Midwest hip hop

Midwest hip hop
Midwest hip hop
Stylistic origins Hip hop
Cultural origins Early 1990s, Midwestern United States
Typical instruments Prominent drum machine - turntable - rapping - Sampler - synthesizer - guitar
Mainstream popularity Became a staple of popular music in the mid-to-late 1990s; still remaining dominant through the 21st century.

Midwest hip hop is hip hop music performed by artists from the Midwestern United States. In contrast with its East Coast, West Coast and Southern counterparts, Midwest hip hop has very few constants. Its first dose of national popularity in the mid-90s was associated with fast-paced styles of rappers such as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (Cleveland), Twista (Chicago), Tech N9ne (Kansas City, Missouri), Freddie Gibbs (Gary, Indiana) and Gerald Walker (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), as well as for darker horrorcore style represented mostly in Detroit by rappers such as Insane Clown Posse, Eminem and Twiztid.

These artists became the first to introduce Midwest hip hop that rivaled the popularity of West and East Coast styles. However, subsequent acts which have since risen to national prominence such as Nelly, D12, Common and Kanye West share very few similarities. It is because these lack of constants between acts from different cities (and sometimes even between artists from the same city) that it can be extremely difficult to define a "typical" Midwest sound. One characteristic of Midwest hip hop is that beat tempos can range from 90 to about 180, while East Coast's beat tempo is 90-120, West Coast is 100-120, and Southern rap is 80-110. Prozak, as stated in his DVD "The Hitchcock of HipHop", says that the Midwest's style often revolves around "Dark beats and lyrics".



After hip hop originated in the late 70s and gained popularity through time, Detroit was home to a vibrant underground hip hop scene by the 1990s. According to Insane Clown Posse member Violent J, not only is Detroit's hip hop scene signified by rap battles and waiting to be discovered by a major label, but by independently building up successful business empires, as local rapper Esham did with Reel Life Productions, and Insane Clown Posse did with Psychopathic Records.[1] Esham, Insane Clown Posse, and Kid Rock were the first Detroit rappers to gain major notice.[2][3] Kid Rock later merged rock influences into his music, creating a form of rap rock, and in recent years focused predominately on more rock-oriented music.

Slum Village was an act which emerged from the hip hop scene in Detroit in the mid 1990s. Their first album, Fantastic, Vol. 1 came out in 1996. The producer was J Dilla, who also produced for notable hip-hop acts from around the country, including The Pharcyde, Common, and A Tribe Called Quest. He would later become one of the most sought after producers in hip-hop, with many of his beats being used posthumously after his death in 2006.

Detroit's hip hop is mostly noted for its talented underground artists, and the city's freestyle battles. A popular place for rap battles there is the local Hip Hop Shop, located on W 7 Mile. Eminem began as an underground Detroit rapper and released two albums before being signed; Infinite and The Slim Shady EP. In 1999 he was signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment and he released his major-label debut album The Slim Shady LP. His second album, The Marshall Mathers LP, became the fastest selling hip hop album in history, breaking Snoop Dogg's record. He has gone on to have significant mainstream success with all his albums and is now one of the best selling rappers of all time, making him Detroit's most widely recognizable hip-hop star.

MC Breed, from Flint, Michigan is most notable for his songs "Gotta Get Mine" featuring Tupac Shakur and "Ain't No Future In Yo Frontin'". However, he was on life support for two days in September after he collapsed during a game of pick-up basketball due to kidney failure. It is unclear if prior health complications were the cause of death[4] Rapper Proof, was also part of the Detroit-founded rap group D12. Despite his success with D12, he also released two solo albums which were Searching For Jerry Garcia and I Miss The Hip Hop Shop. On April 11, 2006, he was fatally shot to death in a gunfight at a Detroit nightclub.

