Major cities are the birthplaces of so many major artists. As the holidays are upon us, the phrase “home for the holidays” rings true for many artists reuniting with their families in the cities where they grew up. Whether a musician has written a love song for his or her city or is merely shaped by its unique qualities, many of the industry’s hugest influencers lean on their origin for personal and artistic metamorphosis.
East Coast, West Coast, almost smack dab in the middle. The three largest major cities in the country produced some of the most iconic musical talent in recent years, and it’s not a coincidence. Though New York, L.A., and Chicago are so different from each other, they all carry traits that help birth creative genius. Sometimes it’s not in a pretty way. Something that attracts fans to stars is their “The Beast” story: how a Grammy-winning flower grew between life’s dealt-a-bad-hand concrete cracks. Not all artists have some potential Oscar-winning story in their past, but a lot do. Many of these stories relate to the city they grew up in, directly or indirectly.
Top 3 Major Cities
New York is the epicenter for culture in the United States. With over 8 million people living in its five boroughs, New York explodes with diversity, creativity, and intensity that cannot be matched. Below are four big artists of recent years from The Big Apple. In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of…
Alicia Keys. What to even say about her. Keys has one of those timeless voices that transcends all her albums over an extensive career. With her recent career change as a judge on The Voice, Keys has proved that she’s a generally wonderful person to be around as well as a phenomenal singer. New York City is a place that she always reminds her fans of in terms of its inspiration to her music.
She even collaborated with New York native Jay-Z to create “Empire State of Mind,” a love song to New York City. It’s one of their most popular songs even as individual artists. Keys released her new album Here in early November 2016. It’s socially-aware, morally-centered on family and love, and on par with Keys’ humanitarian identity. A few days before the release, she released this short video that includes music off her new album, and it speaks to her love of the city.
Jay-Z is a producer mogul, rap mogul; he’s the guy you want on your side if you’re wedging your way into the hip-hop scene. It’s a crowded platform, but the enormous talent keeps coming, and Jay-Z continues to hold his head above water. He is a feature on Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” and it proves his love for the city. In his rap, he discusses memories of different sections of the city, coming from a nobody to a king of New York. This is epitomized when he joins Keys onstage for her live performance of Here in none other than Times Square. The moment frankly reinforces the images both musicians hold as New York music icons, and it was a crowning moment in both of their careers.
A Tribe Called Quest is one of hip-hop’s most influential groups. Their music was prevalent from the late 80’s until almost the turn of the millennium. They recently have begun to release new music. Their latest album We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service was the first since Phife Dawg passed away from diabetes complications earlier in 2016. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg were childhood friends who grew up together in Queens, New York. Therefore, the city is the place where the group began but also where a lifelong friendship blossomed. The group is known for their softer take on the genre around a time when ferocious, gang-related lyrics were erupting from both coasts and also shaping the genre (N.W.A., Notorious B.I.G., Tupac). Artists like Snoop Dogg followed this lighter hip-hop vibe along with A Tribe Called Quest, though both were vastly different from opposing coasts.
Lady Gaga always had a flair for the dramatic. Her personality reflected her stardom before the industry caught up with her. Constantly metamorphosing and struggling to be discovered, early Gaga was vastly different than the Joanne version. That’s how she’d like it, anyways. Gaga actually had a pleasant, well-off upbringing on the Upper West side of New York, but her dedication to become a star intervened. She broke away from the sheltered childhood and found herself in the villages during her teen and early 20’s, hopping between people in the industry who helped better her through gigs and connections. Therefore, a lot of her artistic creation before fame was in New York. It represents the struggle and discovery that turned her into Lady Gaga.
Los Angeles is the hub of the West Coast; the only comparable city in intensity to New York, though the vibe is starkly different. Palm trees and people so perfect, they look like walking, airbrushed photographs. Hollywood and the acting industry focuses in L.A., but the music industry is also very prevalent in the City of Angels. From hip-hop’s current shark to the lead singer of a well-known band, Los Angeles fosters some of the most creative geniuses in any major city.
Metallica is one of the hugest heavy metal bands of all time. Their origination was in Los Angeles, and their lengthy career demonstrates the undoubted talent in the group. Metallica was around in the 80’s, and they’re still releasing music. They formed in L.A. in 1981 when drummer Lars Ulrich posted an ad in a local newspaper, and vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield responded. Hardwired… to Self-Destruct dropped in 2016, almost thirty years since their West Coast start. The band is set to tour in 2017 in support of their new work. When any group continues to plug forward for decades, it’s a true testament to their work ethic as well as their talent.
Snoop Dogg is not technically from Los Angeles, but he and many other huge rappers originate from Compton, a city close to L.A. He is another artist with a lengthy career. He is one of the prodigy artists to sign with Death Row Records, the notorious record label of Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. Snoop’s laid-back demeanor and light hip-hop style allowed him to stick out in his genre. Snoop is the generation (career wise) after Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E: three major members of the group N.W.A. that put Compton on the map for hip-hop. He has always praised his Cali roots from songs like “California Roll” with Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams off his 2015 album Bush. One of his most famous songs from his time at Death Row is in the music video below.
