The music of the Cleveland hip hop scene can be best characterized by its rapid-fire delivery and melodic stylings. Cleveland hip hop began to receive national popularity in the early-1990s with its first platinum-selling rapper, M.C. Brains. Brains' pop, reggae, R&B crossover stylings can be heard in the melodic rap of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, who took the style and mixed it with Chopper rap and G-Funk synths.
Brains' 1992 hit single "Oochie Coochie" was a crossover hit that peaked at Number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Number One on the Hot Rap Singles chart. Signed to Motown records by New Edition’s Michael Bivins, M.C. Brains took the hip hop scene by storm.
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony came from the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland in 1991. Rapper Eazy-E of N.W.A. signed Bone Thugs to his Ruthless Records label in 1994. Their debut EP Creepin on ah Come Up yielded the hit single "Thuggish Ruggish Bone." In 1995, Bone Thugs released E. 1999 Eternal, which included "Tha Crossroads," a tribute to recently deceased Eazy-E. "Tha Crossroads" won a GRAMMY for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1997. In 2023, Bone Thugs performed with LL COOL J’s 50th anniversary of hip hop tour.
In the 2000s, Kid Cudi fused Bone Thugs' melodic rap with alternative rock, electronic, and psychedelic elements to create a new genre-bending sound, reminiscent of work by frequent collaborator Kanye West. Kid Cudi showed artistic talent early on and began rapping during high school in Cleveland. In 2008, he released his first mixtape, A Kid Called Cudi, which introduced his positive, psychedelic-space-themed style. His debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, was released in 2009. The album includes the GRAMMY-nominated singles “Day ‘n’ Nite” and “Make Her Say.” His most recent studio album, Entergalactic (2022), was accompanied by an animated Netflix special of the same name.
Machine Gun Kelly cites Bone Thugs' influence on his rapid-fire delivery, while his crossover style has a punk rock edge with distorted guitars, anthemic choruses, and high-energy instrumentals. Both Kelly's and Cudi's lyrics mine their personal experiences and mental health struggles, resonating with their fans. MGK signed to Diddy's Bad Boy Records in 2011. The single “Invincible” from his debut album Lace Up reached Number 8 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart. Initially concerned the song was too commercial, he later had a change of heart. MGK is lauded for maintaining and nurturing his Cleveland roots.
The Cleveland hip hop legacy continues in 2023 with artists like Doe Boy, Zelly Ocho, YSN Flow, YFL Kelvin, Ray Jr., and many more. As the sound continues to evolve, it is the city of Cleveland that connects it, branch to root.
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