Although there is a vibrant underground hip hop scene, it's difficult to make it big in the city that was officially named the most dangerous city in America. Despite Detroit being over 85% African American, many of the most famous white rappers, including Eminem, Insane Clown Posse and Kid Rock, are from the Detroit area. D12, standing for Dirty Dozen or Detroit Twelve, made it big after Eminem's solo debut. Besides Eminem, former member Proof, and former member Bugz the rest of the group consists of members Bizarre, Kon Artis, Kuniva, Swift, and Fuzz Scoota. Detroit rapper Obie Trice made his major-label debut in Shady Records as he released Cheers followed by Second Round's On Me. Royce da 5'9, another Detroit rapper, debuted around the same time D12 did. Before that, Royce was part of the underground rap duo "Bad Meets Evil" with Eminem. Trick Trick is widely known and recognized as an important figure in Detroit's underground hip hop scene.

The most recent MC to get recognition from Detroit is Big Sean. Earlier in his high school years, he developed a good relationship with Detroit's 102.7 (now 107.5) hip hop radio station by performing freestyles and being interacted with them on a weekly basis. When he heard that Kanye West was being interviewed at the station, he came to rap for him. Kanye liked what he heard, and eventually signed Big Sean to his G.O.O.D. Music label. Sean later released Finally Famous: The Album.


Chicago has harbored several locally popular acts since the early 1990s, including Do or Die and Crucial Conflict; the former being a fast-rapping group associated with Twista, and the latter of which was a group with a decidedly down-home, country sound. Chicago soon became known for more than fast rapping with the rising popularity of Common Sense, protege of producer No I.D., who put flippant battle raps over a jazzy backdrop. Other rappers in this vein included Vakill, who also gained some notoriety in Chicago. Da Brat, a female Chicago native, also had a hit in this period with Jermaine Dupri's label So So Def.

In 2004, Chicago producer and rapper Kanye West broke the scene with his multi platinum debut, College Dropout on Roc-A-Fella Records. He became an industry commodity, reworking and repopularizing Wu-Tang producer RZA's style of speeding up Soul instrumental and vocal samples to fit hip hop beats. The style became known as "chipmunk soul". The same year, West produced two hits for Twista, "Slow Jamz" and "Overnight Celebrity"; these led to the rapper's first platinum release, Kamikaze. In 2005, Common (having dropped the "Sense" from his name) signed with Kanye's GOOD Music, West also being a student of No I.D. This led to Be, Common's second gold album. West attempted to push longtime associate Rhymefest, a Chicago battle rapper and ghostwriter; his support helped carve the MC a local niche and some national attention. A guest spot on West's 2006 second album, Late Registration, also solidified the buzz of up-and-coming Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, whose debut album Food & Liquor was the #1 rap album in the country upon its release. His later album The Cool directly references his Chicago roots.

Chicago is currently home to a thriving underground rap-music scene. Blogs such as Fake Shore Drive, SBG (See Beyond Genre), and Midwest Live have become a "vital nerve center" for the local underground rap music scene.[5] A 2009 film, I Am Hip Hop: The Chicago Hip Hop Documentary documented the underground rap-music scene in Chicago from 2004-2009. In 2009, the song "Legendary" was released by Chicago rappers Saurus and Bones, Twista, and AK-47 of Do or Die showcasing the Midwest style of fast lyrics over a dark beat.[6][7]


Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs & Harmony - live in concert

