This Saturday, the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival will conclude with shows by Brownsville’s mighty M.O.P., who will perform their rambunctious brand of rap down under the Brooklyn Bridge, and, er, noted Queens representer Q-Tip. Rappers from Brooklyn have never been shy about proclaiming their heritage, and the borough’s nary birthed an MC who hasn’t felt moved to pen a tribute to their home base at some point in their career. Some rappers have brought things closer to home by dropping insights about their experiences growing up in specific areas and on individual blocks. Here then are ten supra-local Brooklyn rap anthems, handily sectioned-up by neighborhood.
Brownsville: M.O.P. feat. Teflon, “Welcome To Brownsville”
When they hit their peak, Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame make all other rap music sound like some sort of tinkly children’s lullaby. As MCs, the duo have mastered the art of passionately over-enthused, borderline-shouty rapping, plus verbally replicating the full pantheon of gun noises—styles they execute over persuasively brawny beats. The hometown homage “Welcome To Brownsville” has Fame lusting over a “gun orgy” before dropping the mission statement, “I’m from B-R-O-W-N-S-V-I-double L-E/ What the fuck you gon’ tell me?/ This is the place where M.O.P. foundation was built/ And some of the illest killers was killed.” (Previous Not For Tourists Guide: “Brownsville,” another ode to M.O.P’s stomping grounds that warns outsiders to hide their fancy jewels because “there’s a thousand niggas broke and we all got guns.”)
Bedford-Stuyvesant: Divine Sounds, “Do Or Die Bed Stuy”
Biggie and Jay-Z may be Bedford-Stuyvesant’s most cherished rap sons, but long before either of them first flexed their rap chops the trio of Disco Ritchie, Shelton D and DJ Mike Music coined a proud local anthem. Vintage bragging and boasting is the lyrical order of the day—”I’m number one at cut creating/ Sucker DJs always imitating/ They never understand that I am the man/ That’s in command with my devastating hand,” boasts rapping disco jock Mike Music—while the bare-bones drum machine production hits rock hard. A Jigga man update of Divine Sounds’ “What People Do For Money,” released a year later in 1985, would be a natty contribution to Brooklyn’s rap annals.
Coney Island: Marco Polo & Torae, “Coney Island”
“Yo, it ain’t gonna get more ‘hood or get more slum/ Than 23rd and Mermaid, that’s where I’m from/ And even though the beach and boardwalk is fun/ Come seven blocks past Nathan’s, you’re done.” So raps Torae on his hook-up with boom-bap revivalist producer Marco Polo, painting a less-than-postcard picture of Brooklyn’s seaside spot that doesn’t involve any notions of Disneyfying the area. Leaving the listener in no doubt about his area’s grimy side, he adds, “If QU is hectic, then CI on some next shit.”
East New York: Gang Starr, “The Planet”
Gang Starr’s story is the ultimate New York immigrant rap dream: A rapper from Boston and a producer from Houston move to Brooklyn to pursue their hip-hop ambitions and end up becoming the ultimate ambassadors of their adopted borough. 1992’s “The Place Where We Dwell” is a veritable subway map of a song, even detailing specific train lines to take you into the borough, but it’s “The Planet” that recalls Guru’s move to Brooklyn best, with the rapper touching down in East New York and spending his time “smoking blunts on Van Siclen [Avenue].” As the song unravels, Guru gets a haircut on Myrtle Avenue, picks up some weed in Flatbush, browses around Fulton Mall, and eventually snags a new crib on Malcolm X Boulevard and Gates Avenue in Bed-Stuy.
Bay Ridge: Lordz Of Brooklyn, “Saturday Nite Fever”
In which a group of self-styled “blue collar Bay Ridge boys” of Italian- and Irish-American descent invoke the title of John Travolta’s breakthrough flick to big up their home ‘hood. Travolta’s Tony Manero character gets rhymed with the Verrazano Bridge, there’s talk about “pissing on curbs” and getting involved in weekend bar fights, and the video features the greatest number of fedoras ever congregated in one hip-hop clip. And if you ever find yourself embarking on a chowhound mission down to Bay Ridge in search of the borough’s best sichuan spot, you can check out the Lordz’s Made In Brooklyn store, which sells graffiti-based artwork and street-wear.
Downtown Brooklyn: Biz Markie, “Albee Square Mall”
Lovable rap buffoon Biz Markie might forged his rap rep out in Long Island, but he coined the defining tribute to the “place where people shop in downtown Brooklyn.” Things the Biz does while he’s at the mall include buying “fresh silks,” strolling around with a “fly female,” getting more respect than the average employee, getting yelled at by security for “leaning on the rail,” eating at Wendy’s in the cafeteria, and making a phone call with his calling card from the upper level. Inquisitive rap tourists beware, though: The mall is sadly no longer there, having closed a few years ago with the intention of being redeveloped into a swankier retail and residential space.
Bushwick: Finsta Bundy, “Bushwick Residence”
Finsta Bundy gained something of a cult following due to a svelte series of great 12-inch singles in the mid-’90s and DJ Premier including “Feel The High (Part II)” on his definitive indie rap era mixtape, New York Reality Check 101. (At one point a vinyl copy of the track would probably cost you more than the average rent for a slum room at the McKibbin Street lofts.) Amateur Bushwick rap buffs will also want to track down Finsta Bundy’s split project with neighbors Dysfunkshunal Familee, released in 1997. (See also: “Bushwicked.”)
Flatbush: Special Ed, “The Bush”
When he was 16, Special Ed scored a rap hit with the Howie Tee produced “I Got It Made” in 1989. His debut album released that same year, Youngest In Charge, also contained this ode to his native Flatbush. Studious Ed brags about attending Erasmus Hall high school, but also keeps his street smarts by observing, “Coming off the train you gotta pay another token/ What that means is you pay for your protection.” This was obviously long before anyone thought to turn Courtelyou Road into a fine dining hub.
Fort Greene: Dana Dane, “Fort Greene (S)Killz”
Slick Rick’s high school classmate Dana Dane is usually associated with his Lower East Side-based “Delancey Street,” but the second most famous rapper to affect a mock British accent grew up in the Ralph Ingersoll/Walt Whitman Houses during the time when the original 50 Cent, a stick-up kid, came to notoriety. “Cinderfella Dana Dane,” from the rapper’s 1987 debut album, is the only rap song to ever update the Cinderella story and set it in Brooklyn, but “Fort Greene (S)Killz,” from his almost g-funk-sounding 1995 Rollin’ Wit’ Dana Dane set, is a more overt slice of area code respect.
Red Hook: T.H.U.G. Angelz, “Welcome To Red Hook Houses”
A team-up between long-time Wu-Tang affiliates Shabazz The Disciple and Hell Razah, the duo’s Red Hook-themed concept album opens with the obligatory skit about a cab driver not wanting to travel to Red Hook (“You can let us off at the school yard so you don’t gotta go into the buildings,” they offer), before offering an insider’s peek into the area’s housing projects: “Welcome to Red Hook, this ain’t jam rock/ F train, Smith & 9th, get off last car/ Night-time playgrounds turn into coke spots/ Narcs on the rooftop, photo snap-shots.” Engaging the gentrification debate, they then chide how “whites wanna rename to Liberty Heights now.” The mind boggles at what the duo thought when the prissy cast of The Real World Brooklyn turned up on their doorstep in 2008.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 14, 2011