We got no beef against Westchester County. We don’t bug over shouts for its homegrown rap heavies like Brand Nubians, DMX and The Lox. We even give props to Mount Vernon’s own Heavy D, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Al B Sure and Case.
But when the mayor of Mount Vernon tagged his town the center of the hip-hop galaxy in August—and proposed turning an old firehouse into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame—he wasn’t just fucking with us. He was fucking with history.
Outside the big city, no place on the planet has harnessed as much hip-hop talent as Long Island. Take political rap, just for openers. We practically invented that, with Nassau’s Public Enemy teaching all comers to fight the power and Wyandanch’s Rakim Allah dropping science and Five-Percent teachings in his lyrical flow.
Even the playaz who didn’t grow up here slide to LI as soon as they get flush. Puff Daddy got his start in Mount Vernon, but where did he go after he got mad pay? East Hampton, baby, East Hampton.
The Hip-Hop Hall of Fame doesn’t belong in the abandoned fire station of a town that hasn’t got enough certified rappers to emcee an all-day block party. It belongs on Long Island, where the sound of the street pumps through our veins, where underground bass lines pulse like heartbeats and people live off the phat of the land.
Someplace around Brentwood would suit.
Mount Vernonites may have some fast-burning meteors, but they’ve got few long-lasting luminaries.
Ask any hip-hop fan or rap artist to name the best emcees of all time, and Rakim Allah will almost certainly make the list—if not in the top three, at least in the top 10. Allah set the mark for Five Percenters, who’ve been imitating his mix of meaning and thump ever since. His lyrics stand the test of time, and heads are still bugging off what he spit in ’86.
A decade after they first woke up the world, the geniuses of Public Enemy are still some of the most sampled artists around, a distinction they share with the Brentwood boondocks’ own EPMD.
Westbury’s Dr. Dre was large on Long Island long before he became an international celebrity and a staple in the hip-hop game. The good doctor got things going as a DJ at Adelphi University’s WBAU, as a recording artist on Original Concept and as a producer for early Def Jam joints like the Beastie Boys. The co-host of the top-rated “MTV Raps” show once spun for Hot 97 FM, a prime-time gig he and Ed Lover are re-creating in Los Angeles.
The art of the new
We won’t deny Mount Vernon’s Brand Nubians’ claim to innovative touches, but LI groups wrote the book on where to find lost sounds and how to create new ones.
Amityville’s De La Soul reinvented music entirely. The Suffolk musicians were the first to connect songs on an album with bits of narrative and dialogue, creating the skit technique that’s still copied—and abused—by far too many rappers.
With a string of visionary albums unleashed a decade ago, De La Soul also changed the way artists and fans view hip hop, taking us in directions we never could have imagined. Instead of relying on worn samples of James Brown, the group stepped outside the boundaries and introduced bands like the Turtles to rap producers. Just this year, De La Soul’s Prince Paul shattered the limits again with his hip-hopera, A Prince Among Thieves.
Acts like Leaders of the New School brought back the feel of old-school music, creating live performances and lyrical routines reminiscent of The Treachous Three and The Legendary Cold Crush Brothers.
Wailing police sirens and snatches of Malcolm X speeches are common now, but they weren’t when Public Enemy first began putting them on vinyl.
EPMD was the first group to create a strong, tight family of emcees who each held his own with the Hit Squad. They were ahead of their time when it came to spotting and nurturing talent. Classics from Parrish and Erick still rock clubs worldwide.
No place like home
You can take the rapper out of Long Island, but you can’t the Island out of the rapper.
Just ask Biz Markie, a kind of rolling stone from Coram who’s lived in places all over LI. Now that he’s become a big rap star, New Jersey and Harlem also try to claim him as their own. But before he made it anywhere, he had to make it here. Long Island, he says, was the place where he “would have to beg to get on the mic that day” and got treated “like a wet food stamp” when he was trying to make a name for himself. Biz still dives deep into LI’s talent pool, drafting Central Islip’s TJ Swan to sing on many records, including the hook on “Make the Music with Your Mouth Biz.”
Busta Rhymes, one of the original Leaders of the New School, went solo and claimed Brooklyn as his new hometown, but he got his start on the Island. Likewise, Wu Tang clansman Method Man came from Hempstead and lived in Westbury before moving to Staten Island during junior high school.
LL Cool J was born and grew up in Bay Shore. When he was still young, he and his mother moved to his grandmother’s house in Hollis, Queens, to get away from an abusive relative. LL still owns a house in the Dix Hills area.
Central Islip continues to jump, with K-solo, Keith Murry, The LOD and Mama Mystique holding down the beat. JVC Force represented by giving LI its first anthem with the underground classic “Strong Island.”
Craig Mack broke onto the Brentwood scene as MC EZ in 1988 and went on to win a Grammy for “Flava in Ya Ear.” Hip-hop journalist and media assassin Harry Allen also came from LI.
Das Efx took refuge in Ronkonkoma after its first album. Redman moved here to escape the streets of New Jersey. Chubb Rock owns a home in the Hamptons.
Even Mobb Deep recently moved to the Island, where the group now records in its in-house studio. When the Mobb’s Murda Muzik was heavily bootlegged before its release, the act reworked five songs on LI.
Wake up the house again
Long Island has often been slept on, but hip-hop heads know the action is here. LI has given the world its most influential and talented artists, and we’re not even counting the ones like RUN DMC who come from Queens. The Hip-Hop Hall of Fame needs to be in a place with enough muscle to hold up the rap heavies and heavy raps. There’s no better spot than Strong Island.