In the early 1990s, five drop outs formed the unit Bone Enterpri$e and took a one way bus ticket to Compton. They went searching for Eazy E, a pioneer of gangsta rapper, and signed to his label. They were signed to Ruthless when they got back to Cleveland for a concert, where they performed for Eazy on the spot. They changed their name to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony consisting of Flesh-N-Bone, Layzie Bone, Wish Bone, Krayzie Bone, Bizzy Bone. While in L.A. they visited The Good Life where they bore witness to the creators of their soon to be new style, a rapid-fire flow and melodic mesh of harmonizing vocals, called Chopping, that they called the Flow Motion. They released their LP Creepin on ah Come Up with the smash single "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" and "Foe tha Love of $" featuring Eazy E. They later had hits like "1st Of Tha Month", "Tha Crossroads", Art of War's "Look Into My Eyes", and "If I Could Teach The World" which earned the group their first American Music Awards. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were the first Midwest rappers to go platinum, which lead to a conflict with Chicago rappers as Twista, Do or Die, and Crucial Conflict about stealing their style. They are also the only ones to collaborate with hip hop "Hall of Famers" like The Notorious BIG ("Notorious Thugs"), Tupac ("Thug Luv"), Big Pun ("When I Die"), and Eazy E ("Foe tha Love of $") while they were all living, and have sold more than 40 million records only in the U.S. Today they have their own label after contractual difficulties with Ruthless records. Their most recent album, Uni5: The World's Enemy was released in May 2010. They returned as a full group back with this album after 10 years of Flesh-n-Bone being in jail, and Bizzy Bone leaving the group twice, thus finally returning.

In 2008, most Northeast Ohio (NEO) Hip-Hop has either a faux-southern sound (usually from inner city Cleveland/Akron), while Youngstown (on the PA Line) preserves a more classic vibe. However, both the Eastern and Western sides of Cleveland itself hold light to a conscious Hip Hop sound coined by artists such as Mos Def and Talib Kweli, while the southern portion of the city holds more to a flashier, more glamorous side of hip hop.

Cleveland was named as xxlmag.com top ten hip hop cities and with Ohio being named as Americas most hip-hop states, and having the full support of Cleveland Cavaliers star small forward LeBron James's imprint, DeamLife Ent., Cleveland and the whole Northeast Ohio music scene showing itself as a force in Midwest as well as mainstream hip-hop.

Cleveland remains on the scene with Kid Cudi, who collaborates with a wide array of musicians, Machine Gun Kelly, who signed with Diddy in August 2011, and other notables, such as Chip Tha Ripper, Ray Cash, and Al Fatz.


Many well-known hip-hop artists hail from the southern Ohio city. Hi-Tek, Five Deez, and Tanya Morgan are some of the artists that have gained international prominence. However, while these artists usually perform within the alternative hip-hop genres, this does not reflect the typical Cincinnati style of rap which is usually characterised with deep Southern influences as well as its own original contributions.

Despite being shunned by major labels, the area's deep talent base has found an audience through local efforts. Beat Gang has enjoyed local popularity with its "Mr. Miyagi" song/dance as well as hosting rap battles. A website, NatiStreets.com, has been launched to address the growing hiphop fanbase in the area.

Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri has several blossoming artists such as Kutt Calhoun, Skatterman & Snug Brim, Big Scoob, Krizz Kaliko and most notably, Tech N9ne. Tech N9ne has sold over 1,000,000 albums independently. Kansas City is home to successful independent record label Strange Music, owned by Travis O'Guin and Tech N9ne, all of which stated above are part of the label.

Other notable Kansas City rappers include Mac Lethal who is signed to the Rhymesayers Entertainment, Fat-Tone who was murdered in 2005 and Rich The Factor who has made tracks with Messy Marv, Mac Dre, JT The Bigga Figga and many other notable California rappers.

Eminem is originally from St. Joseph, just north of Kansas City.


Milwaukee hip hop dates back to the early 80’s, but it first received national attention in 1992 when Arrested Development-whose front-man, Speech, is a native of the city-strung together a set of commercially successful hits.

Until the end of the 1990s, the Milwaukee scene was largely confined to the city’s North Side. However, as members of the hip hop generation began to attend college in the early 2000s, cultural organizations at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee began to invite acts such as Talib Kweli to perform on the East Side campus. The success of these shows led to local groups with similar followings, such as Black Elephant and Rusty P’s being booked for on-campus sets as well.[citation needed] This, in turn, opened the door for the local acts to play off-campus venues on the East Side such as Onopa (now Stonefly) Shank Hall, Up & Under and BBC that had previously been off limits to hip hop (presumably due to the stereotypes associated with such crowds).[citation needed]

Meanwhile, Memphis club music was rapidly finding its way to Milwaukee’s North Side via Southern transplants and North Siders who either had relatives and/or attended college in the area.[citation needed] During this time Coo Coo Cal, who had a more typical Midwestern quick-tongued style (albeit, with a noticeably slower delivery) enjoyed moderate commercial success with his debut single “My Projects” and the follow-up “How Does It Feel”. The result is a more artistically driven scene that is centered on the East Side, and a more commercially driven scene that is centered on the North Side .

