Many classic rap albums were recorded in a handful of the most iconic studios in hip-hop history. Long before laptops revolutionized home recording, musicians had to go to facilities dedicated to recording music. These magical places, called studios, served as catalysts for delivering fans the best hip-hop albums ever. Artists and record labels often preferred studios, and many of their locations - from NYC to Atlanta to Miami to LA - are now considered hallowed ground in hip-hop lore.
Although artists can email sessions and record music via their phone or laptop these days, there's something to be said about making music in a recording studio. These buildings were places where artists like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and A Tribe Called Quest hung out, partied, collaborated, and in some instances, found themselves in the middle of something more sinister.
Let’s celebrate a few of the most iconic studios in hip-hop history, past and present.
Chung King is the OG hip-hop studio, and many legends helped put it on the map. The place is synonymous with Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, and the early success of Def Jam. Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J all recorded seminal music at Chung King.
Before the original studio closed its doors, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, and many others worked at the infamous Chinatown location. Founder John King would open up a short-lived Chung King on 37th Street, before closing it down in 2015 due to the economic downturn in the music industry.
Many of the hip-hop records released on Jive were recorded at Battery. The upscale recording facility, which housed an SSL and Neve console, was the first state-of-the-art studio that most rappers used. Classic albums by A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince came out of Battery.
The studio is also home to a couple of infamous stories, including one involving Big Pun, Fat Joe, an engineer, and a BB gun, which resulted in Joe’s Terror Squad being banned from the studio.
Many of the interesting and scary stories you’ve heard about Death Row Records sessions took place at Can-Am Recorders. Located in the city of Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley, Can-Am helped Death Row produce many hardcore g-funk classics.
Formerly the home of artists from Harry Belafonte to the Talking Heads, Suge Knight and company essentially took over the studio in the mid-1990s - changing the decor to blood-red and putting the Death Row logo everywhere. Most Death Row releases after Snoop’s Doggystyle were recorded at Can-Am.
Perhaps the grimiest studio on the list, D&D was located on 37th Street in the heart of New York City. This spot was home to some of the best rap to surface from the East Coast for 20-plus years.
Anyone who was anyone in NYC hip-hop recorded here, from Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z to Nas and Dilated Peoples. DJ Premier made D&D his home base for years, buying the studio in 2002. Unfortunately, the studio shuttered its doors in January of 2015.