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“I find myself walking to work and I can see the sun rise right over Queens Boulevard, and I say to myself, why hasn’t Queens gotten a trophy in a very long time? I mean, I feel like we deserve to shine right now, don’t we? We got a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful team and I can see us parading down Roosevelt Avenue right now…”
So goes the spoken opening to “’86 Mets,” a song from Queens rap trio Children of the Night’s new freebie mixtape, Queens… Revisited. It’s a worthy motivational plea, but it’s one that might not be needed for long, with the city beginning to feel an invigorating wave of hip-hop releases. Hometown artists like the Flatbush Zombies, 17-year-old Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew, and Das Racist’s Greedhead army are garnering attention with resolutely east coast-styled music, while the scene’s most charismatic, Action Bronson, deserves to follow Crown Heights’ unruliest, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, into the major-label leagues.
Children of the Night, which consists of Lansky Jones, Remy Banks and Nasty Nigel and is also under the umbrella of the World’s Fair collective, can count themselves as part of what could bloom into a tangible movement, mainly on the basis of the song “Kids From Queens.” It’s a fine example of moody, piano-based rap that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Rawkus’s iconic 1997 compilation Soundbombing. The song’s sonically conservative charm has seen it prosper to the tally of almost 50,000 listens via a Soundcloud posting—a figure no doubt helped by the group’s association with Mishka, a clothing company who are proving adept at spotting upcoming rap talent while also creating garish garments that appear to have been inspired only by the lurid images cascading down a 13-year-old’s Tumblr feed. (Hey, it’s the philanthropic model of releasing music that’s going to save us all!) That song is the high point of Queens… Revisited, a mixtape that mostly asserts the group’s potential while containing a couple of warning signs that suggest the current hype surrounding New York could quickly deflate.
At their most persuasive, Children of the Night create songs that sound like updates of the type of independently released rap music that prospered in the city during the late and mid-’90s—mid-tempo productions, samples that verge on the crusty or dusty side. “ILYAS” combines a beat that broods with brags that swagger, with Nasty Nigel proud to inform that he keeps his “sneakers always dirty but my mustache rather fancy” and characterizing himself as “like a young Spanish Burt Reynolds.” (This, we are lead to assume, is a good thing.) “Subway Series” is set against the reliable ol’ backdrop of the MTA, “4:4THREE AM” is a soulful lament that begins with a reference to Raekwon’s “Rainy Dayz,” while “World’s Fair Party” continues the Wu theme by detailing the crew hitting up a club where the DJ mishears a request for a Raekwon song and instead cues up Kreayshawn. (“A decent-sized room, full of broke bitches/ Gucci, Louis, Fendi pockets full of drink tickets,” they quip.) And the aforementioned “’86 Mets” features a cameo from the ever-brilliant Roc Marciano and production that manages to be rousing and menacing at the same time. It’s that New York shit, and when the Children stick to their heritage they do a very good job of adding on to the city’s rap history.
But the tape begins to fray when Children of the Night broaden their horizons and lose focus of the home turf details that make their music most appealing. “Northernplayalistic” might have been conceived as a nice tribute to Outkast’s influence (titular or otherwise), but its attempt at a bouncing beat and swathes of chorus synths sound out of place with the crew’s timbre: They sound like they should be clutching MetroCards, not cruising in Cadillacs. (It’s a mishap made all the more more jarring by being immediately followed by the stony “’86 Mets.”) And the decision to rap over production from Odd Future associates Matt Martians and Leftbrain might provide ta few extra Tumblr hearts, but while the latter succeeds in updating the hazy, weed-smoking vibe on “Higher Learning” (helped, in large part, by a cameo from the Flatbush Zombies’ Meechy Darko), Martians’ attempt at a plucky beat on “Trust” brings more to mind the sort of non-essential, meandering indie rap that ended up on Superrappin’ compilations, not Soundbombing.
Over its 14 songs, Queens… Revisited slams home the importance of local identity in rap. When the Children mine the world and the musical history around them, they impress not just natives who’d prefer to hear references to the Mets’ blue-and-orange colorway over chatter about the Pittsburgian black and yellow, but out-of-town gawkers who find something exotic about the minutia of daily New York life. It’s the same focus on the local that other regions have ridden to success and prominence. New York rap hasn’t enjoyed the most prosperous of decades—some would even characterize it as a dormant, decrepit dog—but now that it’s starting to discover its relevance again, its new charges would do well to remember to always pitch from home. After all, coming from New York City gives them the best hip-hop homefield advantage.
Children Of The Night perform at the Mishka store in Williamsburg tonight at 7 p.m.