NYC's Rap Revival
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because New York is where hip-hop was born — and the place where many are gunning for a rebirth of the genre.
By Brian Josephs
The New York City streets are back.
Save for the continental emergence of Bobby Shmurda, East Coast hip-hop still hasn’t been doing so hot. 2014 — which marked the 20th anniversary of the critically exalted Ready to Die and Illmatic — saw the year when the quiet demand of early 00s, gun-toting intimidation and urban-bred cocksureness got its fill. G-Unit, sans Game, reunited at this year’s Summer Jam hip-hop festival. The sight of 50 Cent and the crew on stage immediately brought back memories of a time when club heaters like “Stunt 101” and “Poppin’ Them Thangs” were inescapable — spilling from car speakers in Brooklyn and the mouths of elementary-school children quoting the lyrics line for line..
The new material is decent, but is it restoring the feeling of when New York was a hip-hop epicenter?
Brooklyn rapper Troy Ave has been at it for a while. His first projects go back to 2009, but this was the year when a larger audience noticed his self-branding as G-Unit’s progeny. The metaphor here is music as street product. It’s gun-brandishing, spouse-taking, Benjamin Franklin-indulgence that tips its hat at Beg for Mercy and Diplomatic Immunity. And it isn’t merely a perceptual comparison. He’s been very clear about “his” style in interviews
“I’ve been telling people I’m trying to restore the feeling with the Dipset and G-Unit when they were giving you that quality from the streets,” Troy Ave said in his Breakfast Club interview from the summer.
G-Unit, Troy Ave, and Cam’ron have been putting out a steady stream of music this year. The new material is decent, but is it restoring the feeling of when New York was a hip-hop epicenter? Well, here’s the thing: The West Coast and Atlanta — the current nerve centers of the genre — don’t worry about resetting the clock.
Yes, Compton rapper YG’s excellent My Krazy Life has clear connections to Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle debut in terms of law-wavering rambunctiousness. But the connection between him and DJ Mustard formed a kind of new age synergy that delivered both an entertaining narrative and instantly rewarding thrills (see: “My Nigga”). Kendrick Lamar has been open about his classicist influences — Tupac Shakur, Jay Z, DMX et al — but this year finds him tiptoeing into some experimental territory (see: “Never Catch Me” with Flying Lotus). As for Atlanta, there are multiple examples, starting with Young Thug who is … well, Young Thug. His charm is his accessible in-the-moment improvisation.
These rappers represent the now. New York, by contrast, is experiencing something of an identity crisis, from its southern sonic mimicry (French Montana’s perpetual turn-up) to an open rejection of anything that doesn’t fall under street-based rhyming (Troy Ave’s disconnect from weirdo rappers). But whatever criticism is being leveled at the recent reawakening of Cam’ron, Troy Ave and G-Unit, it’s not directed at their backgrounds or legitimate personal struggles. But those struggles aren’t what they’re mining for their music. Rather, their main emphasis is to summon an era we’ve long passed — both chronologically and creatively.
- Brian Josephs Contact Brian Josephs