Growing up an underground rap nerd in Boston it seemed inconceivable that anyone wouldn't know who Akrobatik was, and then when I moved to the Bay Area after high school, my new roommates were shocked to hear that I'd never heard of Mac Dre. As far as they were concerned, I had just told them I'd never heard of whoever this Jesus Christ guy was.
While the internet has exploded a lot of regional boundaries, now all you need is a Wi-Fi connection to listen to music from artists halfway across the globe, in many ways hip-hop remains instensely local. That's why every time I travel I'm sure to ask locals what artists are legends there that the larger world doesn't really know - word to Fat Pat, Kilo Ali and Bump J - and why I dug into Pigeons & Planes new study of local hip-hop hits.
By looking for songs on Spotify that were generating an especially high number of streams in a specific region compared to nationally, they were able to pinpoint songs that were uniquely popular in certain cities. And while they pulled out a wide range of cities in the U.S. and internationally, even a quick representative sample reveals some interesting insights:
- New York City: Joey Bada$$ "Devastated"
- Washington D.C.: Wale "My PYT"
- Atlanta: YFN Lucci "I Wonder Why"
- Chicago: Lud Foe "Cuttin Up"
- San Francisco: Mistah F.A.B. "Up Until Then"
What I find particularly compelling about those songs is that it shows that while the internet has in many ways homogenized culture, music preferences have remained intensely local. Every single one of those artists is a native of that area, and with the large exception of Wale and to a lesser extent Joey Bada$$, they aren't particularly well known outside of their respective cities. I work in hip-hop and to be honest I'd never heard of YFN Lucci and Lud Foe, and if I didn't live in the Bay Area, I'd likely not know much about Mistah F.A.B. either.
Ultimately, this kind of variation is what I love about hip-hop. I don't want to fly to a new city and go eat at the same McDonald's I could buy a burger from back home. I want the food I can't get anywhere else, the food that really says something about the place I'm in, and in a way it's comforting to know those kind of local differences still exist. Even with a song like Wale's "PYT" that I know well, I just don't have the same sense of it as a big song as I apparently would if I lived in the DMV.
That's also why it's disappointing to see that the song most uniquely popular to Boston is Chance's "No Problem." Great song, much love to Chance, but my native soil somehow still hasn't produced anyone local who's making big enough waves to drown out the national noise. Cousin Stizz clearly needs to drop a new album.
So all hail the local hit. With all due respect to Rakim, I think it's clear that even in 2016, it is where you're from that still matters.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.