Throughout the latter part of 2010, we delivered a semi-regular column entitled “5 Reasons Why New York Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck,” our way to help parse for readers near and far, a varied assortment of people, places and things which exemplify the talented diversity of hip hop in the New York City area.
Entrants included artists, some underground up-and comers like the passionate, intelligent and charasmatic FinaL OutlaW and the statuesque, eclectic and multi-talented Kalae AllDay, some B-list powerhouses like Joe Budden, some A-list superstars like Lloyd Banks. We included some venues like B.B. King’s Blues Club, and special hip hop events like the yearly Rapathon. Organizations like WBAI radio were noted, as well as companies like Duck Down Records, all helped demonstrate the wide-reaching range of hip hop’s involvement in the New York City area, and that New York’s fingerprints are still all over hip hop music and culture, despite some notions suggesting otherwise.
More than the goodness of what we profiled was the greatness of what we left out. There are countless up-and-comers worthy of extra notice, dozens of venues who open their doors to a hip hop audience, several organizations and companies who work to help hip hop progress into new areas, markets and consciousnesses that are based in the New York Area, who we simply haven’t gotten to yet. Countless people involved in hip hop other than as an MC or producer or DJ. We have so many stories to bring you, so many people to talk to. It is why the series will continue in earnest over the course of 2011.
In the meantime, as a sort of year-end recap, we’d like to re-highlight a couple of the folks we’ve noted earlier who we think exemplified the concept of the column, as well as spotlight a couple of different entities, to present to readers old and new, five really good reasons why New York Hip Hop didn’t suck in 2010.
Oh, and if you think you know of a reason why New York Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck that should be singled out in our series, send us an email at [email protected].
We began our series highlighting Homeboy Sandman. HS has been a staple of underground, progressive NYC hip hop for some time, and after listening to the lyrical exposition that is his latest album, The Good Sun, and witnessing his unrelenting stage presence, we asked ourselves, “How could anyone say that New York hip hop is dead?” In asking ourselves this, Homeboy Sandman himself became the inspiration, and epitome of the column. Since that inaugural posting, Sandman as gone on to travel the country in support of his album, shout us out lovely-like while rocking the A3C Hip Hop festival in Atlanta, and made a move to TV land, appearing on an episode of MTV’s Made. His eerily-creative videos have shown that Homeboy Sandman’s delightful eclecticism doesn’t end in the recording booth, yet his everyman demeanor is evident when his towering presence is seen emphatically supporting fellow underground artists throughout the city. We were right then, and we are right now, Homeboy Sandman remains one damn good reason why New York hip hop doesn’t suck.
When we selected Joell Ortiz, also in the inaugural edition of our column, we stated, “[Listen to] the ‘for the love of God why was this not pushed nationwide, this could have been as big as Drake’s “Best I Ever Had’ “Call Me,” and you will realize that Joell Ortiz could, should, might be, hopefully is, one of the very next to break out from the tri-state area.” Since then, Ortiz has indeed released an almost non-stop flurry of hip hop dopeness, jumping on nearly every hot commercial beat that wafted through the Brooklyn air, often outdoing the original. Not one to simply rely on jacking for beats, Joell Ortiz has also dropped some standout original material particularly the fiery lyrical assault in “Battle Cry,” and an ode to the working man alongside crooner Novel in “Night Train.” We noted how we thought the main obstacle to his hopefully-inevitable ascension to the mainstream might have been the unfriendly relationship with his label, and now, that relationship is over, so we expect 2011 might finally be the year this blue collar rhyme slayer gets his proper due.
We did not specifically highlight Jay-Z during our series, as we felt that the so called A-listers were already obvious enough reasons why New York hip hop doesn’t suck (though we did include “mainstream NY artists” as a whole, noting that many New York area artists and organizations are still very much driving the business of hip hop). Jay-Z however, continues to stand out as a business, man, a undeniable rags-to-riches story, similar to those owned by Diddy, Russell Simmons, 50 Cent and several others, but continuing to set the bar just a bit higher than all the rest. His book Decoded was a New York Times bestseller, and while that feat can be easy enough to achieve for a celebrity, the book received a glowing review from famed NYT reviewer Michiko Kakutani. His concerts with Eminem were the preeminent events of the hip hop year. He is reportedly commanding a $1 million New Years Eve performance fee. His interviews with Howard Stern and Charlie Rose delivered fascinating insight into his life and times. Not to mention the success of his other ongoing business endeavors, 40/40, Roc Nation, the New Jersey Nets as well as partnerships in the advertising world and product endorsements. And of course, he still has the hottest chick in the game wearing his chain, landing Mr. and Mrs. Carter atop the Forbes Top-Earning Couples list, all while staying musically unretired, dropping formidable collaborations, becoming the first 40 year old rapper to have significant relevance on the pop music landscape, ever. He has had the most number one albums by a solo artist in Billboard history, has President Obama in his speed dial and, to be frank, has found a way to stay his ass out of major trouble along the way. Simply put, there has been no bigger hip hop figure ever to emerge from the gritty New York streets, than Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter.
