New York City is the true Mecca of hip hop music, and that is an unquestionable fact. And although there’s no doubt that people look to a specific city or region for their music at any given time, New York will always remain the pinnacle of hip hop culture, and Brooklyn has certainly seen some gems.
Born in 1970s New York as a form of rebellion, in hip hop, three is the magic number. The invention of hip hop culture is mainly credited to three individuals along their affiliates partially. Those three people are DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore.
Kool Herc is credited with introducing what he calls ‘The Merry-Go-Round Technique’ to African-American DJs to create an extended break. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are credited with introducing MCing over the extended breaks, and Grand Wizard Theodore is credited with popularising the scratch technique to add excitement and vigour to records.
The official city of New York is comprised of five boroughs, The Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. However, the New York greater metropolitan area would also include parts of New Jersey and townships such as Mount Vernon and Yonkers.
Although the culture originated in the Bronx, it is fair to say that in New York, the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens have arguably produced the biggest legends over time. In this article, we’re looking specifically at Brooklyn to identify the five greatest Brooklyn rappers.
The five best rappers from Brooklyn:
5. Talib Kweli
Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli is known as a highly talented lyricist. As a hip hop purist, Kweli has never tried to chart or cross into the mainstream but has always put lyrical skill and substance first. With songs such as ‘Get By’ and ‘Black Girl Pain’ addressing real-world problems and struggles within the African-American community, some may try and label him as a conscious rapper. However, Kweli’s music is simply grounded in a dire reality.
Specifically asked to feature on Kanye’s debut album College Dropout, Kweli has always leaned towards soulful hip hop. Beyond soul, Kweli has been known to incorporate elements of gospel into his music while exploring themes around spirituality. An undeniable talent, Kweli has to be recognised as one of the best in Brooklyn.
4. Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes is a name known worldwide. A product of 1990s New York hip hop, the rapper (real name Trevor Smith jr) is known for his tongue-twisting verses, lyrical skill and rapid-fire delivery that leaves his listeners speechless. With rhyme schemes that could blow your mind, Busta is undoubtedly one of hip hop’s finest lyricists.
Busta’s unique rapid rhyming style, with his dreadlocks and eccentric rap persona, was not common in New York hip hop during the 1990s, and he quickly gained popularity. As well as standard rap, he embraced his Jamaican heritage in his music by including patois and Jamaican cultural references in his lyrics. Busta with his talent has featured on songs with Big Daddy Kane, Another Bad Creation, The Notorious B.I.G., Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, and KRS-One.
3. Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)
Mos Def’s history in hip hop is quite complicated as he was blackballed within the music industry as a result of his infamous song ‘The R*pe Over’. The R*pe Over’ was pulled from Def’s album without his notice. The song (which is a cover of Jay-Z’s ‘The Take Over’) contains lyrics such as, “Old white men is running this rap sh*t, corporate force is running this rap sh*t, some tall Israeli is running this rap sh*t, quasi-homosexuals is running this rap sh*t”. The song, which speaks on corporate ownership of rap and sends direct shots at Lyor Cohen, got Def snubbed by every major record label.
Dropping the Mos Def moniker in the early noughties, the rapper moved to South Africa permanently and started going by the stage name Yasiin Bey. The rapper, who has always had strong opinions and politically charged music, still uses his voice for activism. Mos Def is still active today as part of the duo Black Star with Talib Kweli, The two released their second studio album, No Fear of Time, earlier this year.
2. The Notorious B.I.G
Biggie Smalls, also known as The Notorious B.I.G, was one of the most well-known and respected rappers of the 1990s. Raised by his Jamaican mother in the Clinton Hills area of Brooklyn, Biggie Smalls (real name Christopher Wallace) was signed by Diddy to Bad Boy Entertainment at the age of 21 and was the label’s top-selling artist.
When talking about Bad Boy Entertainment, one immediately begins to think of the infamous East Coast vs West Coast feud that plagued hip-hop during the ’90s. As much as it may have entertained the culture, for those involved and on the fringes, it was an amalgamation of bloodshed and pure horror that ultimately ended with real deaths.
By the end of the ’90s, The Notorious B.I.G was the highest-grossing hip hop artist of the decade. B.I.G’s most well-known song is ‘Big Poppa’, which, released in 1994, has been certified six times platinum alongside ‘Juicy’. Wallace sold an estimated 75 million albums worldwide before his demise.
Jay-Z has remained relatively untouched with regard to his hip hop greatness. In spite of the fact he hasn’t sold as many records as his protégé Kanye West, he undoubtedly has more respect and is a less polarising figure.
Jay-Z is the wealthiest man in hip hop, and since 1995, Hov has been bringing us quality music. From Reasonable Doubt to 4:44, the Brooklyn rapper has been around since the days of Big Daddy Kane and Biggie. As one of the first artists from the genre to achieve billionaire status, Hov (real name Shawn Carter) is considered to be one of the best rappers of all time.
Raised in the drug-infested Marcy Projects, a public housing scheme located in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn, Carter was raised by his mother., Jay-Z exploded onto the scene in the late 1990s alongside businessman Damon Dash with his 1995 debut album Reasonable Doubt.
It is often said your network is your net worth, and by continuously investing in new talent and collaborating with producers and artists that were the next big thing, Hov maintained a consistent relevancy across the years. Jay-Z has produced 13 studio albums and has won a grand total of 21 Grammy awards however, below, we have selected the rapper’s top ten songs of all time.