It’s been a while since we last compiled a “5 Reasons Why New York Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck” edition. We’re supposed to be doing these once a month, but as we all know, sometimes life gets in the way. In fact, it’s not for a lack of non-sucky New York hip hop, just the opposite. As a growing but small and nimble operation, our resources still get tied up pretty easily covering the vast amount of New York hip hop artists, events and organizations worth our attention, so it does get difficult to always stay tight on schedule. Last month was even more difficult, as we traveled to Austin, Texas to check out the New York-area representatives who hit the area stages during the annual SXSW: South By Southwest Music Festival (a highly worthwhile endeavor though, stay tuned for that recap, coming soon). But all that doesn’t matter right now, let us proceed to give you what you need (if what you need is a carefully thought-out ongoing list of hip hop dopeness provided by the Big Apple and our surrounding area). As always, I will try and promise to be more frequent, since so many of our readers really enjoy seeing who makes each edition, but in the meantime, please don’t gloss over the recipients for the April edition. We think they are textbook examples of why New York hip hop continues to not suck in ’11.
– Manny Faces
There are countless hip hop open mics and showcases in New York City. We’ve seen a bunch. You’ve seen a bunch. Some are big, some are small, many tend to feature mostly mediocre talent with occasional flashes of quality, and rare flashes of brilliance. Some clearly only exist but for the organizer’s love of money, while some exist thanks to the organizer’s love of the art. For Freestyle Mondays, the longest running live band hip hop open mic in New York City, it’s obviously the latter. Run by IllSpokinn, a veteran MC himself who performs, records, and tours the world, and Mariella Gonzalez, an alluring and talented songstress and sometimes-Sesame Street participant, Freestyle Mondays ran from 2002 to 2010 at Sin Sin, becoming a Lower East Side hip hop Mecca and breeding ground for freestyle, progressive, semi-alternative and purist MCs. Shortly after Sin Sin’s unexpected shutdown, word spread through the community that Freestyle Mondays would live on, continuing at Bar 13, and the proverbial beat goes on. For anyone who needs a proper introduction to (or reminder of) the wonderful world of artistry, entertainment, passion, fun and respect for jam session lyricism that lives in hip hop’s heart, you could find absolutely no better place to spend a Monday night.
While Jay-Z set the bar for summer hit consistency over a staggering number of years throughout his career, another Brooklynite has been solidly consistent for a pretty impressive time span as well. From his early anthemic releases like “Can’t Deny It,” and “Young’n (Holla Back),” to songs recently indelibly implanted in our collective psyche like “Throw It In The Bag,” and “You Be Killin’ Em,” Fabolous has maintained a steady record of releasing rap radio hits for over a decade. Fab is one of the best at expertly riding the line between garnering street cred and airplay appeal, able to craft female-friendly radio smashes like “Into You” while avoiding a “sellout” stigma, dropping harder edged songs and features along the way. Though he’s never reached the universal appeal of Jay-Z (few have), there are not many MCs in the game who have dropped as many memorable mainstream and club bangers as John “Fabolous” Jackson.
We haven’t highlighted a venue in our “5 Reasons” series since we gave kudos to the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill back in August 2010, but when we did, we briefly mentioned other hip hop-friendly locations around the area who have contributed to the underground and indie hip hop scene in a positive manner. From established hip hoppers such as Joell Ortiz to a slew of upcoming indie artists, Southpaw has seemingly hosted a zillion hip hop shows and album release events in past months. Southpaw sports a sizable bar, comfortable seating areas, good sized stage, a clear sound system and indie-friendly booking staff. So far, we haven’t seen a show we didn’t like at Southpaw, so if you’re looking to take in some of New York’s up and coming hip hop talent, make sure you keep an eye on our Birthplace Magazine NY-area hip hop events calendar for shows at Southpaw.
Once upon a time, there was a white guy from the D.C. suburbs, who, in the course of his career, became employed by one of the New York chapters of the “evil” corporate radio behemoths many say have helped to destroy the legitimacy of radio in general, and urban radio in particular. Despite what some would consider a guilt by association, this guy remains an ardent supporter of New York City underground hip hop, finding every extra-curricular activity possible to lend his celebrity to the cause. We realized this, in part, watching him co-host the album release party for Homeboy Sandman’s The Good Sun, back in June, 2010, where he expressed sincere respect for Homeboy Sandman, J-Live and several other artists one wouldn’t necessarily expect a Hot 97 morning show jock to know, co-sign or throw support at. Further demonstrative of his respect and deep knowledge of hip hop music, his semi-regular Noisemakers Live event, an intimate Inside the Actor’s Studio-like onstage interview session held at 92YTribeca, which has welcomed the likes of Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Raekwon, DJ Premier, Bun B, Diddy, Phonte and 9th Wonder. His weekly Real Late radio program can be heard on Hot 97 (as well as an online version created for ThisIs50.com), and showcases music and interviews with underground, progressive and talented underground artists from New York and beyond, providing them a powerful platform that mainstream radio airwaves are usually extremely hesitant to provide. For all of these reasons, plus being a generally approachable, humorous and intelligent addition to the New York city hip hop community, we list Peter Rosenberg as a worthy example of why New York hip hop doesn’t suck.
This endorsement is absurdly blatant, so I should first state that a) we have no stake in these shows, financial or otherwise and b) we are not related to, married to, sleeping with, or partnered in any way with any of the organizers or participants of these shows. Now that that’s cleared up: The folks over at Tru Statement Entertainment, an online music promotions, management company and label, in conjunction with a couple dozen New York City MCs, singers and musicians, and with assistance by the aforementioned IllSpokinn, have organized and executed two of the most entertaining hip hop shows that I have ever been to, period. If this is the first time hearing of them, good, because they are doing it again April 21st. So if you’re the type that likes to actually have a little fun with your hip hop, pay attention. The concept is simple. Round up 20 or so area MCs, an incredibly talented live band, choose a legendary hip hop act, and pay tribute by performing and reciting that act’s seminal songs in front of a euphorically nostalgic crowd. Admittedly, the idea is essentially glorified hip hop karaoke, but these talented MCs, songwriters all, dedicate their voice and delivery to someone else for the night, and the crowd, full of fans of the respective artist(s), eat it up, raucously signing along line for line, in many cases, becoming an instant fan of the random MC delivering a random verse from a random song in the catalog of one of their favorite acts. It started with A Tribe Called Quest (which we covered). Next was Outkast. Each one more crowded, more exciting, more polished and more fun than the last. On Thursday, April 21, they’ll all be back, paying performance tribute to another classic and timeless group, The Fugees. I can state with complete conviction that this will be a night worth witnessing, and am happy to include TSE’s Props To Hop Hop concerts, and all those who participate, as an extremely entertaining reason why New York hip hop, and the New York hip hop scene, doesn’t suck.