New York City is universally considered the Mecca, or birth-place of rap and hip-hop music. But an interesting phenomena hit the city toward the late-90′s and most of the first decades of the Aught’s; the home of hip-hop stopped producing much good hip-hop.
It would be misleading to say that New York didn’t remain a cultural foothold for rap. Looking at the turn of the century, Brooklyn-native Jay-Z was still the biggest star in music and his The Black Album was one of the most commercially-successful records of the decade. Even Kanye West, arguably the Aught’s other biggest star, made his name after packing up and moving from Chicago to New York City.
So although America’s biggest city was still relevant in terms of star power, it surely wasn’t moving the dial in a critical-sense. Instead of the original heavy-hitters of Nas, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Eric B & Rakim, and on and on, New York was represented by less luminary names including Cam’ron, Fabolous, 50 Cent and G Unit, Jim Jones, Jadakiss and others. Comparing those two lists isn’t exactly fair.
But being such a vital cultural center for our country, it was only a matter of time until New York hip-hop made a name for itself. Los Angeles-native Kendrick Lamar, arguably the most critically-acclaimed popular rapper alive, made news in 2013 when he stated, “I’m the king of New York,” on the Big Sean song “Control.” And now, almost midway through the current decade, it’s safe to say, New York City is back, and Kendrick has some competition to his bi-coastal claims of greatness.
Although the city is made of five boroughs, there is an uneven distribution of talent in Brooklyn, and more specifically in Flatbush. Leading the way for the hip-hop renaissance in New York is 19-year old Joey Bada$$. Steeped in the classic sound of early-90′s New York rap, Bada$$ spits complicated, alliterative, internal rhyme-heavy verses over soulful and jazzy samples.
Joey Bada$$ is such an accomplished lyricist and emcee, in spite of his very young age, that it can’t help but create high expectations. His rapping game is almost peerless already so it’s scary to think how good he can be as he continues to improve and grow up. Unlike many contemporary rappers who embrace and try to incorporate fly-by-night pop music trends, such as EDM, Joey steadfastly sticks to his roots and continues to release lyrical music Rakim would be proud of.
“And they told me not to be so complex
Dumb it down to accomplish articles in Complex
And The Source, alfredo of course
There I go again, steppin out of line, runnin’ off course
I heard reports that it’s like sexual intercourse
With your thoughts when I talk about the shoes in which I walk.”
-”Waves”, 1999, Joey Bada$$
Just down the block from Joey comes the hip-hop duo The Underachievers. Ak and Issa Gold trade lightning-fast “conscious trap” verses back and forth for a non-stop verbal assault. This means they rap about philosophies, world-views, Third-Eye enlightenment and smoking copious amounts of weed over a diverse range of banging beats. Knowing that modern musicians make their living on the road, UA choose beats for the first two mixtapes that allow the crowd to get really into the music, and unsuccessfully try to rap along. Their live shows sell-out and turn into mosh-pits, full of stage-diving and heavy marijuana smoking.
But not to park themselves in one lane, Underachievers have a diverse sound, at least beat-wise. Pretty much all their songs feature expertly-delivered and machine gun-fast vocal deliveries, but the beats range all over, from soulful horn samples to sinister, electric-guitar inflected soundscapes. The result is a technically-brilliant, enlightened approach to rap music. Their song “The Mahdi” laments a friend who passed-away too soon, over a jazzy beat that sounds like something, equally conscious-minded forefathers, Souls of Mischief would rap over.
“Seven days seven nights, in the booth straight creating that good music
In the soul, food for thought, you been waiting, right?
Cooking up shit with my apron tight
Listening to this verse might save your life
Hard work put in, automatic goin’ win
Had to learn from the sins but I paid that price…”
-”The Madhi”, Indigoism, Underachievers (Ak)
The final piece to the rap group triumvirate of Flatbush, is the aptly named trio, Flatbush Zombies. Some of the members grew up together, and with the members of Underachievers, as well, in the same building, or on the same block. All the proximity doesn’t mean they sound similar in any way besides being really talented. With several song titles concerning death, destruction and zombies (more metaphorical than literal), their music is much darker and more aggressive than their peers down the block. Just listen to “Face-Off” below and tell me Meechy Darko isn’t the craziest, darkest sounding rapper since ODB graced NYC with his presence. His deft-delivery of hooks keeps most Flatbush Zombies songs chugging at an impressive pace.
While Meechy Darko brings an intense and dark vocal delivery, fellow emcee Zombie Juice brings the exact opposite, embracing a drugged-out weirdo, nice-guy aesthetic that pairs well with his counterpart. Producer and underrated rapper Erick “The Architect” Elliot rounds out the group and furnishes the majority of their songs with beats. Common themes of their music include smoking weed, taking psychedelic drugs such as acid and a dark fascination with death and destruction. Unsurprisingly, their live shows are known to be intense, sweat-soaked drug extravaganzas.
“What you want, a quicky sticky? Okay, I won’t takey long
Split the dutch down the middle like Moses, split the sea
Count it up, bag it up, we love money, we love weed
Met this one bimbo, told her my name was Meech
But she keep calling me Mandingo
My eyes bloody red so she probably think I’m evil
Truly, it’s the weed smoke from all this sour diesel
Light it, then I breathe slow.”
-”Thug Waffle”, D.R.U.G.S., Flatbush Zombies (Meechy)
All three of these rappers, or rap groups combine to make up the Beast Coast collective. As all the rappers grew up amongst each other, and continue to live around and collaborate together, it’s fitting they joined forces to create a movement. Also, the A$AP crew is loosely affiliated with Beast Coast, if for no other reasons, proximity and mutual respect. And although Kendrick Lamar claims both coasts, Beast Coast is making damn sure his success is representative of only LA going forward.