Monday, September 14, 2015



he truth is, we never saw Brooklyn coming. While such a statement seems ludicrous now that BK stands as the most populous and culturally trendy of New York's five boroughs, let's flash back to hip-hop's takeover of the American mainstream in the ‘80s. At the notorious Queensbridge projects, future super-producer Marley Marl was forming his legendary rhyme collective the Juice Crew: an audacious clique that included such standout emcees as MC Shan, Roxanne ShantĂ©, Kool G. Rap, and a notable outlier: one of of Brooklyn’s finest, the indomitable Big Daddy Kane.

Meanwhile, Bronx-bred KRS-One--backed by the overwhelming history of hip-hop's birthplace--stared down Marley's seemingly unbeatable unit and raised them with his much-feared Boogie Down Productions crew. Doug E. Fresh and Kool Moe Dee repped Harlem USA to the fullest from uptown Manhattan, while the greatest lyricist of his generation, Rakim, led an unlikely rhyme stronghold in Long Island with the likes of Public Enemy, EPMD, and De La Soul taking turns releasing some of the genre's most celebrated works.



There's a reason that the artists from this storied borough faced an uphill battle early on for rap supremacy. From 1977 to 1982, the Bronx was ground zero for all things hip-hop. If you wanted to bomb with the best graffiti writers, dance with the illest B-Boys/B-Girls, or experience the sickest parties and park jams being thrown by larger-than-life spin-masters DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Coke LaRock, and Grandmaster Flash, Uptown was the place to be.

It seemed logical that Brooklyn had next, but the borough didn't have a visionary like Queens rap impresario and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons leading the way to commercial heights. Nor did it exhibit its surrounding boroughs’ tight knit, DIY camaraderie and readiness to crew up.

And yet against all proverbial odds, the BK would have its say.

"Born and raised in the streets of Brooklyn/There's three of us, and we're all good looking," proclaimed Whodini frontman Ecstasy on the hit-making trio’s majestically booming 1986 track, "Funky Beat." Hip-Hop's first official band, Stetsasonic, proudly waved the Brooklyn banner, finding chart success with their insightful pro hip-hop anthem "Talkin' All That Jazz." And while he rolled with a Queens-heavy lineup, the aforementioned, highly influential Big Daddy Kane--one of the genre's most celebrated lyricists--was BK all day. His Juice Crew cohorts, the gifted emcee Masta Ace and the collective's infectious class clown Biz Markie, also hailed from the unflappable borough. From late Beastie Boys member Adam "MCA" Yauch to game-changing female spitter MC Lyte, Brooklyn was in the house.

But BK's hard-boiled surroundings always loomed large in the background, informing the work of artists, filmmakers and actors alike. "Being a black man from Brooklyn, it was do or die," veteran actor Michael Kenneth Williams recalls of his turbulent come-up in the place proudly billed as the County of Kings.

"My craft was, for me, developed through my life pain downfalls. We have an old saying in the 'hood in Brooklyn. We say real recognize real."

Actually, Brooklyn was at times a little too real. Biggie Smalls would become one of the highest selling recording acts of the '90s; a genre-shifting, indispensable wordsmith who proved that the reinvigorated East Coast could thrive at a time when the West Coast's Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur were mashing the game and the South was emerging as a major player. But the stout Bed-Stuy representative was also a product of one of Brooklyn's toughest neighborhoods and drew heavy personal inspiration for his brilliant, yet at times dark words by tapping into the uneasy, paranoid experiences he had hustling on the streets.

But arguably the most important Brooklyn voice had even bigger ambitions. Indeed, B.I.G.'s boy and future hip-hop mogul, Shawn "Jay Z" Carter, took notes from his fallen hip-hop comrade, but added more Fortune 500 sheen to his immaculate, 'hood-tailored verses. Thirteen number one albums later and a reported net worth of nearly $520 million, Hov now stands as rap's longest running headliner; a touring behemoth that routinely sells out stadiums.

Jay Z's epic journey from the notorious Marcy housing projects to cashed-out owner in the Brooklyn Nets' $1 billion Barclays Center represents the borough's startling evolution. There is an irony to an increasingly gentrified area that is fighting for its do or die soul. And yet Brooklyn still cuts through the bullshit. From veteran punchline king Fabolous to new blood spitters Joey Bada$$ and Troy Ave, the BK still has something to say. — Keith Murray | SPIN & 1800 Tequila



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