Hip-Hop In NYCHow immigrant and descendant-of-immigrant Hip-Hop Artists connected and interacted with the City That Never Sleeps
History of Hip-Hop Originated late 1970’s in the South Bronx Has its roots in the Jamaican tradition of toasting—stream of consciousness, boastful poetry and speech over music (DJ KoolHerc) Originators include DJ KoolHerc, AfrikaBambaataa, Melle Mel, etc.
East Coast Hip-Hop The original form of hip-hop As opposed to old school and west coast hip-hop, east coast hip-hop has a strong emphasis on lyrical creativity and dexterity, multi-syllabic rhymes and complex metaphors Also a strong emphasis on social consciousness and empowerment, as opposed to the laid-back attitude of old-school rap and the gangbanger mafioso rap of the west coast
Nas born Nasir bin OluDara Jones on September 14th, 1973. became steeped in African culture through both his father, a famous African Jazz musician and self instruction from FivePercenter lessons, Quran scriptures and the Bible. Grew up in the Queensbridge projects in Queens, one of the original hotbeds of rap.
“New York State of Mind” by Nas, selected lyrics“Crews without guns are goners/In broad daylight, stickupkids, they run up on us”“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death”“Be having dreams that I’m a gangster—drinking Moets,holding Tecs/ Making sure the cash came correct then Istepped”“The city never sleeps, full of villains and creeps/ That’swhere I learned to do my hustle had to scuffle with freaks”
“New York State of Mind” by Nas, lyric interpretationGrew up in an area where crime was an everyday part of lifeNas uses braggadocio to depict the mindset he needed to be able tosurvive and thrive in this atmosphereNYC is known as the city that never sleeps, which is supposed to be anendearing way to describe the vibrant nightlife and general thrum ofthe city. However, Nas flips this to say that he never sleeps becausesleeping is a cousin of death, in other words sleeping is just anotherway to fall behind in the rat race that is living in an impoverished area.With his rhyme about dreaming about being a gangster, Nas describesthe new American Dream for the impoverished immigrant culture inthe NYC hip-hop culture: not getting out of the struggle, but becomingrich and more powerful in the same paradigm.
Grandmaster Flash Born Joseph Saddler on January 1st, 1958. Originally from Barbados, grew up in the South Bronx, one of the early strongholds of Hip- Hop along with Queensbridge. Also an area large in crime. One of the pioneers of the art of DJ’ing.
“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, selected lyrics“I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise no more/ Gotno money to move out, I guess I got no choice”“She went to the city and got social security/ She had to geta pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own”“You’ll admire all the number book takers/Thugs, pimps, pushers and the big money makers/ Drivingbig cars, spending twenties and tens/ And you want togrow up to be just like them”
“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash lyric interpretations“The Message” is a grim portrayal of the inner-city life, as depicted by oneof the earliest and most important names in Hip-Hop.Flash describes how much you can be grinded down by the constantreminders of desolation and depravity in the inner city, and remarks on thefact that there is no way out for the people.Flash sympathizes with the inhabitants of the inner city, describing howthe kids become drawn to the powerful figures in theirneighborhoods, who more often than not are involved in illegal trades.Essentially, the ghetto becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the youngchildren of poor immigrants in the inner city.Similarly to Nas, Flash evokes the new American Dream of getting out ofthe struggle by becoming a powerful gangster, although Flash also sees thatthis only enables the system in an endless circle.
Notorious B.I.G. born Christopher George Latore Wallace on May 5th, 1972. Of Jamaican descent (both parents), grew up in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn. Universally held as one of the greatest rappers of all time, renewed East Coast/NYC rap scene at a time when the West Coast was dominating the mainstream.
“Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G., selected lyrics“Born sinner, the opposite of a winner/ I remember when Iused to eat sardines for dinner”“I made the change from a common thief/ To up close andpersonal with Robin Leach”“We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us/ Noheat, wondering why Christmas missed us”
“Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G., lyric interpretationThis song is a personal declaration of triumph for NotoriousB.I.G., the child of Jamaican immigrants. It depicts his strugglesgrowing up in a poor and crime-ridden section of Brooklyn; howhe worked his way up and made it out of the struggle that trapsso many.Biggie reminisces on eating sardines, having no heat in his smallapartment, and transitioning his life from being a commoncriminal to someone admirable. He wrote this song with thehopes that its depiction of his triumphs would inspire othersfrom his situation to rise above and make something of theirlives.
ConclusionFrom all three artists, we see how rough it was growing upin the poor, crime-ridden immigrant culture of NYC duringthe beginnings of Hip-Hop.Through their revolutionary music, they were able todepict their interactions with the city on a scale such that itresonated with generations upon generations of kids andeven adults in the same situation as they were.