The East Side scene is characterized by socially and politically charged lyrics, neo-soul influences and the relatively common use of live instrumentation. Conversely, the North Side scene is characterized by its gritty lyrics, southern club music influences and willingness to follow commercial trends.[citation needed]

Acts such as Rico Love, and Gerald Walker have had (or been featured on) moderately successful singles and mixtapes in recent years. Streetz & Young Deuces, 2006 Get 'Em Magazine Award Winners, have gained national support with the release of their mixtapes.[citation needed] .

88.9 Radio Milwaukee has acknowledged several hip hop artists during their Milwaukee Music Awards including artists such as ¡¡OYE!! , Klassik, and Prophetic.

For the past several years, Milwaukee has hosted a local event called The Miltown Beatdown which served as a beat showcase/battle for local area producers.[citation needed] This has been another tool that has helped to join the North and East side styles together. Milwaukee is also the founding city of the largest DJ organization in the world, The Core DJ's (founder, Milwaukee native & DJ, Tony Neal)[citation needed]

Minneapolis-St. Paul

Although strictly underground, there existed a subterranean hip hop culture in the Twin Cities starting as early as 1981. Similar to the development of hip hop in the South Bronx, Twin Cities rap started as humble parties with a DJ and an emcee.[8] A DJ named Travitron was comparable to the DJ Kool Herc of the Twin Cities area. Shows took place at many venues, most notoriously Club Hip Hop on Selby Avenue in St. Paul. Other artists and DJs include Disco T, Verb X, Brother Jules, Delite, and Truth Maze. The first real album to come out of the Twin Cities was called The I.R.M. Crew, released in 1985. Graffiti and b-boy crews were also existent in the city. This is the world that the current movers of Twin Cities Hip Hop were brought up in.

The main movers of Twin Cities Hip Hop came together to form the group Headshots, a precursor to the Rhymesayers Entertainment label. Members of this group included Slug, I Self Devine, Micranots, Musab, Siddiq, and Ant. Slug was one of the main artists to move into the foreground, setting the tone for the style of music to follow in the years to come.

Since the emergence of Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Minneapolis hip hop scene has seen the local hip-hop scene erupt with talent including Brother Ali, Eyedea, Wide Eyes, the Doomtree collective and Heiruspecs.

The Twin Cities Celebration of hip-hop is an annual event hosted by Yo! The Movement, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate the power of community through hip-hop culture. Over the past five years nearly 20,000 people from around the world have taken part in the festival and conference.

Another notable annual event is Soundset which started its first year on Memorial Day Weekend in May 2008. It features several big name hip hop acts and had over 14,000 in attendance. For 2009, the Soundset music festival was much larger. Some of the notable performing acts include Atmosphere, Pharcyde, Brother Ali, P.O.S, MF Doom, Freeway & Jake One, Immortal Technique, Eyedea & Abilities The Cunninlynguists, Sage Francis, El-P, Heiruspecs, Buck 65, Haiku D'Etat, Blue Scholars, I Self Devine, One Be Lo, Unknown Prophets. Other artists who have performed at Soundset include Aesop Rock, Cameron Mann, Wiz Khalifa, Method Man & Redman, Hieroglyphics, Cage, De La Soul, Big Boi, Slaughterhouse (group), Mac Miller, and Curren$y


