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A controversial and seemingly endless debate in hip-hop surrounds the origin of the “DMV Flow,” a distinctive rhyme pattern reportedly created by a group of D.C. area rappers. Q Hill Beats, a producer who works with local artists, offers a technical description of the DMV Flow: “The traditional way a rap song is structured is every line is a bar and 16 bars equals a verse. But the DMV rappers started using more of an improvised pattern. After the first bar, they would ‘punch in,’ eliminating space before the beginning of the next line. The rhyming word lands a quarter bar early or late and gives the track a dynamic, off-beat feel.” The catchy style of lyricism has spread throughout the hip-hop industry and has since been adopted by major label artists like Lil Uzi, Soulja Boy, and Stunna 4 Vegas.
Some might say the story begins in the early 2000s when a rapper named 20 Bello, from Uptown Northwest DC, coined the term “DMV,” the abbreviation for D.C. and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs we all know today. But to understand the significance of a global hip-hop trend originating here, it’s important to understand the history of D.C. music.
Hip-hop music culture was born in New York City in the late 1970s, and eventually exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. But the Washington, D.C. region was slow to fully embrace hip-hop. Go-go music, created by the legendary Chuck Brown and performed by native bands like Rare Essence and Experience Unlimited, remained dominant. During the ’90s, D.C. produced a handful of talented rappers like Black Indian, Nonchalant, and Questionmark Asylum, but a cohesive and mainstream hip-hop movement never emerged.
Then in 2007 Wale burst onto the scene—and everything changed. Wale is singularly the most accomplished rapper to ever come from the DMV. In the past 15 years, the Grammy-nominated artist has released seven studio albums, toured with Jay-Z, and signed a multimillion-dollar recording contract with Rick Ross’ MMG label.
Wale’s success inspired the next generation of local musicians, who attempted to follow the same blueprint to artistic and financial prosperity. Suddenly, the DMV was awash with youthful and ambitious rap talent—artists like Lightshow, Shy Glizzy, Fat Trel, Swipey, Rico Nasty, Big Flock, Q Da Fool, and Shabazz. And the hip-hop industry began to take notice. Local rappers began appearing on national podcasts and mainstream media outlets interviewed them.
These young lions brought a new, vibrant energy to the game. Their gritty lyrics often referenced recreational drug use, gun play, and neighborhood beefs. But they also rapped those same lyrics with a free-flowing euphoric delivery. And they continuously pushed the creative envelope, some of them using an aggressive pattern different from the regular trap style that was the norm in other parts of the country.
The DMV Flow was evolving. As Little Bacon Bear, a DJ and radio personality on WKYS, explains, “When it comes to who started the DMV Flow, it depends on who you ask, where you live, and what year you ask them. Big Flock, Shabazz, and Goonew are the names that usually come up. A lot of the Prince George’s County rappers. Big Flock’s song ‘Linebacker’ was one of the first songs with that style.”
According to Anwar Scott, the owner of DMV Hoodz And Newz, a popular outlet that covers the local music scene, “the first time I heard it, it was Shabazz. A lot of people mention Big Flock so it’s probably a mixture of both of them. Maybe Q Da Fool, too.”
But there’s also another angle to the story. Some say Atlanta rapper Hoodrich Pablo Juan is the true originator of the technique. Goonew and Lil Dude from Riverdale worked closely with Juan and released music on his Atlanta-based Money, Power, Respect label. But the question is who was the creator and who was the borrower?
Bali Baby, a woman rapper with ties to both Atlanta and the DMV, mischievously stirred the pot in 2018. She went on a social media rant that went viral, accusing D.C. rappers of stealing Hoodrich’s style.
Scott vehemently disagrees. “I was listening to Hoodrich Pablo Juan in 2014 and 2015 and he sounded like Bankroll Fresh and the rest of the Atlanta trap rappers,” he says. “Then in 2016 and 2017, he began associating with Big Flock, Lil Dude, and Goonew and that’s when I noticed a big difference in his flow. But I have noticed that quite a few out of town artists will come to town and work with D.C. rappers and copy our style.”
“Hoodrich Pablo Juan used to be in D.C. all the time. He would be in the studio with D.C. rappers and sleeping on their couches,” says El Way, a rapper and co-CEO of Keys 2 Tha City Promotions. “If you listen to old Hoodrich Pablo Juan songs, he didn’t even rap like that. So where did he get it from?”
In a 2019 interview with No Jumper, a popular national hip-hop podcast, Juan doesn’t deny his connection to the DMV.
“D.C. was the first place I ever went when I came from out of town that showed me a lot of love,” he told the podcast host’s, Adam 22.
“I heard early in your career [you] went to the DMV, spent a lot of time there, got tapped in, and were influenced by a lot of the flows coming out of there?” Adam 22 asked him.
“For sure, that’s accurate. To this day, people still ask me if I’m from D.C.,” he responded.
After years of listening to other people contentiously debate the topic, Big Flock has grown weary of the controversy.
“People like to argue about it,” the local rapper tells City Paper. “So many people want the crown, so they can have it as far as I’m concerned.” he says before adding, “As long as everyone knows I was there and what I did!”