NYC rap is creeping on a come up—or make that a comeback. We follow Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire to Cali to see how a new generation of MCs is repping the city where hip-hop was born.

Written by Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)

It's an unusually frigid night for late February in Los Angeles, and the third floor of the Comfort Inn on Sunset Blvd smells like weed.

"You guys gotta go. I gotta get dressed," Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire yells from the bathroom of a cloudy two-bed suite. The request is directed at the handful of journalists who have tagged along for the pre-game festivities before his performance at the Echoplex in downtown L.A. The show comes on the heels of a whirlwind year that’s seen the Crown Heights, Brooklyn rapper go from underdog viral sensation to Universal Republic darling with a newly inked record deal.

In these moments before the show, Anthony Allison, the comic-book-reading, day-job-having kid from the Kingsborough housing projects, ceases to exist. Instead it's the mystique of the melancholic rapper behind last year's hit video, "Huzzah." His stage attire—gold fronts, crisp Yankees fitted, his signature cluster of vintage necklaces—signals the separation of a project denizen’s past and a burgeoning rap star’s future. Apparently, no one outside of eX's Peel Off Passion crew gets to witness his Clark Kent–esque phone booth transformation. Or maybe the guy just wants some fucking privacy before his concert. It could be that simple, but for a guy as self-aware and sullenly calculating as Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, it probably isn’t.

 

There's a job to do on the West Coast tonight and nobody here is shook. If there's any apprehension in the air, it’s just the general disposition of new artists who have a lot to prove. For Heems and eXquire in particular, that challenge comes with the added burden of being at the forefront of a New York rap scene that feels alive for the first time in a decade

 

Down the hallway, Heems, the most prolific member of the Brooklyn-based “alt-rap” trio Das Racist—who are headlining tonight’s Echoplex show—is more or less doing the same thing. Tweets go out about being sad and needing to drink in order to feel comfortable for the concert. That may be part of his inner monologue tonight, but the Heems who opens his door for small talk is poised, professional even, at worst suffering from a touch of jet lag. There's a job to do on the West Coast tonight and nobody here is shook. If there's any apprehension in the air, it’s just the general disposition of new artists who have a lot to prove. For Heems and eXquire in particular, that challenge comes with the added burden of being at the forefront of a New York rap scene that feels alive for the first time in a decade.

Yes, that means New York rap died—unequivocally and without debate. Hip-hop began a descent in its birthplace around the same time that the World Trade Center towers did. Jay-Z’s Blueprint, released on September 11, 2001 to nearly unanimous perfect reviews, was the last record of unquestionable quality to adhere to an archetypal New York sound. Eighteen months later, Queens native 50 Cent was the No. 1 artist in music, with Get Rich Or Die Trying on its way to eight million units sold, but a slight Southern drawl and Dr. Dre’s production decentralized 50’s sound. The city’s only other saviors were Harlem dwellers Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, and Jim Jones. The Diplomats' run was musically respectable and culturally influential, but the terrorist imagery and 9/11 motifs on their best work, Diplomatic Immunity, suggested that even they felt the New York rap scene was in ruins. And for all its celebration of success and excess, that 2003 album moved only about 500,000 units. By the end of that year, hopes for rap music in the mecca were dwindling as Jay-Z “retired,” opening the floodgates for a decade of Southern dominance.

By 2006, rap’s New York–centric status quo was a wrap. Three 6 Mafia took an Academy Award home to Memphis for their pimped-out Hustle & Flow soundtrack cut. Atlanta’s D4L scored a No. 1 hit with the snap-rap smash “Laffy Taffy,” and for the first time since 9/11, New York rappers were completely absent from the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for an entire year. By December, Nas’s latest album title proclaimed that Hip-Hop Is Dead even as benchmark releases from Clipse, Lil Wayne, and Young Jeezy proved that it was very much alive.

Not that New York rappers were completely absent during the Aughts. “When you talk about New York being dead, you’ve got to take Fabolous and Jay-Z out of the equation, because them niggas never stopped making records,” argues Brooklyn rapper Troy Ave. He has a point, but Jay-Z really did stop releasing solo records for a stretch, and his most memorable returns to the mic came on the remixes to Southern hits like Young Jeezy's “Go Crazy” and “Hustlin” by Rick Ross. Besides 50 Cent, New York artists like Fabolous, Ja Rule, Fat Joe, Jim Jones, and Jadakiss had the biggest post–Blueprint chart presence. Their efforts were noteworthy, but not enough for a true revival. For the next three years, no NY rapper hit the No. 1 spot until Jay-Z reached that plateau with a song about New York, “Empire State of Mind.”