Omaha is also home to a growing underground hip hop scene. For a long period of time, the scene was defined by North High School graduate Houston Alexander, aka Scrib or FAS/ONE. In the 1980s he led a hip hop movement in North Omaha called the Scribble Crew as an alliance of graffiti writers who developed a reputation as the top tag artists in the area. The art stands today at 24th and Binney Streets, to 16th and Corby Streets, and other North Omaha locations, and is still respected by the community. His Midwest Alliance act was active through the 1990s and into the new millennium, and is seen as influential on the Omaha scene.[9] Today Alexander is a DJ on a local radio station in Omaha that hosts an independent music show featuring hip hop, and he facilitates an elementary school program that teaches students about hip hop called the "Culture Shock School Tour".[10] Alexander has also been vocal about Omaha's lack of support for its hip hop artists.[11]

OTR Entertainment, a Latin American hip hop collective, has had artists that have collaborated Krazy Race and Armageddon, former member of Fat Joe's Terror Squad and executive producer of Fat Joe's J.O.S.E album.[12] Jerry Wade, aka DJ Kamikaze, was first a member of Omaha's Posse-N-Effect. Their first show was in 1989 in Miller Park in North Omaha.[13] Pigeon John, an increasingly popular Christian rapper, is originally from Omaha.[14] Cerone Thompson, known as Scrybe, has had a number one single on college radio stations across the United States. He has also had several number one hits on the local hip hop station respectively titled, "Lose Control" and "Do What U Do".[15]

Mars Black, perhaps the Omaha rapper with the most national exposure, has released an album on New York City's Team Love Records label. However, in a review of the Mars Black album Folks Music, one reviewer noted that Mars describes the Omaha hip-hop scene as "almost non-existent". Continuing about the album, the reviewer writes, "It's only in such a desolate music environment that his pitiful flow, painfully corny emo-rhymes, and insulting bling-boasts could exist."[16]

Today many hip hop shows are held at the Sokol Auditorium in Omaha's Little Bohemia,[17] as well as The Clabourne, Formally Cleopatra's on Ames Street.

St. Louis

St. Louis is one of the most popular cities in midwest hip-hop, with many popular artists such as Nelly and his St. Lunatics, Huey, Jibbs, J-Kwon, , Chingy, Unladylike, Sylk Smoov, and Murphy Lee.

In the 1990s the St. Louis rap scene didn't get much national attention, but there were artists such as Sylk Smoov, who released his self titled debut album in 1991 that sold 100,000 or more copies. Sylk Smoov was the first rap artist to make music videos, tour, appear in a movie and the soundtrack (produced by DJ Quik)House Party 3, and get national attention. Then a decade later came Nelly and his St. Lunatics collective went on to a career driven by commercial singles, many of which were produced by St Louis production team Basement Beats. Country Grammar sold over 10 million copies and became one of the highest selling hip-hop albums of all time. In 2001 the St. Lunatics released their debut album Free City with hits such as "Summer in the City" and "Midwest Swing". Ali released his solo album Heavy Starch in 2002 and Murphy Lee released his solo album Murphy's Law in 2003.

Rapper Huey received recognition with the smash hit Pop, Lock & Drop It from his 2007 album Notebook Paper at the age of 18. In 2004, FLAME, also from St. Louis, became the first national Christian hip hop artist from the Midwest. FLAME has been nominated for Dove Awards, Stellar Award, and Grammy Award for Best Gospel Rap/Rock Album of the Year. St. Louis native Chingy signed to Atlanta rapper Ludacris' label DTP. Jibbs received his major deal at age 15 gaining popularity with hits such as "Chain Hang Low" and "King Kong", the latter featuring Texas rapper Chamillionaire.

Another St. Louis native, J-Kwon, gained popularity at the age of 17 with the hit single "Tipsy". Akon (born in St. Louis but raised in Senegal, Africa) who is known for his African melodic singing, is also a native of St. Louis. Akon became the first and only solo artist to hold the number one and two spots simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 charts twice. Konvicted was a major hit in the global level selling over 21 million copies worldwide.

