The disagreement is mainly fueled by the growth of hip-hop. The genre has become more and more accessible to people outside of New York over time, so naturally artists from other places have gained acclaim. If the city still dominated airplay, there would be no need for the discussion. However, this isn’t the case, which causes nostalgia to be a big factor in the debate, as well as artists’ responses to it. Some of them actively seek out production akin to the Boom Bap sound and prioritize lyricism in a similar manner to that of MCs such as Nas, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. Others mold styles that show influence of music outside of the NY scene and help them gain attention from younger fans. While neither choice puts the debate to an end, a recent example of the former sheds light on an overlooked aspect.
As of late, Fabolous has been in the zone. For several weeks, he released freestyles around midnight on Fridays, primarily over classic beats from ‘90s New York hip-hop. On each one, Fab delivered flows, punch lines and wordplay that surpasses his recent work. As he says in one song, it’s like he’s hit his prime twice. Fab culminated the series by releasing a mixtape with all of the freestyles and some new ones featuring some of his peers who have all lived through the shift in NYC’s rap scene. This series and tape are both a return to his roots in the city’s mixtape game alongside his partner DJ Clue, so in this sense, nostalgia has helped him return to form. Yet Fab’s latest release also serves as proof of the diversity in New York’s glory days.
Fab’s beat selection on the tape is far from homogeneous. The gloss of “Been Around the World (Remix)” differs from the grit of “Shook Ones, Pt. 2.” The richness of “Life’s a Bitch” is countered by the eeriness of “Sound Bwoy Bureill.” The distinction between the beats is a microcosm of the diversity in New York hip-hop. Despite the rise of the Boom Bap style and the Mafioso tropes assumed by many rappers, the sounds and styles of prominent artists in the city differed from each other quite often. Just think about the people that Fab brought out during his set at this year’s HOT 97 Summer Jam. You have Busta Rhymes, who’s known for his animated delivery and raw energy; and then you have Raekwon, who’s known to be slick and composed on his tracks. There’s Lil’ Kim, who has shown a level of confidence and aggression on tracks that few can match. And then there’s Ma$e, who has balanced plenty of songs with Kim through his laid-back style of rhyme. With these differences in mind, it’s easy to see why fans are nostalgic of the artists’ earlier days. However, fans should not just reminisce about the collective success of the past, but instead value the variety in the MCs that represented New York City in past decades.
If fans value the diversity of the city’s rap scene in the past, they can refrain from limiting the scene today. There doesn’t need to be a single sound for NY hip-hop. Sounds and styles that are reminiscent of past eras can and should coexist with those that differ from them. Fans can continue to support the work of Fab and the veterans that have joined him in his recent efforts, such as Jadakiss, Ranso, and Lloyd Banks. They can also seek out and support new talent, such as Dave East, Joey Bada$$, Nitty Scott, and Bodega Bamz. Hopefully recognition finds its way to unsung heroes such as Skyzoo and Jean Grae as well. The artists that occupy these different spaces in the rap world should work to maximize their individual styles rather than appease unrealistic desires of setting a new signature style for the whole city. Such artistic freedom can help rappers generate buzz and create modern day classics without being preoccupied with the industry and New York’s place in it. There are obvious hurdles involved for artists due to the nature of record labels and radio stations. However, fans have the resources to find and support local talent of all kinds. Hopefully more of them do so in the future.