That year, 2009, brought the first signs of NYC's rap resurgence. In addition to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ smash, Queens native Nicki Minaj began an all-star run of guest appearances that saw her featured on seven Hot 100 singles before even dropping her debut album. The confluence of these efforts reignited an air of possibility in Gotham city. Three years later New York rap doesn’t feel like it’s struggling. Even though there may not be many charting singles or sales figures to support talk of a comeback, there is an undeniable new energy in NYC, and it can be felt all the way in Los Angeles, where underdog rappers Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Das Racist have attracted a crowd of rabid fans 3000 miles across the country.

Tonight at the Echoplex, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has the California crowd hanging on his every word—even when he’s spouting off imagery they might not be able to visualize. The paranoia-laden “Huzzah Pt. 2” rings off twice that night—and each time eX raps the “pink Moet, rosé, pop it on a project bench” line, you can feel his attempt to bring the cold oppression of NYC’s public housing buildings to a city whose images of hood life are more aligned with the sun-soaked streets of Compton. Maybe it helps that he’s actually popping champagne onstage—or maybe the message fails to connect when the audience notices eX’s shiny new clothes, but by the time he gets to the “Huzzah” remix and raps “fuck a throne, watch the project bench covered in pigeon shit,” the crowd is too lost in the music to concern themselves with the intricacies of regional rap. All they know is that the song is good, and sounds unlike anything else available at that moment, even with its obscure, decade-old Necro beat.

 

Each time eX raps the “pink Moet, rosé, pop it on a project bench” line, you can feel his attempt to bring the cold oppression of NYC’s public housing buildings to a city whose images of hood life are more aligned with the sun-soaked streets of Compton.

 

New York’s sonic palette has expanded considerably in 2012. The current crop of New York talent shares a fiercely independent spirit that keeps them rooted in their own creative vision, which takes their respective aesthetics in a number of different directions, and certainly beyond the region’s niched boom-bap soundscape.

“The whole problem with New York in the past 10 years was they tried too hard to keep up with the clubs,” says A$AP Yams, A$AP Rocky’s manager and the co-founder of A$AP Mob. “You got a bunch of young motherfuckers now that wasn’t into standing on a couch with a bottle of Rosé. When we grew up, we used to be in the crib blowing it down or with a bitch. That really reflected on everybody’s music that’s coming out now. We’re doing shit that we want to do. On top of that, we’re the Internet age—the digital age of rap music in New York. We’re all tech savvy.”

Just as modern technology helped bring new musical influences to Harlem’s Houston-loving A$AP Mob, it also helped focus attention on a resurgent NYC scene that suffered when the music industry powers-that-be shifted their priorities elsewhere. “Out-of-town kids used to be on all the New York kids’ MySpaces,” Yams explains. But these voyeurs were more focused on New York style than sounds, leaving the local hip-hop scene unfulfilled. “We never had any music to properly represent us until now.”

Yams attributes the resurgence of New York rap to more than music. “I think the best thing that ever happened was the HD camera,” says the A$AP mastermind, “because you can really show the visual side of everything.” There’s no debating the fact that the videos for “Purple Swag” and “Pe$o”—along with the visuals found on realniggatumblr—fueled the rise of A$AP Rocky and the rest of the crew.

“It was all YouTube and Tumblr,” says Harlem native Steven “Steve-O” Brown, marketing manager to Bronx rapper Mickey Factz who also works with Mississippi MC Big K.R.I.T. “As sad as it sounds, I think people really got to see how we do it through social networks. It’s hard for a person from Atlanta to come and experience New York, but with social networking, you’re able to see everything.”

But technology wasn’t the only force behind New York’s comeback. By 2010, more people moved to New York (252,000) than left the city (220,000) for the first time in decades. Like Kool Herc, DJ Premier, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, J. Cole, and Danny Brown before them, this influx of transplants brought new ideas and ambition to the Big Apple. “The kids from out of state come here with a hungry mentality,” says “nightlife lord” and NYC cool kid 40 Oz. Van. Brooklyn artist Theophilus London says he can feel the change too. “Niggas want to move here to make art and shit,” he boasts with hometown pride. “Shows are getting sold out... It’s getting popping out here.”

