When hip-hop was kicked into high gear in the 90’s, you could almost tell where a rapper was from based on their sound alone. Nas and DJ Premier’s Illmatic was the sound of New York, 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” solidified the sound of the West Coast, and Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” showed that the South had something to say.
Things got a little more complicated in the 2000’s with the addition of artists such as Kanye West in Chicago, Lil Wayne in New Orleans, Future in Atlanta, and Drake in Toronto, and now as we approach the 2020’s, a whole generation with access to any and all sounds put their hats in the ring.
That’s not to say that “sound pockets” don’t still exist, but that the type of sound doesn’t necessarily emit from a singular origin. The “Atlanta” sound made popular by groups such as Migos, Future, and Young Thug, can also be attributed to Philadelphian’s such as Lil Uzi Vert and PnB Rock. Furthermore, rising rap groups like Brockhampton, who technically hail from Texas, incorporate some of the most diverse sounds of any rap artists today.
Where collectives in Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles still produce sound pockets that can still be identifiable (such as those who roll with Chance the Rapper in Chicago or those who still work under Dr. Dre in L.A./Compton), the other largest city for rap right now is New York, which up until now, was seemingly always at the forefront.
It was in New York that P. Diddy sampled pop hits under Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and arguably brought hip-hop into the pop mainstream, and artists like Nas and Jay-Z carried on that torch, mixed with the boom-bap of Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy. New York’s sound was hard, and it’s why contemporary artists such as Joey Bada$$, Princess Nokia, and Nas’ protege Dave East, have been labeled as rap traditionalists in the past.
To look for the future of New York’s sound however, it must borrow and evolve just like everyone else’s. Jazz and the current functionings of neo-soul have had a huge influence on hip-hop, as has music of other cultures such as UK’s grime, New Orleans’ bounce, and Jamaican dancehall. This “fusion” of ideas has hit home with the newer artists who grew up hearing all kinds of sounds, and a cocktail has been brewing in the melting pot of New York’s emcee’s to produce the city’s next great sound.
A$AP Rocky – “Praise the Lord (Da Shine) [feat. Skepta]”
While A$AP Rocky might have been “testing” a lot of sounds on his latest LP, most of the sounds incorporated included a mix of what Kanye West was doing on “Yikes” with that of Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Skepta’s Konnichiwa. Bringing a hard-hitting beat to “Praise the Lord,” the lyrics might not be incredibly stimulating, but the UK grime and playful melody of the beat lead to a sound that has been permeating the New York rap scene.
Nicki Minaj – “Chun-Li”
Nicki Minaj’s recent album Queen featured a quintessentially sounding NY boom-bap track on the Notorious B.I.G. referencing “Barbie Dreams,” but it’s on a track like “Chun-Li” where we see similarities to Rocky’s “Praise the Lord.” The hi-hats of “Chun-Li” mimic that hard-hitting aspect of “Praise the Lord,” as well as the playful background noises, and the bounce of the flow and rhythms used keep the track feeling like it’s propelling forward.
Maliibu Mitch – “Give Her Some Money”
When you’re looking for this kind of sound, it’s something immediately identifiable in hits like Maliibu Mitch’s recent “Give Her Some Money.” The same could be said of Cardi B’s “Bickenhead.” It’s a highly intense and aggressive structure, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room to come down.
Brockhampton – “1998 Truman”
This is an evolving sound that may be at its most active when displayed on tracks like Brockhampton’s “BOOGIE,” but if there’s anything that Brockhampton have to prove, it’s that they’re not tied down to one particular sound. One of their recent singles, “1998 Truman,” even ends in a progressive rock-like breakdown, something that other highly influential artists have also experimented with such as Kanye West and Frank Ocean.
MIKE – “Hunger”
As well, the power of sampling still exists heavily, seen on Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” and all over Kanye West’s recent string of G.O.O.D. Music projects. Someone who was born out of this world, as well as that of sample kings such as MF DOOM and J Dilla, MIKE has become a fan of the rising hip-hop world, even earning a co-sign of approval from Earl Sweatshirt.
While it may all seem new however, new sounds often emerge from our pasts just like 90’s fashion making a comeback. While New York might seem like it’s creating a new sound here with A$AP Rocky’s “Praise the Lord,” one can’t help but be reminded that they might have heard something like this before from a legendary New York hip-hop collective back in 1993…
Mix the sound of “C.R.E.A.M” with Atlanta’s love of hi-hats and the intensity of UK grime, and you have today’s greatest hits from New York hip-hop artists. Sure, it can’t be that simple, and it’s not, but it’s in finding common ground in legendary hits from the past that we can look towards the future.
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