In today’s rap scene, it might appear that we’re witnessing the Swag Revolution—exemplified by newcomers like Lil’ B and Odd Future Wolf Gang, it’s a movement largely defined by Internet hype and a “fuck the mainstream” attitude to fame. However, there are still some out there who have avoided this path. Among these deviants are a handful of rappers from New York City out to resurrect the classic sound of ‘90s Big Apple hip-hop. And so far, they are doing a pretty convincing job.
Underground heavy-hitters like Roc Marciano, whose debut LP Marcberg received impressive reviews across the Internet, have spearheaded this throwback style. Marciano uses timeless beats with warm, vintage funk and soul samples to complement his complex and unrelenting flow. Other newcomers, like Timeless Truth, J-Love, and Maffew Ragazino, have also stepped up to the plate, dropping impressive debut releases reminiscent of classic New York rappers like O.C. and Gang Starr.
But perhaps the most visible members of this revival have been Queens-based crew the Outdoorsmen. The Outdoorsmen are unapologetically New York, from their refined rhymes down to their extensive Polo collections, a nod to New York’s infamous Lo-Life Crew. Their sound and style herald back to the glory days of New York rap, somewhere between the Park Cypher and Shaolin. Of the new New York crews, the Outdoorsmen have been the most accessible for fans beyond the five boroughs. With several homemade music videos on YouTube and countless tweets, they have done a good job of giving some personality and aesthetic to the otherwise music-only movement.
Two particular Outdoorsmen have risen to the forefront of NYC’s mix tape scene—the dark and introspective Meyhem Lauren and the unforgettable Action Bronson, who raps about ahi tuna and makes his living as a gourmet chef. The two are arguably the unofficial leaders of New York’s recent revival movement, with not only the most accessible sounds, but also the most developed. Fortunately, they are its most prolific writers, producing dozens of tracks on several mixtapes over the last year. This month, Meyhem released his first LP, Self-Induced Illness, a stunning collection of 41 of his finest tracks. Likewise, Action Bronson dropped the more succinct 15-track Dr. Lecter, which serves up a riveting dose of classic hip-hop. Together, the two records prove that while the West Coast may be presenting some young talent, the veterans can still step up and score one for New York.
Whether or not you enjoy the sound of rap’s classic years, there is something undeniably gripping about these crews’ music. While many talented rappers have taken the easy route with blinged-out singles and mindless filler, this posse has managed to strip away the extraneous and get to the heart of true hip-hop: storytelling. Whether it’s Meyhem’s ode to classic New York graffiti “Got the Fever” or Ragazino’s Queens anthem “Where I’m From,” each song tells a story of a time and a place. The narrative is nostalgic and comfortable—it’s easy to tell that these guys have grown up with hip-hop, and are doing it the way they learned how: with no compromises. There’s no catch or hook, and the veteran confidence of the rhymes proves that these rappers aren’t in it for fame or to ride an Internet trend. So maybe New York’s hot new clique isn’t really new at all, but simply offering a dose of what New York rap has always offered—a love for the music, and the city that inspired it.
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