. While it may not be New York, LA or Atlanta yet, it’s time to start appreciating the talent there. The game already is, so now the fans from all cities just need to catch up.