Brooklyn has the hip-hop classicism of Pro Era. Harlem gets the A$AP Mob’s region-hopping. Queens’ World’s Fair can be seen as a compromise between new-school leanings and the pride that comes with New York City’s heritage. That’s not to say the six-member collective is some sort of unoriginal mishmash. World’s Fair’s lone album featuring all six members, 2012’s Bastards of the Party (no relation to the 2005 gang documentary), features a sense of self-assuredness and general feel of fun. World’s Fair may not have blown up to “Goldie” levels or assured everyone they’re what New York’s been missing — whatever the hell that means nowadays — but they’re one of the city’s more exciting acts, and definitely one of the most promising.
All hip-hop acts, especially those hailing from New York, have their knocks against them. World’s Fair aren’t an exception. Their particular hurdle is that they’re not like the other collectives. There’s no capo, no A$AP Rocky or Joey Bada$$ to easily identify as the face and ambassador of the group. It’s a notable element that’s missing, but not necessarily a fatal one.
But on May 11, Remy Banks is the star. He’s hosting a listening party in the Lower East Side’s Elvis Guesthouse for his mixtape higher., due out May 18. Banks, named after his father’s favorite drink, Rémy Martin (although he admits he’s more of a Hennessy guy), isn’t completely in star mode, even though the basement room’s green-and-blue spotlight is clearly on him. Recognizable by his wiry frame and the tufts of hair poking out of his Yankees cap, he swings around from the back of the venue to the entrance, passing out daps without prejudice, impishly shooting the shit with some friends and making full use of the bar.
Banks doesn’t leak the charisma some of his peers do, but he comes off as affable and transparent when he speaks in his naturally high-volume voice. He has a slick on-record presence with an ear for indelible ‘hood mantras. These skills require confidence, which is why it’s surprising Banks is so modest.
“I’m not the best rapper in my clique, and I’m very proud to say that,” Banks says. “I love the fact that I can say Jeff [Donna] is my favorite rapper in the crew, or [Nasty] Nigel is the most abstract rapper in the crew. It just so happens I’m the person people could relate to the most right now.”
Banks isn’t all that concerned about keeping up appearances, either. He’s especially attentive to the older woman sitting in the blue room a few steps away from the DJ booth.
“I’m hanging out with my mom,” he says to the audience, before he officially kicks off the party with the woozy keys of higher.‘s opener.
The celebratory event quickly reveals itself to be a family affair. Not only are members of World’s Fair and collaborators like D.R.A.M. and Sporting Life (of Ratking) here. Banks’s actual family is in the building, too, with his mother, Lisa, his aunt Cynthia, his fourteen-year-old sister, Kyasia, and his nine-year-old brother, Amari, all present.
On the next page: “When niggas ask who my favorite rappers are, it’s my peers”
Eventually, they all make their way over to the DJ booth. Cynthia dances to select tracks, while Amari often gazes with a look of mixed excitement and bemusement. Kyasia is in good spirits for the majority of the night. But when “Feast” hits and she hears the words “To my beautiful sister/You want to be a singer, well, anything’s possible,” she starts sobbing in front of the booth, touched by her brother’s words.
Higher. doesn’t read like a star-making mixtape. While Banks says that the title stems from his quest of self-enlightenment, partially inspired by his international travels (he’s been touring with Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples), the sophomore solo project feels more like a dedication piece, to both his family and the New York he knows.
When Banks says higher. “sounds like New York,” he doesn’t refer to the idea of falling fastidiously in line with the New York production canon. Higher. comes from a New York that sounds eclectic; the nefarious, anthemic “rem.” and the colorful “N1go” both have a place here.
Banks credits growing up in Forest Hills, a diverse neighborhood in the most diverse borough, for making him aware of the world beyond New York. He wasn’t too far from the rougher side of Queens, though, having spent weekends with his late aunt Natalie over at Queensbridge, where as a child he witnessed many of the dangers of the streets.
“People don’t know what it’s like to be in the projects and being afraid for your life because you’re just going to hang out with a girl,” he says, offering that Mobb Deep’s “Trife Life” was not a work of fiction.
Banks also spent time in LeFrak, another Queens housing project that proved to be an influence during his formative years. During the late Nineties, Queens-bred stars like Nas, Capone-N-Noreaga, and Mobb Deep were still in demand and on constant rotation on basketball courts.
“I was going to the store and I saw Nas,” Banks says, looking back on his time in LeFrak. According to him, Nas’s baby-mother Carmen Bryan was still in the neighborhood. “I was like, ‘Oh shit, Nas!’ And he was like, ‘What’s good, shorty?’ and gave me a dollar. I was trying so hard to hold it, but I went and spent it at the store for mad candy.”
But New York is no longer hip-hop’s capital. Nas, CNN, and Mobb Deep have all passed their prime, and now one of Queens’ best-known collectives is banking on collaboration to move forward. Remy Banks originally co-starred with Nasty Nigel and Lansky Jones in trio Children of the Night. Prince SAMO, Jeff Donna, and Cody B. Ware joined up, and the six were officially the World’s Fair collective by 2010.
But is Banks the guy for World’s Fair and Queens? He could be. He could not be. Higher. is a personal project, but it’s one of potential, something he sees around him.
“When niggas ask who my favorite rappers are, it’s my peers,” Banks says. “You’ll see. This is the coming. These are your new Jay Zs and your new Nases. Y’all need to start acknowledging.”
Higher. drops via World’s Fair on May 18.