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Hip-Hop Out-Charted Pop By 227 Weeks in 2017

It may come as no surprise, but hip-hop was the most popular genre of music in 2017, by an impressive margin. It was reported earlier in th...

By The Numbers: 50 Cent didn't kill New York Hip-Hop, but did Kanye and Ebro?

Regardless of how vehemently you defend the 5 boroughs (and Jersey), the East Coast hip-hop hub that birthed the genre hasn't been consistently relevant since the mid-2000s. Atlanta came in and dominated throughout the post-piracy and pre-streaming era of 2007-2012, and with the introduction of Spotify, Youtube and Soundcloud, location and geographical barriers to entrance into mainstream hip-hop have been entirely erased. Can you name where Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Pump, or Lil Yachty are from? I can't. And I don't care. But if it were 2001 I'd look at you a little funny if you told me a Queens rapper was going to be working heavily with Dr. Dre.

The Peak, Death, and Tentative Renaissance of New York Hip-Hop

This graph shows the average chart position (Hip-Hop and R&B chart, not Billboard Hot 100 or Billboard 200) of every album and single in the dataset, per year, from 1991 through 2017. The orange line is Albums, the blue line is Singles. The higher the line, the worse the chart position. The "Singles" line is very indicative of the relevance and popularity of a region. Some artists are local legends, but if their song is charting highly in the entire country, they are flying the flag for their region across the entire country. We can see the average chart position of New York singles peaked in 1996 at 24, and then steadily worsened to 82 in 2016. It did remain relatively strong until 2006, whereafter it increased dramatically. Let's not forget 50 Cent had his sales battle with Kanye in 2007...

The albums line is a little more erratic. There have been some watershed years for New York albums, notably 1992 (Das EFX, Redman), 1996 (Busta, De La, Foxy, Fugees, Jay, Mobb Deep, Nas), 1997 (Jay, Nas, CNN, Diddy, Mase, LL,Big), 1999 (Jay, Ja Rule, Meth, Bleek, Mos Def, NORE, Nas), 2001 (Jay, Angie Martinez, AZ, Nas, Ja Rule, Jadakiss, Mobb Deep, Petey Pablo, Redman), and 2002 Jay, Nas, LL, Onyx, NORE, GZA, Cam, Swizz, Styles P). Again, after 2006 the line tends to trend upwards. Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z have flown the flag for the region in the album charts post-2005, with a total of eight number 1 albums between them. 2013 was a great year for New York albums, with A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Jay-Z and even veteran Joe Budden all topping the charts, but the erratic nature of the line makes it hard to argue that the region has fully recovered from the mid-2000s slump (hence the "tentative renaissance"). 

50 Cent didn't kill New York Hip-Hop

These two graphs show the average hip-hop chart position of singles and albums per year. The blue line consists of all of 50's rivals, artists like Fat Joe, Ja Rule, Jadakiss, Onyx etc. The yellow line is non-rivals and collaborators. The orange line is the entire dataset.

If 50 Cent were the cause of the death of New York hip-hop, the graph would show a big dip in the blue line, dragging the yellow and orange along with it. On the Singles chart the blue line does perform slightly worse than the yellow, although in 2006, when Fif's beef-machine was in full form, his rivals actually performed better on the charts than his collaborators and non-rivals. A beef with 50 Cent wasn't necessarily career suicide during the mid-2000s, despite the stereotype. Unless you were Ja Rule, in which case it was.

The Albums graph proves beyond doubt that 50 Cent didn't kill New York hip-hop. The blue line, his rivals, performs significantly better than both the yellow and the orange. All three lines basically mirror one another. Even New York rappers he was cosigning and working with (G-Unit, Lloyd Banks, Styles P, DMX, Tony Yayo, M.O.P, Mobb Deep, Lil' Kim, LL Cool J etc) were losing relevance between 2004 and 2010. Ebro's claim that 50 Cent "destroyed" New York by not collaborating with locals is not based in fact, as he was collaborating closely with a lot of New York artists during this period, certainly more than Jay-Z or Nas, and oddly, they were actually performing slightly worse than his rivals.

From these charts I conclude 50 Cent did not kill New York hip-hop. 

Did Kanye kill NY hip-hop the day he beat 50 Cent in the sales battle?

Back in 2007, Kanye and 50 Cent, as two of the genre's biggest stars, went toe-to-toe in a first-week sales battle around their respective third albums Graduation and Curtis. Fif actually promised to stop releasing solo albums if he didn't win the battle, such was his confidence. He then lost dramatically. Kanye's record sold 957,000 first week, while 50's Curtis only managed 691,000. Ye's album has subsequently been spoken of as a classic, as experimental and genre-forwarding, and one of the first examples of someone taking the maximal hip-hop/pop being flirted with by other rap stars and pushing it to the absolute limit. And Curtis? It has a metacritic rating of 58, and is widely regarded as the record that signalled the end of 50's run. 