Kendrick Lamar is the generation after Snoop. Literally and career wise. He also is from Compton; not L.A., but nearby in a place known for its gangs, violence, grit, and hip-hop. Lamar shares the sentiment of Compton with the generations of legends before him, and he is well on his way to being a legend, himself. Lamar is the hugest talent on the West Coast and arguably the whole country.
The importance of Lamar is that he uses his artistic space to make a message, usually a social critique, and does so with innovative beats that created a Kendrick-Lamar-only recognition to his music. To Pimp a Butterfly hit airwaves and exploded. His 2016 Grammys performance was the most politically and socially aware performance to ever hit the stage. He references Compton and his Cali upbringing, as well. That is not highlighted more than his interview with the living members of N.W.A. where Lamar himself was the interviewer.
Frank Ocean is another huge talent out of L.A., technically Long Beach, CA. Though he’s originally from Long Beach, he grew up in New Orleans around the jazz scene. Ocean is truly one of a kind in the industry. His first album Channel Orange coincided with his admittance of love with another man. It sparked a wave of acceptance throughout the hip-hop/R&B world, a world not known for being keen on homosexuality. The album itself was also unique and well-executed; Ocean was nominated for Grammy awards and the likes. He stepped out of the spotlight for years to then finally release Blonde in 2016 after months of delay. It too is its own body of unique, well-executed R&B style; he doesn’t disappoint. Frank Ocean is a bit of an elusive mystery. He didn’t put his album in the running for the 2017 Grammys. He almost recluses, never letting the media get a good hold on him. However, his talent precedes him and keeps fans hooked.
Adam Levine is the frontman and lead singer for Maroon 5. Maroon 5 has been together since the mid-90’s. Songs About Jane created a lot of hype for the band with hits such as “Sunday Morning,” “This Love,” and “She Will Be Loved.” This was their first album in 2002, and over ten years later, they still are charting artists with a huge following. L.A. birthed the band, and Levine even has a tattoo of the record studio room number where they recorded their first album. They are one of the more recent bands who have been able to sustain a lengthy career, mostly recently with their single “Don’t Wanna Know” with none other than Kendrick Lamar.
Chicago is a binding major city between the two powerful coasts. Known as “The Windy City,” its history seeps with industrialization and vibrant musical creativity. Blues music finds its origins strongly in Chicago with legends like Muddy Waters and others. Hip-hop is another genre that came from The Great Migration and the subsequent generations since. Jazz helped support the development of hip-hop. Though the city is a tourist destination, it also is a key example of racial tension due to neighborhoods that continue to hold the same racial majority for a variety of reasons.
Chance the Rapper is the only person giving Kendrick Lamar a run for his money for the hugest name in current hip-hop. He does nothing the way others do. Chance is unsigned; all his music is free and online. He only profits off of tours and merchandise. He plays with a mellow, jazz-infused, creative vibrato to his hip-hop. Listen closely though – the lack of gritty tone and snarled tongue does not mean that he lacks purpose. Many of Chance the Rapper’s lyrics are also charged with a socially-woke standpoint. He also often discusses his home city of Chicago and the issues related to racism that occur in the city. Chance’s progressive standpoint is important, as artists’ public platform is there to be used.
Kanye West is originally from Chicago, one of many big names to come out of the city. He also speaks frequently about issues pertaining to Chicago, most recently when he tweeted about his meeting with Donald Trump. For better or for worse, West certainly has a strong connection to the place of origin for his artistic identity.
These issues included bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) December 13, 2016
Common is a Chicago rapper who started his career in the 90’s, before Kanye West and Chance the Rapper even knew what rap music was. He is known for his social issues lyrics, as well. His last album, dropped in 2016, is titled Black America Again. The title in itself demonstrates a fight against Donald Trump and his extremist viewpoints. However, that album is decades into his career. His critically-acclaimed work began at the start in 1992. Can I Borrow A Dollar? maintained underground success until his career transitioned to mainstream attention. Common really brought a light to Chicago’s rap scene moreso than any predecessors, paving the way for those who followed years later.
2 More Major Cities
Boyz II Men is a R&B group from Philadelphia. They have been together since the mid-80’s and are still producing music and touring. Philadelphia is the origin city of the group. The group formed at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and was originally called Unique Attraction. Therefore, though there were lineup changes like any group, Boyz II Men formed when they were young. They represent the musical talent in Philly, and decades later, they still actively contribute to the industry, making them one of the biggest R&B groups of all time.
‘Cuz she slays… Beyoncé is one of the greatest artists in the country, nevermind specifically Houston. She was born and raised in Houston where Destiny’s Child formed. Her Southern roots are highlighted in her recent single off of Lemonade titled “Formation.” She sings, “My daddy Alabama, my mama Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole: make a Texas ‘Bama.” Her 2016 album topped almost every “Best Album of the Year” list for many reasons, but one is her confrontation and discussion of her roots and African American female identity. Her Houston upbringing connects to the album and this lyric specifically. Though her queen status was undeniable before Lemonade, Beyoncé’s socially-aware, poignant, creative approach to her visual album elevated her status and added an urgent, serious tone to her body of work.