Consider the Big Apple is raps birthplace, determining the 10 best rap songs about New York is not the easiest feat. However, we have compiled what we believe are the ten best songs:
- Nas- "New York State of Mind" (1994) At only twenty years of age, Nas made the ultimate statement about New York on the first rap song of his debut album, Illmatic. "New York State of Mind" shows Nas taking a cinematic approach to his native Queensbridge projects, as his lyrical wizardry portrays bleak scenes of shootouts and "baseheads trying to sell broken amps". Matching Nas' grim and highly lucid storytelling is a top-notch beat from DJ Premier consisting of dirty piano loop. The combination of these two geniuses, especially at a time when Dr. Dre's West Coast G-Funk was dominating rap, makes for the best rap song about New York.
- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five- "The Message" (1982) While the inner-city struggles rapped about on "The Message" could describe any ghetto, the Furious Five are unquestionably referring to their hometown, New York City. In fact, at this early stage of the game, rap was primarily a regional phenomenon and almost always considered party music. However, that all changed when Grandmaster Flash released this socially conscious rap song about the constant pressure of living in the slums.
- Boogie Down Productions- "South Bronx" (1987) Marking New York's first major MC feud was this rap song by Boogie Down Productions. BDP released "South Bronx" as a response to Queens-native MC Shan and his single "The Bridge". The feud stemmed over which borough originated rap; however, it would be BDP who came out on top, providing a well-documented history lesson on rap with "South Bronx." BDP references legends such as Grandmaster Flash and DJ Red Alert.
- Wu-Tang Clan- "C.R.E.A.M." (1993) As far as rap songs about New York go, most are centered in Brooklyn or the Bronx, but Wu-Tang made sure that Staten Island was represented to the fullest. This nine-piece collective of superbly talented MC's relentlessly championed their native Staten Island, or "Shaolin" as they often referred to it. And no track did that better than C.R.E.A.M., supported by autobiographical verses of loss and survival in New York City.
- Beastie Boys- "An Open Letter To NYC" (2004) The Beasties thoroughly pay homage to their hometown with this rap song. The three MC's show no favoritism either, as the chorus refrains, "Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan". This is indeed a love letter to all things New York, as they even reference highways and subway lines.
- Gang Starr- "The Place Where We Dwell" (1992) "The Place Where We Dwell" finds the always-swift Guru rhyming about Brooklyn over a snare-heavy drum loop by DJ Premier. Guru talks about Brooklyn as if he were a rapping tour guide, swinging from East New York all the way down to Coney Island.
- Jeru The Damaja- "Brooklyn Took It" (1994) At a time when rap was beginning to reach new heights of violence, Jeru The Damaja squashed the image of the posturing, tough-guy MC by staying down to earth. He does so perfectly by representing his borough over a steel drum sample provided by DJ Premier.
- Jay-Z Feat. Alicia Keys- "Empire State of Mind" (2009) The rapper that has come to embody New York for many comes a great rap song about his home town. Essentially, Jay is rapping about the American dream, coming up in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects to eventually rubbing shoulders with Robert De Niro.
- Camp Lo- "Black Nostaljack" (1997) These flash-in-the-pan rappers brought a '70s flair to their sound that no other rappers were doing at the time. While Camp Lo had a dialect all their own, it's hard to miss the New York shout outs that comprise this rap song.
- Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz- "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" (1998) Though they weren't the most talented MC's around, Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz managed to write a killer anthem for New York when the city needed it the most—after the murder of Notorious B.I.G. This turned out to be a huge club hit, bringing a little bit of fun back to rap.
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