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The Return of NY: The VeteransPosted by Dharmic X on 03/05/13 | Filed under Opinion, Return of NY
Is the golden age of New York City hip-hop returning? Did it ever really leave? Over the next few weeks we'll be breaking down what's currently going on in the Big Apple in our "The Return of NY" series. We’ve looked at some of the emerging talent coming out of New York City; we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what some of the veterans have put out recently.
In the digital era of 2013, age really “ain’t nothing but a number.” One of last year’s “emerging talents” was a thirty-six-yea- old rapper named 2 Chainz. And while he was the product of a heavy major label budget, nowadays all someone needs to command the attention of hundreds if not thousands of hip-hop fans is online access and a reputation.
New York City is a city with a lot of pride, especially amongst the city’s hip-hop circles. Nobody wants to hear that they have fallen off. As a result, many of New York City’s rappers that you grew up listening to in the 90s (and even the 80s) are still making music, whether you are listening or are desperately trying to ignore it. Naturally, many of these artists are incapable of reviving their careers, or moving beyond a microscopic niche of fans.
Several factors play into this, but it usually has to do with the generation gap. Veteran emcees can sometimes be so grounded in the industry politics of the 90s that they don’t know how to operate and promote themselves in modern times. These artists still believe in the power of terrestrial radio (Hot97) and muster a few typo-riddled SPAM tweets as their form of online promotion. Sometimes, these artists try to change their sound in an attempt to “modernize.” Just ask LL Cool J how successful his new single “Ratchet” is.
That said, there are many success stories amongst the ranks of New York City OGs. Obviously, there are a Jay-Z and Nas. One will always be a cultural ambassador who represents Brooklyn in all of his entrepreneurial ventures, and the other just put out a comeback album of sorts this summer.
Perhaps the most notorious OG story of New York City is that of Sean Price. Everyone has seen the transformation from Ruck of Heltah Skeltah to the colorfully blunt yet engaging Sean P. Part of Sean’s success comes from his willingness to put himself out there in ways that very few rappers attempt to do: from disguising himself as “Seanwuar” to giving weather reports during Hurricane Sandy, all without compromising his rugged rap persona. Price’s last album, Mic Tyson, debuted at 58 on the Billboard charts, an incredible feat for a 40-year old supposed “underground” rapper.
Duck Down has been the stomping ground for several veteran success stories, starting with the Boot Camp Clik (albeit, none have really been quite as successful as P). Rock, Smif-N-Wessun, and label co-founder Buckshot are the main BCC members still putting out material, with Buckshot often serving as a label staple while the others tend to be more sporadic. Buckshot’s last album with 9th Wonder, The Solution, was quite the solid body of work.
Another one of the label’s more successful artists is Pharoahe Monch, who despite having last dropped a project in 2011, still remains relevant with his show-stealing guest appearances and colorful Twitter personality. It doesn’t hurt that his last album, "We Are Renegades (W.A.R.)" was one of the best of the year, and the lead single for his upcoming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), “Damage,” is a certified lyrical banger.
Meanwhile, an affiliate of Pharoahe, Jean Grae, has been keeping fans salivating over an official album for YEARS. Occasionally dropping a project out of the blue, Jean is more known at this point for being a brash and outlandish personality, especially on social media. At the same token, frequent collaborator Talib Kweli is trying to take his brand to the next level with the release of "Prisoner of Conscious", working with everyone from Maino to Nelly and dropping 808-infused records with buzzmaking producer Harry Fraud.
So to succeed in the current climate as an OG, does one need to be outlandish and personable? Not quite. Emerging after a three-year hiatus, D.I.T.C. member O.C. resurfaced to drop one of the best albums of 2012 with Detroit producer Apollo Brown, Trophies. With no features and no videos, the release of the project was simple, and yet it still had a tremendous impact, earning the nod of “Slept-on Album of the Year” by HipHopDX. O.C. is now working on a collaborative project with Bumpy Knuckles and DJ Premier, both of whom put out The KolleXXXion, which had several solid songs and a packed release party. Meanwhile, Showbiz and A.G. finally put out the much-anticipated Mugshot Music, a solid record in its own right.
Deeper into the underground, artists like Ill Bill and Immortal Technique remain strong forces in the scene, the former having just released an album last week and the latter somewhat more erratic with releases. Artists like Cormega and El-P have received career renaissances. Even R.A. the Rugged Man is getting ready to drop an album.
Meanwhile, some of New York’s more legendary figures have been slightly more inconsistent in the 2000s. The Wu-Block album had its moments, but the potential felt a bit squandered in the end. Meanwhile, RZA’s "The Man with the Iron Fist OST" will go down as one of the best put-together soundtracks of all time. Most of the Clan continues to put out solo material with Raekwon tending to be the most successful and consistent of the bunch; his "Lost Jewlry EP" was stellar. That said, if the first two leaks (one of which is above) are any indication, Ghostface Killah is about to drop a classic album with Adrian Younge, called "Twelve Reasons to Die".
Rap critics accuse the OGs of being bitter and cynical, incapable of putting out decent material of relevancy right now. While Craig G did put out an album called "Ramblings of An Angry Old Man", the fact of the matter is that the veterans of the Big Apple are still holding it down and making incredible music.