Here is the main graph that showcases the hip-hop/R&B chart position for every single and album in the dataset. The yellow line represents 50's debut record dropping, and the purple line is the sales battle that Fif lost in 2007. While the chart position of New York singles had been slowly worsening since the year 2000, it dropped off even more dramatically from 2006 to 2010. Album chart positions became significantly more erratic, and never again reached the height and consistency of 1996 through 2002. 

It's often been said Kanye killed gangster rap and signalled the rise of the backpack rapper, with Lupe Fiasco and Kid Cudi rising quickly to prominence in the mid to late 2000s. New York has traditionally relied on a street-hardened aesthetic, so it's possible that in "killing" gangster rap, Kanye inadvertently dealt a hammer blow to the East Coast. 

I will conclude that Kanye West had an obvious impact on New York hip-hop

His sales battle and genre-defining work drew rap away from sample-based (which he helped prolong), hard-edged music and set it on the path to EDM collabs and trap beats. Ever since that fateful day in 2007 when 50 Cent lost his sales battle with Graduation, New York hip-hop has struggled to regain a consistent sound or movement. Jay-Z moved well away from gangster rap with 2009's The Blueprint 3 and beyond, Nicki Minaj brought pop-rap back to the fold, French Montana added a melodic element that was more prevalent in the West Coast during the 90s, and artists like Desiigner sounded like they came straight out of Atlanta or the South. Even in 2017, with Cardi B and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie bringing mainstream focus back to New York, there still isn't a definable "East Coast" sound as there was between 1990 and 2006, something the BasedGod himself Lil B is alleged to have alluded to in October 2017. 

What if artists were just getting older and losing relevance due to their age?

This article, entitled "By The Numbers: Ageism In Hip-Hop Doesn't Exist", allows us to dismiss this possibility immediately. 

What if there were simply less popular artists releasing music during this period? 

During this period we received albums from Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, G-Unit, 50 Cent, N.O.R.E, Fabolous, Cam'Ron, C-N-N, Jadakiss, Diddy, Fat Joe, Raekwon, Joe Budden, Nicki Minaj, Busta Rhymes, DMX, Ja Rule, Prodigy, Ghosftace, and numerous other top-tier artists. Below is a list of albums released per-year. NY hip-hop died around 2007, and 2009 was the most prolific year. It actually began to recover around 2011, despite there being less releases. This is not a measurable reason for the loss of relevance and cohesive sound New York experienced during 2007-2017.

What if it were just a drop-off in quality? 

Here is the average critical review score per year for every single album in the dataset. From a peak in 1992 and another in 1996, the score gradually declined, but not to the degree that would indicate there was a definitive answer. I ran a t-test on the data, and there was no statistically significant difference between average critical score of 1996-2004 and 2005-2017, and no strong linear relationship between year and critical score, hence a drop in quality can't be blamed for the death of New York hip-hop. 

Did Ebro and other DJs play a hand?

In 2017, Fif and Ebro are still at each other's necks over who killed NY hip-hop. 50 Cent claims that Ebro wasn't playing local artists enough on his radio show, and Ebro counters "actually, there were a lot of people who had hits during that time". 

This chart shows the amount of top 10 hip-hop/R&B charting singles per year for New York artists since 1990. There is a clear and blatant drop-off after 2004. Songs relied even more heavily on radio airplay during the 2000s to chart, so one reason for this drop could be a lack of DJ support. There are two things that may also contribute: a drop in quality, or a drop in the number of singles released. From the previous heading and chart, it's clear there was no major drop in quality in the music being released by New York artists during this period. The drop in critical review score occurred mainly between 1996 and 2002, which is the most fruitful period for singles and chart positions according to the above graph.

This chart shows no major drop off in the number of singles released. The difference between 2004 and 2005 doesn't fully explain the lack of top 10 singles, and running a correlation analysis between number of singles released and number of top 10 entries yields a correlation coefficient of 0.15, indicating no major linear relationship. 

Therefore, I conclude that Ebro and other New York DJs did contribute to the "death" of New York rap during the mid-2000s, certainly more than 50 Cent, by not playing or promoting singles enough on their radio shows.


These are the hard stats. There is no hiding behind numbers, and numbers don't lie. However, interpretations of charts and figures vary, and the reasons behind certain numbers or figures aren't always clear. My conclusion is that it was Kanye West's defeat of 50 Cent and the direction he took on his third and fourth (808's) albums, alongside local DJs not prioritizing New York music, which  contributed heavily to the loss of relevance that the region experienced during the mid-2000s, a loss of relevance that remains to this day. It wasn't 50 Cent's fault.

For a full breakdown of the method I used, the limitations, and an explanation of who and what is in the dataset, read this article.

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