Is New York the strongest region in hip-hop history? Draft your own team in our new Bracket Competition!
The following is the second installment of a new series, The Hip-Hop Olympics Bracket. Throughout the next several weeks, we will be examining several of hip-hop’s most prominent locales. Historical context, musical aesthetic, key players, and prominent themes will be analyzed. Once the series is complete, there will be a vote to decide which region reigns supreme.
We need your involvement for this one. In order to find a winner, we invite our readers weigh in with their ideal roster for each region: six players, two producers, and two coaches. The comments will be tallied, and once the final vote comes to pass, fan-voted teams will be pitted against one another in order to crown a single champion. We've already covered California - check it out here.
For this week’s installment, we shall be examining New York. As New York is home to a variety of diverse cities, many of which boast thriving hip-hop scenes, it seems fitting to examine the state as a singular entity.
VOTE FOR YOUR IDEAL TEAM IN THE COMMENTS SECTION
Players: Your rappers. The ones you know will murder a track. Maybe it's flow, maybe it's lyrics, maybe it's straight up charisma.
Coaches: Now that you've picked your rappers, you need somebody to keep them in line. To oversee the whole thing. You gotta make sure you've got some OGs holding it down.
Producers: You've got your lineup, but who is going to bless them with the beat?
Week Two: New York
Has there ever been a more prolific run than New York in the nineties? With each passing year, a cavalcade of memorable characters emerged from disparate boroughs, advancing the culture in their own iconic ways. Since KRS One’s “The Bridge Is Over,” geographical pride has long been a defining theme in hip-hop, and New York’s myriad locales have coalesced to make up one of the most dynamic and versatile scenes in music history.
When one thinks of Brooklyn, it’s hard not to evoke imagery of The Notorious B.I.G trading bars with Jay-Z on the classic anthem “Brooklyn's Finest.” While the game would soon find themselves mourning Biggie’s passing, Jay’s legacy was merely in its infancy. In the decades to follow, the Jigga Man would make his mentor proud, dropping thirteen studio albums, four bonafide classics, and building an empire few aspirants could ever dare to rival. With countless New York anthems under his belt, from “Hello Brooklyn” to “Empire State Of Mind,” Jay-Z has become one of the leading figures in Big Apple hip-hop.
You've gotta shout out Diddy bringing Big to the forefront. While Big's legacy was sadly short lived, his masterful blend of gallows humor, lewd sexuality, and nightmarish brutality made for one of the most compelling pens in the game. Lyrically, he’s still regarded as the benchmark for aspiring rappers, and Biggie’s gift for weaving cinematic imagery through words alone is difficult to rival. You can hear his influence in fellow Brooklynites across the board, from Joey Bada$$, to Foxy Brown, to Fabolous, and more. To disrespect Big to a New Yorker’s face is blasphemous in certain circles. Such is the reach of his shadow.
Jay-Z & The Notorious B.I.G. - Brooklyn's Finest
Queens has also been a consistent hub for talent, with two of hip-hop's defining debut albums stemming from the borough; Nas’ Illmatic and 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin. While 50 Cent has proven himself a larger than life figure in entertainment media, Nas continues to quietly build his empire, all while remaining one of the most gifted writers across the genre. There’s something about New York that seems to spawn brilliant storytellers; maybe it’s the watchful eye of Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane. In any case, the largest of the five boroughs has cultivated many talented names across the years, from Mobb Deep to Nicki Minaj, Action Bronson to Lloyd Banks. Lyrically, Queens is as deadly as they come.
Yonkers has also thrived, largely due to the combined forces of Ruff Ryders legends DMX and The Lox. For those lucky enough to remember DMX’s emergence in 1998, you might recall the man dropping two number one albums in the same year; while Flesh Of My Flesh is a phenomenal body of work, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot can stand among the genre’s timeless classics. Not to mention the respective legacies of Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek Louch, who have enjoyed deep-rooted careers as some of the streets’ most respected artists.
Staten Island proved integral in expanding the lore, adding a touch of Far-East mysticism to the mix. The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA emerged onto the scene as a true visionary, blending the art of crate digging with cinematic samples, setting a mood seeped in New York grit and the regal, ethereal qualities of kung-fu. On paper, the Wu may feel like a disparate cast of characters; Ghostface Killah and Raekwon’s street poetry feels detached from the existential knowledge of GZA, or the back-alley funk of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Yet together, the Clan created something the game has never replicated, and one can’t help but recognize Enter The Wu Tang as an essential album in any must-have list. Is there anybody who doesn’t spell “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” in a singsong cadence?
Ghostface Killah - Mighty Healthy
It’s easy to dwell on the glory days, but it would be remiss to ignore the current New York movement. A$AP Rocky’s Mob helped solidify Harlem as an innovative voice in the aughts, bringing talent like Ferg and Twelvyy into the mix; in many ways, the A$AP crew helped pick up where Cam'Ron, Jim Jones, and Juelz Santana left off. Flatbush Zombies, Nyck @ Knight, and The Underachievers continue to flourish today, proving a welcome alternative to some of hip-hop’s more prominent trends. And of course, we can’t forget about the Rainbow-headed one, who previously proclaimed himself King Of New York.
Think about all the classic albums New York has to offer; while other contenders may exceed the Big Apple in some departments, it’s difficult to go project-for-project with such an impressive repertoire. And at the helm of many great projects is an elaborate list of producers, who have played pivotal roles in building a strong musical foundation. To name a few, New York is responsible for several prominent beatsmiths, including DJ Premier, RZA, Havoc, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Rick Rubin, Irv Gotti, Swizz Beatz, El-P, and more.
In this ongoing battle, how much do you value the City That Never Sleeps? After all, sleep is the cousin of death. Choose your team, and choose them wisely.
While you consider your roster, throw up our accompanying New York playlist for inspiration.
Once again, don't forget to vote for your roster.
Age shouldn't necessarily be a factor; for example, if you love Jay's prolific nineties run, you can opt to vote him as a player.