Hip-hop was live before it was ever recorded. Like the saying goes, “The revolution will not be televised.” Of course, recordings have played a huge part of rap’s dominance, but as hip-hop shifted its narrative focus to album sales over the course of its rise to being the most popular genre of music in America, the importance of live shows remained paramount to both the genre and the culture.
Live shows are very much the lifeblood of any artist’s income, they’re the way we connect to our favorites outside of our headphones and stereo systems, they often help to indicate which rappers’ careers will become mainstays and which are a flash in the pan. Simply put, there’s nothing like the live experience. Even while technology was changing how the music was produced and consumed, a good live show is undeniable. The push and pull between the audience and the MC is the essence of the art form.
Of course, to catch your favorite rappers in the right environments, it helps to know which venues provide the best experience for hip-hop, which often requires unique conditions to flourish, as opposed to rock or pop. The best rap venues allow for the crowd and the rapper to feel each others’ energy and reciprocate it. Here are the best venues to catch rap shows in Los Angeles, CA. They not only fit the acoustic requirements for hip-hop, they know which artists to book, how regularly, and often lead to the most fun times with the least hassle. Check them out below.
This is the venue where I’ve seen perhaps more LA-based rap shows than any other than the Observatory. Located at the thriving LA Live in downtown, it’s a great spot for up-and-coming acts like Xavier Wulf, Shoreline Mafia, and Masego — all of whom I caught within the last eight months at this youth-skewing venue. A nice thing is that the bar never seems to be too busy at any of the shows I’ve been to, which was possibly a function of the Generation Z-catered artists I caught at the Novo, but it’s good to be able to get your drinks and get back to the music.
An old fave with plenty of sentimental value, this mid-sized venue is hands-down one of the absolute best spots in all of LA to check out hip-hop. With two rooms, many of the bigger-named, youth-oriented artists like Lil Skies take over the more sizable lower space, while the upper venue is great for intimate shows with burgeoning talents like Dreezy and underground staples like Open Mike Eagle. In the past, everyone from Nipsey Hussle and Dom Kennedy to Big KRIT has rocked shows at the Echoplex.
Although this legendary venue is best known for its rock shows, a landmark or up-and-coming rap act or two has been known to take over. A quick browse of recent acts that have taken the stage reveals an eclectic mix from Taylor Bennett and Young Bans to Cousin Stizz and even T-Pain, proving that the Roxy’s value isn’t just historical.
The Airliner is perhaps best recognized as the site of Low End Theory, where beat sets, freestyle battles, and deeply-rooted cultural gatherings took place. I’ve caught any number of LA underground stalwarts in both rooms of this no-frills bar just north of Downtown, from Planet Asia and Mystic to Project Blowed and Flying Lotus. The bar recently became the subject of an episode of Bar Rescue and was put up for sale by its owner, but will likely continue to be a low-key spot to chill and enjoy an inexpensive night out with some of the best hip-hop the city has to offer.
It’s easy to see why the old-style theater attracts some of the biggest names in music outside of hip-hop with its extensive seating and classic balcony. While it may make for an unconventional viewing experience when it comes to rap, which favors room to move around over conventional theater seating, it can still be quite a show, as demonstrated by recent bookings from Jorja Smith and Chief Keef. Besides, there’s just something fun and rebellious about the menacing energy of an artist like Chief Keef’s drill sets upending the venue’s old world elegance and contrasting his modern swagger against its Art Deco styling.
El Rey Theatre
I recently caught rapper Snow Da Product at El Rey Theatre and the space just felt perfect for her approach, with plenty of room for fans to dance, rock, bounce, and mosh along to her energetic and prideful anthems. With upcoming performances from Rejjie Snow and Cypress Hill, it seems the booking manager knows how to cater to multiple generations of hip-hop fans, so it’s likely that no matter what your taste, El Rey will probably have something for you.
The home of the monthly All Def LA residency, the Regent has hosted huge R&B showcases featuring Arin Ray and Ari Lennox and is a reliable staple for exuberant, fun shows featuring colorful characters like last month’s All Def LA lineup of Kodie Shane, Tobi Lou, Kari Faux, and Pell. The fact that the showcase pops off every month means that even if you miss a great lineup, the odds are always in your favor. The only problem is the slanted floor, which is murder on the knees — just stick close to the two mini-bars and you should be okay.
The Greek Theater
While The Greek is another iconic venue best known for big rock acts, loyal Uproxx readers may remember that this is where yours truly watched Joey Badass and Logic totally upset well-established complaints of generational apathy, rewriting the rules for young, up-and-comers in rap music with shows that embraced the anarchistic tendencies that appeal to teens with the polish of twenty-year veterans. You can bet if an act makes it to The Greek, it’s worth the trek to catch your faves, whether you like R&B like Miguel and DVSN, genre-benders like Blood Orange, or straight up rappers like Mac Miller — all of whom have filled out the calendar for the remainder of 2018.
Every show at the Fonda is definitely a pleasure. Previously, I had the pleasure of checking out Vic Mensa at the classic venue and was not disappointed. The bars were fantastic, the sound was even better, the crowd was suitably amped, and of course, Vic tore it down. No doubt one of my favorite venues to catch hip-hop and fortunately for me, there are plenty of opportunities coming up, with Masego, Azealia Banks, and more scheduled through the end of the year.
The absolute finest venue for hip-hop in LA is actually in Orange County. So, this one may be considered cheating but there is no way you can make this list without the Observatory. I’ve personally caught more shows here than any other venue on the list, from Wu-Tang Clan to Big Sean, MadeInTYO, Wifisfuneral, and more. It was the location of the infamous Day N Night festival featuring Travis Scott, Chance The Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar, and you’d be hard pressed to find any hip-hop artist doing a West Coast swing that doesn’t ultimately end up at this mid-sized venue. It’s like the best of both worlds — you can catch artists who could easily fill arenas crammed into a semi-intimate venue with a few hundred other megafans, usually at a relatively low price point. The best part is the flexibility; many times, artists will add extra shows once one sells out, so even if you miss the early performance, you can often still catch the vibe.