Both sonically and geographically hip-hop goes in cycles, and while New York City dominated many of hip-hop's early years, the last decade or so has seen Atlanta and the South rack up the majority of rap's platinum success. That's not conjecture, it's a fact.
It can't be a coincidence that some of the only younger New York City artists, but certainly not the only artists, to make it into the national spotlight draw more heavily from the South than their native soil, a topic Joell Ortiz touched on powerfully in a new interview with HipHopDX.
When you’re trying to become a Hip Hop artist....and you don’t know the business yet, the first thing you associate success with is the radio... That’s the win. That’s worth more than money...
So the kids that are coming up now in New York are tuned into the radio, just like they’ve always been," he continues. "But what radio is playing now is not, and I’m speaking in New York, is not that traditional New York sound. They’re playing Southern records. They’re playing Trap music. They’re playing more so commercial music only and it’s transforming aspiring artists into that because when you say to yourself, ‘Yo. I want to get on the radio,’ and you turn on the radio you kind of imitate what they play because it gives you the best shot.
You have New York kids rhyming with Southern accents that don’t really exist. It’s amazing to me and I understand it, so I don’t blame the kids. - Joell Ortiz, HipHopDX Interview
First, I want to go out of my way to point out that Joell went out of his way to not feed into the Old Guy vs. Young Guy, '90s Hip-Hop Head vs. Trap Music Fan, New York vs. the World thing that's been treated by the media as some sort of cultural war, even though the vast majority of people I talk to in real life (aka not internet comment sections) appreciate music from across eras, sounds and regions.
So Joell's point isn't a judgement, more of a description of an undeniable shift in music that I largely agree with, although I don't put quite so much value on radio's role. The bright, shiny lights of radio are still very much blinding for young artists, but most young kids aren't listening to Hot 97 or Power 106 or any radio station. They're largely on YouTube and SoundCloud and streaming services, international sources of music that have helped obliterate traditional regional differences. And regardless of the city, mainstream radio only plays music from artists signed to a major label, so Hot 97's not playing an indie artist from NYC no matter how hard they pretend to rep for their city.
And that's how we get someone like Desiigner, a Brooklyn rapper who clearly spent more time copycatting listening to Future than anyone from his neighborhood. That doesn't mean New York hip-hop is dead though, only that the borough's boundaries have expanded, as the lines have expanded everywhere. And if music history is any indication, the South will eventually fall and some other region will rise. I wouldn't be surprised if in 10 years Atlanta rappers are talking about how everyone wants to sound like they're from the Bronx.
After all, it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at.