While some, and by some I mean this guy, seemed to be a bit amazed that hip hop’s “creative spirit is still alive in New York,” astonished even, that at the end of a long Saturday night rap show, people would still be into it, I was not surprised at all at the amazing amount of positive energy that swirled around Gramercy Theatre on Saturday night, January 18, 2014 for a bill that included Tone Tank (Brooklyn), Open Mike Eagle (L.A.), I Am Many (Brooklyn), YC The Cynic (Bronx) and headlined by Homeboy Sandman (Queens).
Collectively, (politely setting aside the inclusion of the talented and inventive Chicago-to-Californian Open Mike Eagle), this show demonstrated a phenomenon that is still somehow under the radar of every major, and most minor media outlets and personalities.
There is no New York hip hop “renaissance.”
Wait, what? Ok, that was for shock value. The fact is, “renaissance,” in this case, is a bit of a misnomer. As I’ve been saying on the record for years, (ad nauseam at times), New York hip hop, in terms of progressive creativity, quality, artistry, depth of personalities, breadth of events, amount of talented participants and height of the enthusiasm of fans, has not diminished in the least over the years. Despite a media and industry blackout, New York hip hop has continued to evolve in several ways. The fact that a music writer for a venerable New York arts publication feels the way he does, reminds us that this still gets ignored or misunderstood by nearly everyone seeking to opine on the topic.
Something can not be resurrected if it never truly died.
Admittedly, there is a great rift in hip hop these days, but it is not the “New York vs. The South” civil war that petty hip hop media would have you believe. It’s not Trap vs. Neo-Conscious. It is that the hip hop “industry” has yet to figure out a way to cater to the vast amount of people who are simply not satisfied with what is being promoted through mainstream channels. This could mean the eclectic and hyper-lyrical style of a Homeboy Sandman, or the gritty, slow-flow grime of a Roc Marciano. The stuck-in-the-90s folks or those who flock to rap’s new “weirdos.” It’s bigger than New York hip hop, and includes fans of non-NY artists, who simply would rather hear more Don Trip and Starlito, (or Open Mike Eagle for that matter), and less Drake.
In all cases, the field is over-saturated. The media is mega-conglomerated. The people are information-overloaded.
But we shouldn’t be misled by the narrow-minded approach to New York’s hip hop richness delivered by our area’s radio and newspaper naysayers. What happened at Gramercy Theatre doesn’t have to be an aberration. The brief, but entertaining Tone Tank set… The energetic rap attack of I Am Many, who is himself evolving for the better… The raw power, intellectual capacity and verbal dexterity of YC The Cynic and Homeboy Sandman, who then adds the dimension of ridiculously boundless energy… These are qualities that many people desire when anointing hip hop heroes.
The media, once insistent on the eternal death of New York hip hop, is now just starting to poke its nose around our turf. They are at the early stages. Denial has given way to, “It’s here, but it must be a fluke.”
It’s not. There are crowds for Homeboy Sandman as big as for New York hip hoppers who are receiving a big push from booking agencies and radio stations. The Gramercy show was a not-so-quiet victory for all those who continue to be cast aside as struggle rappers, under the underground, not ready for prime time players, yet have been honing their craft for years, mastering flows and mastering albums while the world looked elsewhere.
Those in the know, know better. In his review, Jonah Bromwich stated, “the denizens of the city’s outer boroughs showed on Saturday that the creative spirit is still alive in New York–you just have to go farther afield to find it.”
Damn… If only there was a media outlet or two that made it easier to find the…
Ok, ok, I’ll stay away from the blatant self-promo… This time… Fact is, it’s true. There are artists and audience that are still lost, searching for each other in a wide sea of musical humanity. As shows like this are proven to be viable (which happens simply because the right people knew it would be and the right venue had the balls to let it happen), we’ll have more examples to build upon.
In the meantime, we can only continue to implore those who want more to support the media — on- and offline, verbal, sonic and visual — who are wise enough to see these trends developing long before the others, and you’ll find there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to New York hip hop.
There are not many qualified outlets like this… But at least you don’t have to go too far afield to find us.