Why is New York rap in this mediocre state?
The first things mentioned that are to blame for the dire state the once dominant coast of hip hop music are the lack of support of New York radio and the lack of unity. The former is somewhat valid, Hot 97’s own Ebro stated that, and I paraphrase “It’s not radio’s job to break records, we play shit that’s already hot.” New York radio plays a minimal amount of rap in general, if it’s not Young Money and the occasional Future and 2 Chainz records, they’re playing R&B that sounds like the singer wants to be a rapper, ala Trey Songz. That’s a problem, they don’t play much rap in general of any coast outside of trap records in rotation. The lack of unity? Between whom, exactly? 50 Cent and (insert rapper he had beef with) doing collaboration records is going to provide New York rap the boost it needs? Or Jadakiss working with Fabolous and Cam’ron? If you believe that’s going to rejuvenate New York rap on a level where anyone even slightly cares for the coasts movement, I have a great business proposal for you to invest in that may or may not include a pyramid scheme. Rappers from New York aren’t struggling because of lack of radio support, the internet is bigger than radio now. If your music is truly that dope, at the very worst you’ll acquire a niche following through blogs and social media. That’s certainly not the case for New York rappers. Who can you say currently even has a niche following from blogs right now from NY? Action Bronson and Roc Marciano? There’s five boroughs and maybe five rappers with a remote buzz from the entire state. So what are the cracks in the system?
For one, you have these New York rappers who do two extremes. Either they’re rapping strictly over boom bap and spit “I flow like the ocean” and rap about rap and their “aspiration to be a big time rapper” content the entire project or they’re rapping over watered down trap beats that sound like something from Young Chop without the same bass knock with some bullshit about molly, hookah, or bad bitches in the hook. For the former, we’ve heard that shit 1000x, you’re not going to stand out with that shit. We’re in 2014, if you’re trying to appeal to a larger audience, or even any audience you better be real good technically for anyone to care, and even then no one’s trying to hear beats that sound like they’re from 1995, I’m looking at you Joey Bada$$. There is nothing dope about trying to recreate an era. There is nothing wrong with borrowing that hard 90’s boom bap sound and having your own spin on it, but it also needs a fresh variation to it. Now on the other hand, people look to NY rap for technical skilled rappers with flow and content. People look to the south for party songs, cocaine raps over an 808 drum machine bass line with a sinister type sound. There’s also a balance, for the 2 Chainz and Futures in that lane, there’s also relevant southern rappers like a Big KRIT and J Cole who provide balance for that coast. The West Coast is known for it’s gangster rap and chill relaxed production style. The Dom Kennedy’s, Nipsey Hussle’s and Schoolboy Q’s provide that in one way or another with their own fresh spin that doesn’t sound like a blatant replica of a 90’s AZ album. Street lyrical New York rappers need to take their influences from hearing dope 90’s MC’s over DJ Premier, Large Professor, and RZA beats and pick out hard hitting production that doesn’t actually make you go “This sounds throwback.” That dude Nasir Jones (his flaws musically need an entire new article to speak on) picked the “Nasty” and “The Don” beats that sound straight from 1990. No one wants to hear that shit except for weirdo youtube geeks and that’s probably stretching it. As for the rappers who sound like a trap rapper from New York, people aren’t trying to get behind someone from NY who sounds like that. Especially if you’re an upcoming rapper, keep those Jae Millz esque club attempts to yourself. Come up with innovative, original cohesive music that has a East Coast root to it and then people will start to care.
There’s a misconception that New York rappers used to be able to just rap bars on bars over hard hitting beats and that was how they were marketed. You don’t think there were backpack ass rappers who did the rapping shit with no personality or marketability back in the 90’s? As influential as Illmatic was, being Nas, regular kid from Queensbridge rapping about what he sees on a day to day basis didn’t give him commercial appeal. “It Was Written” did, the Nas Escobar persona was what drew a larger audience in. Nas turning into a “cool” drug kingpin who rapped about luxurious things like “Antera spinning on milleniums, twenty G bets I’m winning em, threats I’m sending em, lex with TV sets the minimum.” Jeru The Damaja existed back then too. Rappity rapper who didn’t make commercial appealing music and appealed to a limited demographic. You needed to have image and personality back then too. The great Biggie Smalls as great as his flow was, was just as interesting off the microphone. He was the dude everyone wanted to be or hang out with because the guy was just that cool. His aura was just some fly fat dude who smoked L’s with a bigger than life persona. The “average guy” and displaying no personality away from music image worked for J Cole, that’s a rarity. That’s not gonna work for you, rapper. Wearing a NY Yankees fitted, making non quotable comments to interviewers for major blogs and magazines, and not coming off remotely interesting on social media with terrible tweets to make sure you’re not offending anyone, especially another rapper, because God forbid a rapper you probably don’t even like catches feelings over something you said. Interact with your fans, be personable. You don’t need to be Andre 3000 dressing for shock value, just don’t be a fucking robot.
