A tour of hip-hop landmarks in New York City

For the true pilgrim, here are some historical sites and cultural hubs in the city where hip-hop began.

Photograph: Andrew Zaeh

In all likelihood, the biggest moments in Jay-Z’s upcoming shows at the Barclays Center will come when he performs “Empire State Of Mind,” the single that immediately became a de facto anthem for New York City. It’s packed with references to his beloved hometown, from his old Boerum Hill stash spot to the McDonald’s on 145th Street and Broadway where he used to meet up with other hustlers. But it’s not just Jigga who references New York in his lyrics; this city is so significant in the genre’s history that Afrika Bambaataa recently announced his support for a hip-hop museum in the Bronx. Until that materializes, here are a few legendary landmarks to hit.

15. WILD STYLE (1983)Ladies and gentlemen, the South Bronx is...breaking! And popping, locking, tagging and rhyming. Grandmaster Flash, Lee Quinones, Fab Five Freddy, the Rocksteady Crew and Double Trouble (best lyric: "We love to make love to the jolly f

Kool Herc's House

This was the site of the first true hip-hop block party. The legend goes something like this: In 1973, 18-year-old Bronx DJ Kool Herc and his sister wanted to buy some back-to-school clothes, so they threw a party to raise funds and accidentally invented a new genre of music in the process. Herc was the first DJ to realize that if you played the same record back to back, you could isolate a song’s drum break and create an endless percussion loop for break-dancers to move to. This technique slowly but surely evolved into a style of music—and an entire way of life. 1520 Segwick Ave at W 181st St, Bronx

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Weinstein Hall at NYU

Hip-hop may have been invented in the Bronx, but it didn’t become a global force until it hit Manhattan. This NYU dorm is where then-student Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons started Def Jam Records in 1984, putting out albums by heavy-hitting acts such as LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, and later on, some guy named Jay-Z. 5-11 University Pl between E 8th St and Washington Square North

The Notorious B.I.G.Darlene Okpo singles out the rapper and Bed-Stuy native: "He had the Versace shades, Coogi sweater, denim jeans and fresh Timberland boots, and he was simply cool in it," she says.

Biggie’s bodega

Though the bodega’s no longer there, you can find footage online of a 17-year-old Notorious B.I.G. freestyling here in front of a cheering crowd. Though not yet famous, he already possessed the engaging, smooth and clever wordplay he would later display on his classics. Go there to feel the spirit of Biggie embiggen you. Bedford Ave at Quincy St, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

5Pointz Aerosol Art Center

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Street art is an indelible part of hip-hop culture, and 5Pointz bills itself as the “graffiti mecca.” The warehouse space in Queens gets visited by world-famous taggers, musicians and artists, and upon its walls you can find works by some of the greatest to ever wield a can of spray paint, including old-schoolers such as Tracy 168. 45-46 Davis St at Jackson Ave (5ptz.com)

Big L’s corner

He was so ahead of his time, his parents hadn’t even met yet. The late Big L was a master of wit and flow, a once-
in-a-lifetime talent who remained true to the streets he came from. But he was tragically gunned down on this Harlem street corner in 1999 at the age of 24. One of his posthumous LPs, released in 2009, was titled 139 & Lenox. And the cover of 1995’s Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous—the only album that L would see released in his lifetime—depicts him standing at the very spot where would die, near his residence. W 139th St at Lenox Ave


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If you’re a popular rapper these days, chances are you played your first New York show at this salsa club. While the scene is always lively, things really get turned up when it transforms into a hip-hop venue. This club has hosted such heroes as Erykah Badu, KRS-One, Nas and OutKast, and also gave an early leg up to current luminaries such as Drake, Kanye West and Rick Ross. 204 Varick St at W Houston St (212-243-4940, sobs.com)