From the embryonic stages of her meteoric ascension into the hip hop and pop music stratosphere, we have been fascinated with Nicki Minaj. While at first, it was easy to write her off as a corporate-crafted, cartoonish, gimmicky version of the rough-around-the-edges, around-the-way girl she once was, it became clear to us that the Jamaica, Queens native just might be on to something a bit more worthy than that. After she got plucked up by Lil Wayne and the Young Money machine and her hype began to bubble on a national level, we paid even closer attention, coming to admire her enthusiastically stylistic flow, which on occasion, admittedly, bordered on absurd, but most times hovered around inventive and entertaining. Yes, the voices took some getting used to, (as did the eyeball popping), but to us, her infectious animation, energy, creativity and yes, lyricism, quickly elevated Nicki Minaj to the status of guilty pleasure. We began saying some very complimentary things about her, much to the chagrin of some our of fans and friends, but we stayed true to our conviction, reminding many how a young MC named Busta Rhymes once sparked the hip hop world with equally rambunctious mannerisms and outlandish costumes, only to go on to become one of the genres more respected journeymen. Yes, we cringed a bit when the embarrassing “Massive Attack” dropped and flopped, but ultimately remained confident in our co-sign. When “Your Love” took off, and Nicki Minaj essentially took the music world by storm, we felt that, at least commercially, we had picked a winner. When her documentary My Time Now aired on MTV, we noticed a flurry of comments throughout the social media universe, essentially stating how folks admitted underestimating Minaj, acquiring a newfound respect for her and her art. Needless to say, we remembered our arguments about how we thought that despite a bit of overdoing it, we considered Nicki Minaj a wonderfully creative breath of unique fresh air, and while we can certainly use more exposure to the Kalae All Days, Jean Graes and Rah Diggas of the world, we have always felt that there is room in hip hop for Nicki Minaj, and as her emphatically received debut and monstrous guest appearances this year have helped demonstrate, Nicki Minaj is indeed a fine example of why New York hip hop doesn’t suck.
And we do mean fine.
The New York City Hip Hop Underground
I have spent more than a year making it my business to thoroughly document the New York area hip hop underground scene, and while I have made many strides to fulfill this ongoing mission statement of my Birthplace Magazine creation, I have only begun to scratch the surface. I have met many good people, many talented artists, promoters, bloggers, DJs, dancers and producers. I have been blessed with the assistance of several talented writers, photographers and videographers who have contributed greatly to the site. Yet, sometimes standing for four hours in a small, sweat-box venue does not yield a tremendous amount of noteworthy hip hop. I now receive countless submissions, and rarely can find the time to listen to even the ones I want to listen to, much less find time to review and post. The last six weeks of 2010 have hit me with personal hardship and tragedy, and at times, I wondered if I can realistically continue this quest to redefine music journalism, documenting the music and associated culture that I love, and have been a part of for more than 20 years. But as a former DJ, rapper, producer myself, and as a journalist and publisher now, there is a certain thrill when seeing an unknown-outside-of-their-clique performer show me a spark of star quality. I still enjoy hearing the track produced by a local beatsmith under the vocals of a local rapper that makes me want to play that song repeatedly, like back in the days when a new Big Daddy Kane record would drop on Mr. Magic’s show. Yeah, I go back like that, and despite the change in the music game these past few years, there is still an excitement to be found in hip hop. For those of us who are open-minded enough to be able to enjoy good hip hop, no matter the subject matter or style, just good, creative music, I can safely say that with all I have witnessed in the last 12 months, the birthplace of hip hop is still very much alive and kicking. It is my hope that as I continue to grow our humble operation in 2011 to be a bit larger and a bit more self-sustaining, that the support we have received in 2010 will be reciprocated with good content, quality journalism, a hot event or two and a respectable platform that continues to become known as THE source for New York area hip hop news, artists, organizations and events.
So far, so good. Thank you all for helping me think I’m not (entirely) crazy for doing this.
Happy New Year.