The History, Mystery, and Controversy of the DMV Flow

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 multi-million 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.

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