A Breakdown of Every New York City Platinum Hip-Hop Album by Borough

We broke down every platinum rap album in New York. Which borough took the crown?
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It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who so poignantly said, “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.” And what could possibly be more beautiful than breaking down the most Platinum albums in hip-hop history? 

No disrespect to L.A., The Chi or North Platte, Nebraska, but it’s an eternal truth that New York is the capital (as well as the birthplace) of hip-hop. It’s something I realized last year when we broke down the Platinum albums by city and New York towered over the competition. New York accounted for more than half of every Platinum-selling hip-hop album, accounting for over 100 Platinum albums in total, while the second place city, Los Angeles, barely had 50. 

Still, there’s work yet to be done.

After all, if we are going to talk about New York, we have to talk about the boroughs. Without the deep proliferation of hip-hop throughout the boroughs, without rappers clashing like gladiators, fighting for borough pride, New York wouldn't be the epicenter of rap music. There’s always been a sense of competition and pride between the boroughs and now it’s time to settle once and for all which borough is the best. Will it be the Boogie Down Bronx or The Borough of Homes and Churches (and Jay Z)? Which borough has, not just the most Platinum albums, but the most artists?

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. Let's review some notes on how we compiled these numbers.

First, we're counting Platinum albums as they're certified by the RIAA (Recording Industry of America), not as they're certified by Wikipedia or some internet comment forum. So we know you're dying to hit us with a "Yo, you forgot..." but no, we've spent weeks researching this, we didn't forget them, they just don't actually have a Platinum album. And if you can find an artist we legitimately forgot, then we'll bow down to your mastery. All we ask if that you just actually check with the RIAA yourself before breaking out your angry tweet game. 

Second, this is not just the five boroughs. If we are truly going to talk about New York as a hip-hop empire, we also have to include Long Island, Yonkers and even New Jersey. They may not be the big five, but they are integral parts to New York’s DNA.

Third, for the vast majority of artists, their borough is pretty clear cut—Jay Z is Brooklyn and Cam’ron is Harlem—but a select few aren't so cut and dry, so we had to make some executive decisions. For example, Nas was born in Brooklyn, but everyone knows he really reps Queens. Or how about the Beastie Boys? They're each from different parts of New York, you could really credit them to almost anywhere in the city, but ultimately we decided they're just a shade more Brooklyn than anywhere else. Plus, there is an Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn; if you have a park named after you, you're from there. It may not be perfect but it's our call and we're sticking to it. If you disagree, feel free to adjust your numbers accordingly.  

And last, yes, Platinum albums are no longer a particularly accurate way of measuring an artist's popularity, especially when comparing different eras. In 1998 you could move one million albums off one hit song, in 2016 there's no way that's happening. So this list naturally favors artists from the peak of the album sales era, '90 through the early 2000s, but it's still a pretty fascinating way to mathematically measure an artist's impact. And with all that out of the way, let's go. 

The Big Numbers:

  • Number of NY Area Platinum Albums: 113
  • Number of Artists: 47
  • Borough w/ Most Artists: Queens (13)
  • Borough w/ Most Albums: Tie - Queens & Brooklyn (36)

The Borough Breakdown

  • Queens: 36 albums
  • Brooklyn: 36 albums
  • Staten Island (aka Wu-Tang Island): 7 albums
  • Manhattan: 7 albums
  • Bronx: 6 albums

Queens: 13 artists, 36 albums

  • LL Cool J (7)
  • Nas (7) 
  • Ja Rule (4)
  • A Tribe Called Quest  (3)
  • Run-DMC (3)
  • Salt ’N Pepa (3)
  • 50 Cent (2)
  • Nicki Minaj (2)
  • DJ Clue? (1)
  • G-Unit (1)
  • Mobb Deep (1)
  • Onyx (1)
  • Young MC (1)

Brooklyn: 9 artists, 36 albums

  • Jay Z (15)
  • Beastie Boys (7)
  • Biggie (4)
  • Lil’ Kim (3)
  • Fabolous (2)
  • Foxy Brown (2)
  • Fat Boys (1)
  • GZA (1)
  • Whodini (1)

Manhattan: 6 artists, 7 albums

  • Diddy/The Fam (2)
  • Black Rob (1)
  • Cam’ron (1)
  • Mase (1)
  • Kool Moe Dee (1)
  • Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock (1)

Staten Island (aka Wu-Tang Island): 3 artists, 7 albums

  • Method Man (3)
  • Wu-Tang (3)
  • Ghostface (1)

Bronx:4 artists, 6 albums

  • Heavy D & The Boyz (3)
  • Big Pun (1)
  • Fat Joe (1)
  • Slick Rick (1)

Also

New Jersey: 5 artists, 8 albums

  • Naughty By Nature (2) 
  • Redman (2) 
  • Wyclef (2) 
  • The Fugees (1) 
  • Lauryn Hill (1)

Yonkers (aka DMXville): 3 artists, 7 albums

  • DMX (5)
  • The L.O.X. (1)  
  • Ruff Ryders (1)

Long Island: 3 artists, 5 albums

  • Public Enemy (3)
  • De La Soul (1)
  • Eric B. & Rakim (1)

Valley Stream, New York: 1 artist, 1 album

  • Everlast (1)

But What Does It All Mean?

In the shock of the century, it’s Queens and Brooklyn leading the charge with 36 Platinum albums each, accounting for almost 65% of the total number of albums. Queens had more artists with 13 to Brooklyn’s 9, but Brooklyn had the artist with the most (Jay Z) so I wouldn’t necessarily say Queens has the advantage. Either way, you are splitting hairs; the dominance of those two boroughs alone is incredible. Queens and Brooklyn combined have more Platinum albums than the entire state of California. That kind of concentration is pretty incredible. On the opposite end, what happened to the Bronx? I would have guessed they would have way more than four artists and six albums, just by size and population alone. Also, can we just rename Staten Island “Wu-Tang Island”? Every single Platinum selling album from Staten Island is a product of the Wu. Similarly, without DMX, Yonkers would be down six out of its seven albums. 

The biggest takeaway from all this, though, is the reinforcement of the notion that where you are from (or where you move to) really does matter more than anything else, more than talent, more than ambition. We first really learned that lesson on a national level; Phoenix might be the sixth most populous city in the country, but it's never had a Platinum rapper. Never ever ever. So you might have the talent of Nas, but if you spend your life in Phoenix the odds are extraordinarily stacked against you, to the point where it's essentially impossible you'll ever have a Platinum album.  

And when you dig into a concentrated area like New York City, that effect gets magnified. If Ghostface grows up in Manhattan, is he a part of Wu-Tang? Does he get his own Platinum album? Maybe, probably not. And if you're growing up in Queens, a borough drowning in rap success, and you're going to the same elementary schools that Platinum rappers went to, doesn't pursuing a rap career feel much more realistic than if you grew up in Phoenix without any blueprint to follow. Or move Jay Z from the Marcy Projects to Staten Island, does the most successful rapper of all-time even start rapping at all? Even a few miles, a trip across a bridge, or a different apartment building can make all the difference. 

Photo Credit: Tumblr

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