New York Rap: State of the Empire

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A group of young New York rappers tries to bring hip hop home.

Far Rockaway, Queens MC Stack Bundles has a song called, “Temper, Temper” in which he says of the state of New York hip-hop, “The only movements moving are the Unit and the Dips.” Welcome to New York City.

There aren’t exactly tumbleweeds blowing down Broadway, but there are some issues. There are many reasons why G-Unit and the Diplomats are successful (even if they’re successful on very different levels)—the purple, the vocab, the superthug-as-superhero mythology—but they’ve both cut the cord and sonically and stylistically left home, shrugging off (for better or for worse) the city’s rich rap history, and pulling that most New York of moves: starting from scratch.

Which leaves New York, as a scene, in the shadows. This time around there’s no major beef. No coastal friction. The average rap fans—which at this point is the same as saying the “average pop fans”—in New York and everywhere else don’t care that much about 50 and Fat Joe, or whether Jim Jones rolls with Game or not. People rock Young Jeezy’s Snowman T-shirt on 125th Street in Harlem. They want to hear the best songs no matter where they come from.

So what happens to young New York rappers, those who are caught in the no man’s land between what sells and what they grew up thinking real hip-hop sounded like? Some are trying to take back hip-hop’s hearts and minds with a defiantly traditional New York sound and vision that’s sprayed across a seemingly endless stream of mixtapes, demanding that people come to them. And some have realized that the only route to success is one of compromise.

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POSTED January 25, 2012 7:45PM IN FEATURES Comments (6) TAGS: , , , , ,

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  1. veaukab says:

    How can you talk about the resurgence of NYC rap without giving Action Bronson some shine? Dude is true school. The state of matters for hip hop in the birthplace is definitely a vital discussion – after all, it’s telling that the NYC rapper with the most blog love is ASAP Rocky, who is biting that down south stee hard – but you definitely can’t talk about New York rap and not at least mention Bronson’s “Dr. Lecter,” which is definitely the most crucial NY album in years, right next to the last Exquire mixtape. Also, how does hipster rap fit into the paradigm of NYC’s hip hop culture. Das Racist is getting theirs even if they don’t get any love in the ‘hood. What does the reformation of Company Flow at Coachella mean in regard to all this too? Co.Flow was slept on while everyone else was jiggy with Hov. Does their new found resurgence stem solely from the longevity of El-P or is it a signifier that middle school NY underground is coming back. Tyler’s “Yonkers” sounds like rehashed Gravediggaz, and OF is stupid large right now. What does that mean for the sonic aesthetic of hip hop in the next couple years? This is a good piece, but I think you missed some stuff that would’ve rounded it out to be a better piece.

  2. Naomi Zeichner says:

    This story is from our magazine archives and was written in 2006 :) Great questions!

  3. Pingback: 1|26|12 Daily Industry News | Oratory of Sound

  4. Ross says:

    veaukabI agree with you a whole lot.

    I’m down south and it hurts to see NY riding off the sounds from down here because I grew up listening to NY stuff. I don’t want two of the same worlds.

  5. Cold T. Honeybee says:

    Good piece, it’s kind of strange to see that the least impressive rapper is almost always the first to “get on.” With regards to veaukab’s post about the current state of New York hip-hop I’d first respond by saying that making a distinction between “hipster” rap and rap is an asinine undertaking. All rap, or music for that matter, is considered “hipster music” for at least a while before being swallowed up by the American free market and becoming a part of our culture. Kid Cudi was considered hipster rap, now he’s simply a failed actor/struggling “rock” musician. Exquire, Action Bronson and Rocky have all been incubated by the same “hipster” blogs and although it seems like Rocky is enjoying greater success, their fan bases’ are probably incredibly similar.
    to respond to some of your other proclamations and questions:
    - action Bronson isn’t a good enough rapper to overlook the ghostface similarities. whenever I try to listen to action’s music I always end up listening to fishscale or supreme clientele.
    - company flow’s reunion will have absolutely no impact of the state of hip-hop.
    - das racist is a joke and not a very good one. their aim is to be subversive and funny but the music rarely is.
    - “yonkers” as a rehashed version of gravediggaz is an interesting, albeit recycled, idea. first and foremost, no one fucks with prince paul. secondly, paul’s production is sample based and rarely uses synthesizers. obviously, “yonkers” has a very “gully”, new york-y, boom-bap drum beat and the incessant, detuned piano is somewhat reminiscent of the constant hiss of “2 cups of blood.” lyrically, yes they’re both talking about morbid shit, but I think that Tyler’s influenced more by Em than by GD. Tyler’s music is an inversion of rap cliches (hella meta bruh), and although Goblin was incredibly disappointing, Bastard is miles ahead of anything released by any of the rappers that you mentioned. It’s my assertion that New York rap became irrelevant because the new heroes of New York rap began looking like carbon copies of the city’s old lyrical heavyweights.
    - you didn’t mention Azealia Banks.

    Additionally, I was wondering if Fader has any editorial internships? I’m currently working on a piece about Chicago rap with an emphasis on King Louie, Iceface Da Goblin and Monster Mike. Holler at me Naomi ; )

  6. Pajama Rich says:

    This article bringin me back. Rip Bundles.