Dead? Wrong!: Why New York Hip-Hop Has Never Died


Photo Credit: Ghetto Manga

Pick an MC. Any MC. Ask him/her which MC made him/her want to rap. Then ask that rapper’s idol MC who inspired the idol to rap and so on.

DJ-Kool-HercIf you follow the influential bread crumbs, you’ll always find yourself back to 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx, New York, where DJ Kool Herc breathed the first rap onto the break-beat. That will be the case even if you start with an MC with an accent of the crocodile hunter, or a rapper who spits bars in Cantonese.

As the mecca and birthplace of Hip-Hop culture, New York City will forever be the most consistent powerhouse of Hip-Hop’s cultural influencers. Many critics and even fans say that the New York Hip-Hop has perhaps taken a back seat to its Southern cousin’s bass and synthesizers. To attribute flailing record sales, radio spins, and TV appearances as indicators that the New York Hip-Hop scene is irrelevant is as shallow as it is dead wrong.

Since when do we attribute the cultural value of an area to popularity? Drake is, without a doubt, more popular or “hotter” than New York MCs like Action Bronson or Joey Bada$$, but would that give grounds to call Toronto a richer hot spot for new Hip-Hop than New York? Not even close.

On any given year, New York has blessed Hip-Hop with at least a couple of the top anthems of the year. Even in 2006, a year when critics said that New York’s dominance had been replaced by D4L’s “snap-rap,” veterans like Nas and Busta Rhymes put out bangers such as “Touch It” and “Hip-Hop Is Dead” to show that The Big Apple would be represented on the Billboard charts. Even now, New York rapper French Montana’s “Pop That” is currently sitting at #2 on the Rap and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs charts at press time.

NickiMinaj_ThatGrapej1Nicki Minaj, a femcee whose influence has reached beyond the realm of Hip-Hop and into Pop culture, had one of the best selling albums of 2012 with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, selling over 1 million records worldwide, according to Soundscan. And, she made it very clear on her platinum selling single, “Moment 4 Life” what borough she reps. (“Young Money raised me/grew up out in Baisley/ Southside Jamaica, Queens and it’s crazy…”).

It’s true. Many modern MCs like Smoke DZA and A$AP Rocky, have taken to the Southern style of production versus resorting to their region’s trademark boom-bap, but that is what makes Hip-Hop fresh and moves the culture forward. Imagine if Biggie rapped on Run DMC’s rock-styled beats instead of drawing inspiration from the modern funk-based beats of his day, like Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted or NWA’s Niggaz4Life. Hip-Hop would have never known Ready To Die – or experienced the return New York Hip-Hop to the airwaves – if Big felt that his sound should remain in the regional dress code of modern New York.

A$AP RockyIf A$AP Rocky’s version of Screw Music is honest and quality music, does it matter that his overall sound originated from the Screw-up Click of Houston rather than the Diplomats of Harlem? Artists like Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$ have proven that the boom-bap will always have its place in the heart of New York Hip-Hop, but to only limit New York MCs to the boom-bap would cause New York Hip-Hop to become one dimensional. It’s too rich with creativity to be stuck in a ’90s Golden Era time capsule, and is now evolving before our eyes.

Radio and the press might not be giving New York as much spotlight as it deserves, but just give it time. The world will soon realize that not only did New York Hip-Hop never die, but New York is still the city that never even sleeps…on innovation or the fact that it birthed what the rest of you are doing to this very day.