New York's throne has long been occupied, but is it time for the monarchy to end?
Hip-Hop’s competitive spirit has become ingrained within the culture. A legendary beef is akin to modern day folklore, reflected on with a strange sort of fondness among rap fans, regardless of the repercussions. At its core, a beef is simply a product of wounded pride; one can spark at a moment’s notice, over a seemingly innocuous statement. The minute a rapper’s status is brought up, other claimants will no doubt feel some type of way. For example, if somebody dubs themselves the GOAT, those who feel they deserve a shot at the title will no doubt take issue with the original proclamation.
Take it back to the mid-eighties. While New York City has largely been established as the birthplace of hip-hop, for some, the history goes deeper. In 1985, Marley Marl and MC Shan released a song called “The Bridge,” which was interpreted to claim Queensbridge as the true place of origin. While Shan later explained it was never his intention to disrespect the West Bronx, there were some who didn’t appreciate the perceived slight.
KRS One fired back with “South Bronx,” which made a case for The Bronx as hip-hop’s seminal locale. KRS addressed Shan’s “The Bridge” directly, with lyrics “so you think that hip-hop had its start out in Queensbridge, if you popped that junk up in the Bronx you might not live.” Clearly, KRS took Shan’s proclamations to heart, and felt the need to put on for his origin. This seemingly innocent beef soon escalated into an all-out musical turf war, culminating in the iconic “The Bridge Is Over.”
While this legendary beef no doubt simmered over a variety of reasons (some likely personal), The Bridge Wars seemed to represent a prevailing attitude in New York hip-hop culture: there can only be one. Perhaps that’s why the idea of “King Of New York” has become such a fixture in NY. The unofficial monarchy has given many an ambitious emcee something tangible to covet. And as there can only be one king, it inherently continues the long documented tradition of competition.
To continue the metaphor, not every region ascribes to a monarchy. Consider Atlanta, where the game’s heavy hitters move as allies, not rivals. That’s not to say there’s no competitive spirit; this is hip-hop, after all. Yet current superstars Future, Gucci Mane, Young Thug, and Migos tend to celebrate a culture of collaboration. Even the recording sessions are made different, with a tight knit circle of artists exchanging beats, vocals, and ideas. Sure, every once in a while Migos will call themselves the “biggest group in the world,” but they’re not out here claiming to be the Kings of Atlanta.
Perhaps it’s because inner-borough competition is so deeply rooted in its DNA, but there’s a certain allure in the “King Of New York” title that seems inescapable. Consider some of the names often associated with the lofty position. Jay-Z. Nas. The late Notorious B.I.G. Diddy. 50 Cent. DMX. The list goes on. For the most part, each contender can boast an acclaimed and storied discography. Business acumen doesn’t hurt; a kingdom must, after all, run smoothly.
Yet is the “Kingship” a fixed or fleeting position? If DMX’ run in 98’ was absolutely Godlike, does that put him on the throne for a mere two years? Or can one make the case that DMX’s accomplishments are strong enough to earn him the throne for the remainder of history? It’s an argument many Tekashi 6ix9ine fans have been making; the rainbow haired rapper is currently at the height of his fame, and thus, has taken to dubbing himself “King Of New York.” It begs the question of how the annals of history might perceive the Gummo rapper. A genuine contender, or a passing fad? The answer depends on who you ask.
Arguably, he’s among the game’s most prominent emerging artists. Like it or not, Tekashi has enough clout to shut down an entire city block. But compare his debut to the efforts of his royal “peers.” 50 Cent has Get Rich Or Die Tryin. Nas has Illmatic. Jay has Reasonable Doubt. DMX has It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot. Biggie has Ready To Die. Tekashi has Day69. There’s certainly merits to the claim that 6ix9ine is at the forefront of a new-school New York movement. Yet it would ill-behoove the culture to reach a place where the art takes a backseat to sheer notoriety.
If anyone with a hot song can simply seize the throne, the kingship will eventually lose all significance. Tekashi may be massive, but what about Cardi B? She’s arguably the biggest artist out of New York right now. If she so much as orders a pizza, fans want to know the toppings and crust consistency. “Bodak Yellow” and “Bartier Cardi” are commercially successful bangers. Still, she has yet to deliver an official studio album. Can someone without a bonafide classic album ever be held in the same category as the established legends?
Sales matter to an extent. As does cultural impact. If tomorrow, thousands of teenagers decide to dye their hair like a rainbow in solidarity, it would certainly give credence to Tekashi’s claim. Yet a true “King” must be more than a flash in the pan. Ruling isn’t a one night stand, but a full-on monogamous marriage. If you’re about that life, you better have the catalogue to back your claims. You better have some prominent players citing you as a major influence. You better be selling out stadiums. YouTube views simply don’t cut it; not when “pen tapping covers” and Tide Pod challenges are a thing.
If scouring the internet has taught me anything, it’s that a vast majority feels like the throne has been vacant for a minute now. Whether that means it’s up for the taking is entirely debatable. At this moment, Tekashi has proclaimed himself the “King of New York.” Joey Bada$$ has also quietly made his case, citing his behind-the-scene groundwork, songwriting bags, and endorsement deals. Insofar as his artistry, Joey may very well have a case; bonus points if his extracurricular activities are as lucrative as initially suggested.
His proclamation even drew the ire of Tekashi, who accused Joey of sounding salty (he later claimed he was trolling and actually knows Joey beyond rap). Rich The Kid couldn’t help but weigh in on the discourse, throwing Jay Critch’s hat into the ring. Meanwhile, all the OGs are probably watching from afar, shaking their heads. Everyone’s so busy calling themselves the “king,” they’re losing sight of what it means to actually rule.
A hubristic king will seldom last very long, as people want somebody they can stand behind. The music lovers want to debate who has the best album, not who has the most streams. And at the end of the day, the music lovers will be the ones keeping the legacy alive. People still bump Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ to this day. Same with Illmatic. Same with Reasonable Doubt. As much as the game has changed, good music is timeless.
Therefore, perhaps there’s merit to Joey’s argument; as far as artistry goes, the man is trending upward, placing emphasis on the music first and foremost. A Tekashi video can go viral in mere minutes, but Joey can go slightly less viral murdering Future’s “Mask Off” instrumental. The real question is, which is more important to you?
At the end of the day, Tekashi will continue to call himself King, and his haters will continue to dispute the controversial notion. The idea that 6ix9ine has contributed even a fraction of what Jay-Z has given to the game borders on comedic, but lo and behold, his “Billy” video garnered five million views in a single day. Perhaps it’s a time for the monarchy to be abolished. In the meantime, young New York artists will continue to find themselves at odds. To quote the man at the top, nobody wins when the family feuds.