A History of Rappers Who Tried (and Failed) to Bring New York Back


Sometimes New Yorkers can come off a little self-conscious. We’ve got the stars, the scenes, and the go-to dreams of practically every American teenager in the world. But when it comes to hip-hop, it seems we really have a difficult time dealing with waning omnipresence and the steadily increasing mainstream attention paid to those non-Most Important Place in the Universe locales. Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, even the resurgence of Los Angeles — it terrifies us, which is why we’ve seen an endless string of anonymous New York MCs held up as that foregone arbiter destined to “Bring New York Back.”

That’s the slogan. “Bring New York Back.” It always struck us as strange, because it’s not like the city hasn’t produced interesting rap music over the last 10 years; all the same, it harkens to an era when New York hip-hop was the only hip-hop that mattered. You know, that same era when groups like OutKast and Goodie Mob were getting buried.

So with that in mind, we’re going to chronologically track the people who were supposed to bring New York back. Maybe we’ll learn something about unrealistic expectations in an increasingly diverse world.

See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time

Brought New York Back – 2006
Where is he now?
Dissing Kendrick Lamar with a remix of “Control,” a song he wasn’t even mentioned on.

1.5 million dollars. 1.5 million dollars. That was the signing bonus Papoose earned from Jive after impressing with “Alphabetical Slaughter,” which he claims he was able to keep after that same label shelved his debut record indefinitely. Papoose has become something of the mascot for New York rappers claiming their kingship before self-immolating, and honestly that has more than a little to do with his name. I mean, Biggie, Jay-Z, and…Papoose? You’d be a fool to ever think that was happening.

Charles Hamilton
Brought New York Back – 2009
Where is he now?
Literally nobody knows.

Oh, Charles Hamilton. You burned so bright, and with such mediocrity. You graced the cover of XXL! A marquee Freshman! With your languid croak and wallpaper beats, you were like a photocopy of a photocopy of Black Star. Your debut single was called “Brooklyn Girls,” a song only people watching mtvU remember, equipped with a music video with so many glad-handing locals-only references it actually makes Ryan Adams’s “New York, New York” look quaint.

You know, it probably didn’t help that your ex-girlfriend punched you on camera. The fedora didn’t help much either. But you know what? We actually have some sympathy for Charles Hamilton. 2009 was a pretty dark year for rap music, with Jay-Z entering his corporate man-machine phase with Blueprint 3, and the run-up to Lil Wayne’s rock record. Hamilton was a desperate golden calf, slaughtered on the spot for all of us to see.

Brought New York Back – 2009
Where is he now?
Releasing “digital EPs,” probably still telling people about that time he kidnapped that drug dealer.

Maino’s upcoming “digital EP” is called The King of Brooklyn. In Maino’s head, everything went according to plan.

Brought New York Back – 2009
Where is he now?
Showing up on late-period Lil Wayne mixtapes, still paying Rick Ross to rap on his songs for some reason.

Look, we kind of love Vado, and Gunz ‘N Butta is a great, stupid rap album. But it’s absolutely the clarion call for the death of the Dipset reign.

Azealia Banks
Brought New York Back – 2011
Where is she now?
Fighting with, and then getting dropped by, her record label; making the case that she’s allowed to say “faggot.”

Azealia Banks tore our shit apart back in 2011 with “212,” still legitimately one of the best songs of the last few years. A playful, OCD mishmash of guttural tough-talk threats and razor-sharp electro hooks? Who wasn’t excited? Then the Twitter feuds started. Then the album started getting delayed. Then “Young Rupunxel” showed up. Then she called Perez Hilton a “messy faggot.” Azealia Banks embarked on a systematic quest to embarrass everyone who once rooted for her. Unfortunately, she won.

A$AP Rocky
Brought New York Back – 2012
Where is he now?
Still enjoying a varied and successful career!

A$AP barely counts. He’s definitely from Harlem, certainly talented, and indisputably the most commercially relevant New York-based rapper this decade, but New York still tried to disown him. Why? Because he wasn’t making that crusty, ’93-orthodox rap music that the rest of the world got bored of years ago. Rocky’s very DNA prevents him from bringing New York back, because he’s wise enough to know that such a burden isn’t physically possible. Instead he’s doing his own thing and reaping the rewards. Good! An important lesson that the out-of-touch classic-rock dads of yesteryear are the hip-hop heads of today.

Joey Bada$$
Brought New York Back – 2013
Where is he now?
Still waiting on that debut album…

Joey Bada$$ may be the most traditional out of the whole crop, which is hilarious considering he was born two years after the ’93 til Infinity instrumentals he’s freestyling on. He’s a kid with taste and a solid ear for beats. When the quality runs high, who cares about the borrowed nostalgia? We’re on Bada$$’s team until he starts naming his records after boroughs, or something equally depressing.

Speaking of which!

Troy Ave
Brought New York Back – 2014
Where is he now?
Paying N.O.R.E. to rap on his album, probably still beefing with internet bloggers.

Troy Ave might be the most egregious example of someone claiming to “bring New York back,” partly because he had the balls to call his debut New York City: The Album.

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