You hear a dope, yet unfamiliar song. Your blood starts to rush. Goosebumps.
Your ears perk up, and you begin listening intently to try and figure out whose song you're listening to. After asking your friend with the aux chord for the name of the artist or group, what’s the next question?
“Where are they from?”
Hip-hop has always had an acute sense of geography. Next to their stage name, where a rapper is from is the most important characteristic. Often times the answer is hidden in the music itself. Where a rapper is from can tell you a lot about who they are, what they stand for, and how they sound. New Orleans has bounce beats, New York has boom-bap, and the west coast has that sway. While the East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop rivalry doesn’t dominate headlines like it did in the 90's, there is still that sense of pride and competition among artists from differing regions, area codes, and hometowns.
Remember what happened when Kendrick called himself the King of New York? Yeah, no other genre is as obsessed with location as we are.
With that in mind, we knew when we compiled our list of every platinum hip-hop album that a geographical breakdown was inevitable. Which coast reigns supreme? Is New York really the epicenter of hip-hop? We answer all those questions and more.
Design by Tashawn Jones
Total # of Cities: 22
New York/New Jersey - 120
Los Angeles - 50
Atlanta - 29
New Orleans - 21
Detroit - 13
Oakland - 13
Houston - 10
Ohio (Cleveland/Columbus) - 10
St. Louis - 10
Chicago - 8
Virginia (VA Beach area) - 8
Philadelphia - 6
Toronto - 4
Miami - 3
Seattle - 3
Memphis - 3
Dallas - 2
Boston - 1
Kentucky (Bowling Green) - 1
Nashville - 1
North Carolina (Fayetteville) - 1
Orlando - 1
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It shouldn't come as a shock to anybody, but New York (and Jersey) has birthed more platinum rappers than anywhere else. What might surprise you though, is the overwhelming dominanance of NY/NJ region. With 120 platinum albums, The Big Apple accounts for nearly 40% of hip-hop’s platinum albums, besting the entire West Coast and all of the South combined. That kind of dominance is staggering. Much of this has to do with the one and only Jay Z, who not only has the most platinum albums (15), but the last New York album ('13's Magna Carta Holy Grail) to go platinum. (MCHG also happens to be one of the last albums to reach the milestone; only two LPs, 2014Forest Hills Drive and If You Are Reading This It's Too Late, have reached the mark since then.)
Most cities and states have had small bursts--LA dominated the mid-90’s, the South had the turn of the century on lock, and Chicago has been putting in work since the early 2000’s (thanks to Kanye's seven)-- but not only does New York have the most platinum albums, it has also been the most consistent platinum-producing market. New York had the first platinum album with Whodini’s Escape reaching the milestone in 1984, and one of the last in Magna Carta Holy Grail. In the 29 years between Escape (the first) and MCHG (the last) New York has failed to produce a platinum rap album just once (2008). New York has essentially dominated sales for over thirty years and, though the landscape of music has changed drastically, remained a regional force in hip-hop.
Influence Doesn’t Equal Success and Success Doesn't Equal Influence:
New York may be the king, but no region has had more of an impact on what rap music sounds like today than the South (with Atlanta leading the charge). Common sense says that since the South has been so influential, it should have dominated the last decade. However, that influence hasn’t translated to sales as the last platinum album from a Southern artist was Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV in 2011. As for Atlanta specifically, T.I.’s Paper Trail (released in 2008) is the last platinum album; that was seven years ago. The platinum album era is dead and nothing demonstrates that fact more than Atlanta being so influential yet lacking in commercial success.
On the other end of the spectrum, it's surprising to see Oakland tied for fifth on this list. For a city that boasts 13 platinum albums (tied with Detroit), Oakland isn;t exactly the Land of Hip-Hop and Honey. Shit, they haven't had a platinum album since Too Short dropped Gettin’ It(Album Number Ten) in 1996. Considering MC Hammer's 1988 album, Let’s Get It Started, was Oakland's first platinum plaque, that means the city only had an eight year stint of commercial success. That's it. What happened? How did that success simply evaporate? All of the sudden they just stop succeeding commercially. Oakland may be top five in terms of platinum albums, but when you break down the numbers they appear to be misleading.
Where You Are From Matters:
As much as we’d love to say talent rules, clearly that isn’t the case. More than your label, more than your era, or even your stage name, so much of your success as an artist depends on where you are from and the market size. There is not a single platinum selling rapper in the history of rap who hails from the central mid-west (from Nebraska to California). There is not a single platinum selling rapper from Washington DC or Maryland. Phoenix and San Diego are two of the most populated cities in the US (the six and eighth most populated cities respectively), but neither has birthed a platinum artist.
And how about international artists? Nope, none. There has never been a non-North American rapper to go platinum. You would think, out of the entire world's population, one person somewhere could achieve ultimate success as a rapper, but clearly that is just not the case. So much of your ability to sell, to succeed in this business depends on nothing more than where you call home.
So much of what makes an album a platinum album has to do with chance. If Biggie was born in another year in another city, would Life After Death have gone platinum? Maybe, but probably not. Could The Hot Boyz have sold a million copies if they were from Bismarck, North Dakota? No. The Hot Boyz succeeded because they were in New Orleans at a time where it was good to be a rapper from New Orleans. Albums that have achieved platinum status isn't random, nor is it really a reflection of true talent. Platinum albums are platinum because they were released at the perfect time in the perfect place, they are platinum albums because someone happens to be from New York and not York, Pennsylvanian. We put so much importance on the illustrious platinum achievement, but really it's just a little bit of timing and a whole lot of luck.
Still have dreams of becoming a platinum-selling rapper?
Be from New York or LA. (Or at least relocate to one of those two spots.)
It's that simple.
We're not done yet. There's still so much left to discuss with these numbers. What could we learn if we just broke down Jay Z's career? Why did Oakland just stop producing platinum albums? We all know New York is the birthplace of hip-hop, but which borough boasts the most platinum rappers? For a bunch of guys who get paid to obsess over this kind of stuff, the possibilities are endless. Stay tuned...