St Louis deejays and producers have held their own on a national level as well. B-Money placed songs on Jay-Z's Kingdom Come and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Trying soundtrack, DJ Charlie Chan tours internationally as the backing DJ for DMC (from Run-DMC), and the DJ crew Wax Murdaraz (which B-Money and Charlie Chan are both members of) have competed on a USA national level in DJ battles such as the DMC World DJ Championships and Kool Mixx. Producer and vocalist Black Spade has developed an underground cult following with his nationally distributed OM Hip-Hop album release To Serve With Love, working with like-minded soul and Hip-Hop artists such as J*Davey and his group, The Hawthorne Headhunters.


Thanks in part to the local hip hop radio station WJQM many local artists have begun to get some recognition. Madison based rappers also receive recognition through opening up for major acts at concerts in the area, many have shared stages with the likes of Sean Kingston, Fat Joe, and Trina. Many have also collaborated and developed relations with other major rappers most notably Beloit-based Bodiaga's work with Bun B and DJ Pain 1 producing beats for Young Jeezy. Madison is also the hometown of Brother Ali. This scene is heavily influenced and connected with neighboring Milwaukee. Minneapolis and Chicago's hip-hop scenes.

Madison hip-hop has a classic and slower style with more relatively lighter hearted lyrics than other Midwestern cities such as Detroit and Cleveland.


  1. ^ Bruce, Joseph; Hobey Echlin. "Paying Dues". In Nathan Fostey. ICP: Behind the Paint (second ed.). Royal Oak, Michigan: Psychopathic Records. pp. 164–167. ISBN 09741846083. 
  2. ^ McCollum, Brian (November 8, 2002). "Film exaggerates the support early hip-hop had in Detroit.". Detroit Free Press. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-8920875_ITM. Retrieved 11 April 2009. 
  3. ^ "Before Eminem, there was Esham". Chicago Tribune. December 9, 2003. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/chicagotribune/access/487244521.html?dids=487244521:487244521&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Dec+09%2C+2003&author=KRT&pub=Chicago+Tribune&desc=Before+Eminem%2C+there+was+Esham&pqatl=google. Retrieved 11 April 2009. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ Raymer, Miles. "Sharp Darts: Chicago Hip-Hop's Demilitarized Zone | Music Column". Chicago Reader. http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/sharpdarts/090129/. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  6. ^ http://www.gowherehiphop.com/2009/11/twista-and-ak-of-do-or-die-join-chicago-duo-for-fast-paced-legendary-record/
  7. ^ http://www.fakeshoredrive.com/2009/11/saurus-bones-feat-twista-ak-of-do-or-die-legendary.html/
  8. ^ Scholtes, Peter S. (2004-08-18). "One Nation, Invisible: The Untold Story of TC hip hop, 1981-1996". City Pages 25 (1237). ISSN 0744-0456. http://citypages.com/databank/25/1237/article12383.asp. Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  9. ^ (1999) Midwest Alliance - Rockin' the B-Boy Language. The Reader. 3/19/99. Retrieved 6/25/07.
  10. ^ (2007) Exclusive interview with Houston Alexander. MMAJunkie.com. Retrieved 6/15/07.
  11. ^ Losa, J. (2006) "On the Town: Fans Should Support Local Hip-Hop." Omaha World-Herald. 11/2/06. Retrieved 7/1/07.
  12. ^ (nd) Featured Label: OTR Entertainment. LatinRapper.com. Retrieved 6/17/07.
  13. ^ (nd) DJ Kamikaze. Retrieved 6/17/07.
  14. ^ Tardio, A. (2007) "Underground Report (Pigeon John, Musab, Redcloud)". UnderGround DX. 6/8/07. Retrieved 6/17/07.
  15. ^ Davis, R. (2005) ["UNO rapper, student hits No. 1 on local radio station with current single."] The Gateway. 10/21/05. Retrieved 6/17/07.
  16. ^ Dombal, R. (2005) Review of Mars Black: Folks Music. Pitchfork. Retrieved 6/17/07.
  17. ^ Wenz, J. (nd) "Midwest Connectionz" City Weekly. Retrieved 6/17/07.

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