“I lay puzzled as I backtrack to earlier times. Nothing’s equivalent to the New York state of mind.”
What is the first thing you think about when you hear the name New York?
Based off of my experience, The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, The New York Knicks, The Giants winning the Super Bowl, Eli Manning coming through in the clutch, the Lower East Side art scene, fast paced living, expensive apartments the size of glove compartments, walking fast to get to your destination, running to subways, snow in the winter up to your knees, the kids on the trains selling candy not for a basketball team, but to stay out of trouble, Times Square, Grand Central Station, Central Park, Juniors Cheesecake, Brooklyn pizza, Williamsburg, and the summer rooftop views are just a few of the reasons why I love New York.
But I feel as if I’m forgetting something. Hmmm… HIP-HOP. KRS-One said when you spell it the “H” is always capital. I can’t get enough of New York and their Timb boots and army certified suits rap that at one time or another we were all exposed to. Pardon me if I come off a tad bit cliche but New York rap is back. And as much as some would love to give Papoose all of the credit, names like Action Bronson, World’s Fair, A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Azaela Banks, Homeboy Sandman are just a few notable mentions. For the home of Hip Hop this just may be the closest thing to a possible reincarnation of the golden era.
New York rap isn’t “struggling” anymore. It’s arteries are pumping signs of life for the first time in years. With the exception of a handful of well known rappers who have established careers in the 90′s, New York Hip Hop seemed to stray from the mainstream media playlist for awhile, but there were always musicians putting their footprints in the soil, working the underground circuit. There was a time where record labels weren’t checking out for the New York artist anymore. The South seemed to have taken over mainstream hip hop and dominated through forming partnerships and in some cases (once again “with the exception of a few”) not engaging in petty beef, at a time where some of NYC’s most popular artists: Jay Z “retired” from rap, 50 Cent & Cam’ron were at odds, and Nas claimed “Hip Hop Is Dead”. But now, there is a new energy prevalent among the airwaves in New York. And with that comes a new breed of focused NY emcees that are keeping true to the NY lineage, but are also smart enough to adjust to the look and feel of modern times.
While major labels seemed to turn their backs on the New York hip hop scene, rappers from the city that never sleeps, never slept. They took the initiative, saved their finances, paid for their own studio time, photo shoots, mixing and mastering of projects. They stormed the local open mics and music venues around the city, and in some cases other states, and flooded the streets with their own product, pushing it to listeners and blogs that were willing to help. And people who weren’t willing to compromise their standards in search for that particular tone of hip hop that they had been longing for, were the lucky recipients of a rejuvented feeling that they’d been missing out on for so long. And the people willing to purchase the hard work of these artists contributions.
Today as we look into the window of the New York House one can’t help but notice the range is quite diverse, as well as dope. From names like NinjaSonik, to Homeboy Sandman, to Action Bronson, to the Brown Bag All-Stars, to YC The Cynic, to the A$AP Crew, to the Pro Era, to Theophilis London, to Azaelia Banks, to World’s Fair. And let’s not forget about a certain constituent’s throne, there are still more popular relevant homegrown artists such as Busta Rhymes, Nicki Minaj, Nas, Wu-Tang, Sean Price, Cam’Ron, Jadakiss, the list goes on and on. From the organic to the abstract, the sonic range of the New York has evolved and refuses to be taken lightly (tell your local radio station pay attention). Artists like Homeboy Sandman who has become a cornerstone in New York Indie rap, would place stickers with his logo & website on trains all over New York City, from becoming a familiar face at open mics, to signing with Stones Throw records, and now currently touring with Brother Ali, he exemplifies the NY grind perfectly. What started as a street anthem became a sensation from just off of one Youtube video and that’s just A$AP Rocky alone with his movement whose one of the artists at the forefront of NY rap. New York is a movement of its own. Intelligent, daring, and driven. This is exactly what Hip Hop has been missing for the past decade or so.
These past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit New York on occasion and even live in Brooklyn for about a year. I notice clouds in the NY skyline that I haven’t seen in ages. Today’s New York rappers have studied the laws and learned how to rebuild the system and take the independent route by force. To the point where getting behind a major record label is almost laughed upon. Why? Because of the fast developing “internet age”. A recording artist has freedoms none before have witness. They have the choice to not have to “rely” on a record deal or lean heavily on the mainstream outlets for assistance . Rappers are able to maintain their individual creativity and keep pushing the envelope. New York is in a great place right now. Hopefully one day we will look back, and be able to reflect on these renaissance entertainers who took a stand against normalcy through the arts and ushered in “our” new golden era. I guess only time will tell if they get it right.