Let’s look at two New York rappers who have made a name for themselves and aren’t established yet but have caught a buzz and describe how they’ve done it with their marketing. Action Bronson, and Troy Ave. Very few have been more critical of Troy Ave’s ability, or a lack thereof to be more precise. He’s not very technically skilled, and his music and flow sounds like a blatant knockoff of 50 Cent. Not to mention that he got collaborations with Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks that might as well be 50 Cent parodies. That’s a discussion for another day, and possibly another article. However, let’s discuss how Troy Ave has created a buzz. He has an image, he presents himself as a coke selling street dude who doesn’t bite his tongue. He has a catchy “Bricks In My Backpack” campaign, it’s a brand. He’s outspoken in interviews, going as far as calling Kendrick Lamar a weirdo interviews and calling out Chance The Rapper as a druggie who can’t be in the forefront of rap because of his persona. Whether you agree or disagree with the man, at least he can cause commotion, whether it’s in a positive or negative notion for him. He has an audience, the people who were drawn to 50’s personality when he came into the industry with his outspoken stances and braggadocio attitude, he copied that and ran with it. Action Bronson on the other hand is a solid rapper, he’s not a future legend or anything of the sort, and he’s far from someone I’m checking for but the guy can rap, that’s undeniable. His ability to be a solid rapper and his food references in his raps alone didn’t make him one of the more prominent upcoming New York rappers out right now however. You can find articles on him in every rap blog, possibly for doing things such as body slamming fans who don’t belong on stage. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, he does entertaining shit in his visuals. Just watch the “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” and his comedic not giving a fuck persona is on full tilt.
There are different ways to display a vibrant personality, and the importance of that is just as necessary as skill if you’re trying to be noticed. Let’s look at Slaughterhouse for example, as much slander as Joe Budden gets on Twitter, almost to a Wale extent, Budden is by far the best artist in Slaughterhouse, but that’s not the sole reason why he’s the only guy in the group who’s relevant as a solo artist. Being really good at stringing words together is his strength, but he actually connects to his audience. He could have easily have had a one hit wonder, put out an album that sold a few 100k, put out a few struggle club and R&B attempts and bowed out, his career was at rock bottom at one point. He found a niche however, he rapped about things that other rappers didn’t touch on. He provided vulnerability and subject matter rarely touched upon other rappers and by doing so he created a niche audience for himself that grew over the years starting with his “Mood Muzik 2” project. Even non fans are fully aware of him as a personality due to being so active on twitter and interacting with the people. While the whole hopping on Love & Hip Hop thing and wearing suspect looking vests might be a little too extreme, there’s a lot that can be learned in how he brands himself. You might be inaccurate in your stances on Joe Budden’s image, but at least you have a stance. People are interested in the person as much as the music. Now let’s look at a Crooked I, also part of Slaughterhouse and signed to Interscope records. What do you know about him away from the microphone? Maybe at best you know he’s from Long Beach, California and grew up poverty stricken and puts out a lot of freestyles and EP’s. That’s all there is to his image. There’s nothing to get behind besides him being able to rap pretty well. Fans want to be able to connect with artists on a deeper level, whether it’s because they relate to the story or because said rapper just comes off as a cool ass person.
Now let’s put the focus on the music. Look at STILL the most influential NY rapper to this day, Jay-Z. The biggest self promoter and businessman we’ve seen of any rapper thus far. Hov told us to put the throwback jerseys down, we did so. No one’s capable of changing a landscape like Jay can. He announced Magna Carta Holy Grail, people were instantly clocking the time until it was released on the mega Samsung app which created national attention for his marketing ploy. Jay-Z is known as the greatest of all time by many, and well deserved. I mean this guy made Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint and The Black Album. Countless hit songs while still displaying a high skill level on them. His project drops, what does it sound like? A mix of trap beats and trap flows with dumbed down lyrics and puns.
The guy delivered his bars like Chief Keef on “La Familia,” delivered his bars like 2 Chainz on multiple songs and even copied 2 Chainz mannerisms in the “Holy Grail” video. This isn’t a situation where it’s backpack fans wanting Wu Tang, Rakim and AZ to come save NY rap in 2014. Jay is still as relevant as he ever was and other artists still look up to him for influence. So when the biggest rapper in NY, and the very arguably biggest legend of rap in general doesn’t make music that sounds inspired and is blatantly inorganically copying popular trends from other regions, that’s where we have an issue. Lack of skill, lack of originality in the music, lack of a personality and social presence. This is where the problems of New York rap lies. A lack of radio promotion and unity are just a drop in the water in comparison