Nas’ Life Is Good is one small step for New York hip hop, one giant leap for hip hop-kind. It doesn’t “bring NY hip hop back,” but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Now that Nas’ Life Is Good is out, “New York Hip Hop is back” chatter has increased in volume and frequency. Of course, this isn’t due to this album release by itself, but Nas’ new project punctuates a long, plodding realization from many outside of The Big Apple, that New York-area hip hop, long held in contempt by aforementioned outsiders, and even many within our borders, has indeed been making strides of late to live up to its legacy.
Forgive the self-congratulatory tone in this editorial, but I just want to remind you all who predicted this.
You know… Who said that this would happen, but got laughed off of message boards. Who insisted that “New York Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck.” Who sacrificed time, energy, money and time with family, to begin a website that would advocate for the birthplace of the culture and its continued influence on the music associated with it.
Me. That’s who.
Also, of course, the many who have helped with BirthplaceMag.com along the way, as well as followers and friends, supporters and evangelists who have helped us spread our own gospel, which we spread that of metropolitan-area artists.
Now, this isn’t just about me. (Mostly, but not completely.) Let’s go deeper.
Make no mistake, Nas hasn’t “brought New York hip hop back.” It’s a slightly absurd concept to begin with, as New York hip hop never really went anywhere. The attention of the media and record industry simply turned elsewhere, to appease the masses, consumers from the rest of the country who became more likely to support and purchase hip hop that sounded like their own regional rap dialect.
But we’ve still been here, doing it our way. Today’s mainstream hip hop looks and sounds different than the traditional “boom-bap” aesthetic of yore, which bothers some traditionalists and purists to no end, but the progressive nature of New York City and its artistic citizens have a long history of reinventing musical art forms, and has been quietly doing so in regards to hip hop for years. Many, distracted by the aforementioned attention given to artists from other areas of the country, haven’t realized that New York hip hop was still thriving, albeit in a bit of a microcosm.
But we did.
It was part of our mission statement, originally crafted in 2008, when I wrote things like “We hope to be slightly ahead of our time when predicting that the sometimes cyclical winds of regional rap renaissance could indeed circle back around and lift the five boroughs out of the doldrums.”
We knew that hip hop in the New York area was still good, and in some cases, great. We just knew that it would take some time, and several steps, before it would be clear to others. In that same diatribe, I wrote, “While delivering these stories, we hope to answer some associated questions; Is a new era eminent? Is it even a possibility? Does the talent exist? If so, who can usher it in? Is it up to the new artists, veterans, labels, media or the will of the people? What forces work for or against such a revival?”
The answers: Yes. Yes. Yes. Many. All of them. Stubborn, failing industries and unprofessional, shortsighted media.
Nas hasn’t delivered New York hip hop back into the national rap prominence single-handed, but he has certainly added an exclamation point to an already marinating buzz.
More importantly, what Nas has proven — pending decent sales numbers — is that there is still a resounding public desire for more lyrical styling, music that contains the DNA of traditional East Coast rap, without sounding dated, tied up into a neat package that has been described by many as sounding a bit more ‘mature.’
Of course, we don’t have a lock on such artists, as MCs from other regions have done much to help further along this mindset, artists like Kanye and Lupe and Kendrick Lamar. But overall, this combination favors a New York sound a bit more than elsewhere.
All of which, if you’ll allow me to cast a new prediction, demonstrates a giant void in the hip hop entertainment market, that when realized and capitalized upon, can grow exponentially.
Grown folk hip hop. Even better when it can appeal to the 18-24 year old market, but still ok if it doesn’t. That’s what Nas’ well-executed promotional campaign and subsequent solid material brings to the table.
Despite the grand, anti-NY hip hop sentiment that has abounded in recent years, it is now becoming even more clear that targeting this slightly progressive shift in demographic is something that is tailor made for some New York artists, veteran and upcoming alike. Particularly someone like Nas.
Again, something we’ve seen coming.
So, allow us this brief interruption to your day of listening to Life Is Good, or the countless other projects by NY-area MCs, DJs and beatboxers who continue to live and breathe great hip hop music and culture, to address those who have either believed in our message the whole time, doubted what we have been preaching or haven’t paid attention to us either way:
Basically… We told you so.
It is perhaps best exemplified by me, in my own words at the end of last Sunday’s episode of The NY Hip Hop Report, our new, thriving and groundbreaking online talk radio program (if I do say so myself):
Watch when Nas’ album drops … Watch the talk about New York hip hop ‘coming back.’ Watch how this amplifies that discussion. Watch how when cats like Action Bronson, coming up in the game, making some noise… Joey Bada$$ who we wrote about on BirthplaceMag.com and A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks, whose mixtape we have on BirthplaceMag.com… Everyone’s been talking — we’ve showed you some of these things in the last months — about ‘New York hip hop making it’s comeback… Oooh it not gonna suck anymore’… Let us remind y’all… Who told you that was gonna happen, two and a half years ago? We did. Birthplace Magazine. The NY Hip Hop Report is presented by Birthplace Magazine. I’m Manny Faces, he’s Steven Ortiz. I started this whole thing. He joined on cuz he knew a good thing. And we been telling y’all that New York hip hop was gonna come back. And it’s not just because A$AP Rocky sounds like he’s from Houston and got a $3 million deal. Good for him. That’s fantastic. But Homeboy Sandman is signed to Stones Throw, and he’s touring with Brother Ali. So, you got all kinds of aspects of hip hop from New York taking off. Nicki Minaj is from New York, don’t forget, and she’s blown up, whether you like her or not. We wrote up Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz and we said ‘They’re dope,’ and now they’re in Eminem’s camp and they’re making big noise as Slaughterhouse. We know that this place is rocking, we got underground artists, we got indie artists, we got shows like Props To Hip Hop, we got Hip Hop Karaoke… There’s a lot going on in this area. We got the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, that for better or worse, whether you like one thing or didn’t like the other, or had a tough time getting in, brought together Leaders of The New School and A Tribe Called Quest to do “Scenario” live, for the first time in 20 years. That happened HERE. So that’s New York. That’s New York hip hop.
This is just the tip of an iceberg, as we still have a lot of work to do, and a bit more to prove. Accordingly, the industries associated with hip hop music and culture need to continue shifting, and recognizing this renewed potential from the Mecca of hip hop, to allow any type of real rap renaissance to gain momentum.
But I’ve always insisted that it starts with the media, and so we strive to do our part, to provide a fair, intelligently constructed and professionally delivered source of information, music, news, events and opinion, with journalistic integrity and respect for all aspects of hip hop music and culture, spotlighting the breadth of New York-area artists.
As such, we implore you to pay attention to us. If you had already, you would have known that for much of New York hip hop scene, life has been good, and is getting even better.
The NY Hip Hop Report with Manny Faces airs Sundays, 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Visit www.NYHipHopReport.com for more information, show archives, etc.