New York Rap: State of the Empire


Stack Bundles is another mixtape artist who’s trying to translate his prodigious skill at murdering other people’s songs (and murdering people in songs) into something resembling a music career. Bundles is a perfect example of how mixtapes can provide musical kicks that simply aren’t possible on a commercially released album. There are no budget constraints, no samples to clear—on a mixtape your choice of producers is only limited by your imagination. In 2003, over some of Jay-Z’s hardest Black Album beats—“PSA” and “99 Problems”—a barely drinking-age Bundles used DJ Clue’s mixtapes like When Animals Attack to give Hov a run for his money. Bundles rhymed over the Just Blaze and Rick Rubin-produced tracks like he paid for them. Whether it was coke speak (“I was guilty for starting the drought/ I held the water like the Hoover Dam”) or fashion trend analysis (“It’s far from summer/ And Jay’s got these dickheads running around in colorful button-downs/ Fuckin clowns”), his was a triumph of formalism. Everybody was saying that shit—he just said it better.

Bundles is one of the mixtape circuit’s true wolves, hopping on every hot beat as soon as he can, blowing holes in other people’s tracks. But listening to his flammable verses doesn’t begin to suggest who the enigmatic man behind the music really is. Bundles is a burly, excitable dude who has a magnetic force about him. He can be gruff, talking about his hood rep one second, and then sensitively sharing his feelings about Lupe Fiasco and Joe Budden (two MCs he adores) the next. He’s earnest, funny and emotional. But for the most part, on mixtapes, he plays the part of the superthug. Bundles, who is affiliated with DJ Clue’s Desert Storm crew but rolls as a free agent, struggles with the limitations of the format. “I was a song MC,” he says. “I love to tell my story. But I got with Clue, and he’s the outlet to the streets.” That piece of luck has also hamstrung some of his evolution as an artist. “People fall victim to this idea like if you’re tough, you don’t cry,” he says. “But shit gets deep, you know? I cry. Or if you’re tough you ain’t fly. I get fly! I think I’m flyer then Kanye!”

For now Bundles patiently waits. “My next mixtape is called Bidding War because that’s what it is,” Bundles says. “If you call yourself hip-hop and you have ears, you’re feeling the kid.” Nonetheless he remains unsigned. When Bundles throws darts on tracks like, “Everybody talking about trying to bring it home/ When all you hear on the radio is, ‘Who? Mike Jones!’” you can sense exasperation at the state of New York’s place in the game, and some resignation to the fact that in order to beat Mike Jones, or at least get to his level, Bundles will have to embrace what made Jones popular.

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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.