Rap listeners around the world who’ve never been to the Big Apple still know places like Nas’ Queensbridge projects, the slums of Wu-Tang’s Shaolin, and KRS-One’s South Bronx. Even Manhattan has its own Harlem World fresh with stars like Kool Moe Dee, Diddy, and Cam’ron.
So it should come as no surprise that all five of its boroughs have produced many of rap’s greatest talents. The fact that artists who even attempt to carry NYC’s flag these days are inevitably crushed by its sheer weight is a testament to the city’s contribution to the foundation of hip-hop.
—As the title track of Cam’ron’s third studio album (and Roc-A-Fella Records debut), “Come Home With Me” marked a watershed moment in the Harlem rapper’s career.Following up his poorly received sophomore album, , Cam’ron was looking for a reboot.He did so in part by retooling his collaborative group Dipset.Although Dipset had existed in some form for several years, and both Juelz Santana and Jim Jones (along with fourth member Freekey Zekey) had appeared on records with Cam’ron before, it wasn’t until “Come Home With Me” that all three men would appear together on a track.New York City is a center for many things in the world: fashion, art, media, finance, subway rats fighting park pigeons in battles for ultimate supremacy, etc. New York—and the Bronx specifically—is the birthplace of hip-hop.
Which means New York City and hip-hop are forever intertwined. Staten Island’s main contributions come from one camp but remain significant with Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon.
Remember a time when “backpack rap” wasn’t a pejorative.
—Masta Ace’s “Jeep Ass Niguh” is a rap rarity, a dope song that was turned into another dope song, “Born to Roll,” simply by flipping the beat and adding more bass. Which is fine and all, especially for the woofers in your Jeep, but honestly the original was fine the way it was.
The uptempo glide of “I’ll Be” feels rather like soaring in a black sedan through an interstate tunnel post-midnight. It’s funny recalling Shawn Carter before he became a sentient tax haven, when Jay Z was just a hot rapper with several top-notch features. —DJ Premier really gave Group Home some of the best beats he ever made in his life. sounds like it could be the score to an epic Samurai battle.
For those of you keeping track at home, “I’ll Be” is the first of two major Rene & Angela samples that Jay Z hopped on in March 1997, the second being “I Love the Dough” from by the late Notorious B. As for Foxy: Here’s the biggest hit of her career, a feminist mafioso jig that peaked at No. Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker weren’t the best rappers and still managed to give us a classic album. The humming sound in the background always grabs my soul and makes me want to roam the NYC streets during scary hours. It could If you were tasked with explaining the appeal of mid-to-late 1990s underground New York rap to an alien in 2115 or, say, a millennial next week, you could do worse (a lot worse) than simply cueing up J-Live’s “Braggin’ Writes.” In another era—one where artists ran their own labels or were able to efficiently release music sans executive meddling—J-Live might’ve been a star or at least pretty damn wealthy.
It starts with police sirens as the subject of the song gets pulled over, and after a verbal gymnastic intro—“Braniac dumb-dumbs, bust the scientifical/Approach to the course and the force is centrifugal”—and some verification of lyrical prowess, it bangs for three uptempo verses about the joys of car-stereo battling and the mellow-harshing of getting pulled over for it.