Demographic shifts and technological advances are all well and good, but if you ask DJ Clark Kent, nothing really matters but the records. And with a production resumé that stretches from The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z to Rick Ross, he should know. “It’s never going to be about anything but the music,” he says. And don’t try to cop a plea about how the digital age has given listeners a shorter attention span: “Stop complaining,” DJ Clark Kent advises. “Make good records. You shouldn’t have no issues.”

 

All that hating sh*t went out the window a long time ago. That sh*t kept New York down for a long time already. I want to see everybody make it. When I saw eXquire got signed, I was happy as f*ck for him.
—A$AP Yams

 

With that said, the only new NYC artist he considers worthy of mainstream hype at the moment is A$AP Rocky—and it’s a fair argument. A$AP Mob is undeniably at the forefront of New York’s resurgence. Not only was Live.Love.A$AP one of the most critically acclaimed projects of last year, but Rocky’s also hit the road with Drake for the Club Paradise tour. Then there’s that $3 million deal with Sony/RCA subdivision Polo Grounds Music. Just months ago his name was only known to a select few—now A$AP Rocky is a certifiable star.

But one hot crew does not a renaissance make. There’s at least a dozen acts with notable buzz in these New York streets and the money is starting to roll in. From independent acts like Das Racist, Action Bronson, Maffew Ragazino, Wiki, Smoke DZA, Flatbush Zombies, Joey Bada$$, Troy Ave, Fred The Godson, World’s Fair, Roc Marciano, and Ka to major label signees like eX, French Montana, Azealia Banks, Cory Gunz, Theophilus London, Dyme-A-Duzin, Vado, and Red Cafe, New York rappers are experiencing new heights of success and visibility.

“There’s that competitive energy, but we still got to support everybody,” A$AP Yams adds. “All that hating shit went out the window a long time ago. That shit kept New York down for a long time already. I want to see everybody make it. When I saw eXquire got signed, I was happy as fuck for him.”

 

After the Echoplex concert, Heems & Co. skip town, but eXquire and his Peel Off Passion crew decide to spend a couple more days in L.A., far from New York and its suffocating music politics. At the time, the Brooklyn MC hadn’t even announced his rumored million-dollar deal with Universal Republic, but you wouldn’t know that from all the California love eX was getting during his extended stay out West.

Inside a Cartoon Network studio on Highland Avenue, there’s a shoot taking place for an episode of Eric Andre’s self-titled Adult Swim show. The actor has chosen Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire as one of his musical guests. For the better part of an hour, eX does several takes of his performance, shirtless, surrounded by dancers in furry animal suits spraying him with sticky soda pop. Then, finally, it’s a wrap, and free time looms. “I'm getting fucked up today," eX tells a member of his entourage after a production assistant wipes him free of sweat for the last time. “Work is over. No more work. That's how it go. Work before pleasure.”

 

After all those stagnant years where a New York rapper might have more Smack DVD interviews than songs, productivity is suddenly cool again.

 

That statement turns out to be a half-truth. A couple hours later eX and friends wind up in Marina del Rey at the apartment of Odd Future members Syd the Kyd, Matt Martians, and Mike G. Everyone has to take their shoes off before entering the professional studio set-up, complete with assorted instruments, red and green laser lights, and a collection of retro video games in the living room. Syd sits in a twisty, ergonomic chair, looking at real estate online. “About to buy a house with a two-car garage, turn that bitch out,” the Odd Future engineer says while an attractive young woman tosses and turns in her bed in the next room. “I’m trying to get that white picket fence.” OFWGKTA doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about the implications of fraternizing with East Coast acts—or vice versa. (It’s worth noting that a few weeks later, members of the Odd Future crew will be photographed taking in A$AP Rocky’s Coachella set—a far cry from the alleged tension between the camps that the media momentarily tried to sensationalize.)

Meanwhile eX holds himself to the “getting fucked up” statement—several blunts have been lit and Grey Goose is being passed—but contrary to what was said earlier, he’s still working. Him and L.A. hipster rapper Speak! sit on the floor with pens and pads, scribbling lyrics for a track called “Igloo.” They press on for hours, perfecting and crafting their bars with no sign of fatigue. Maybe it’s that easy when you really like your job, but it’s this type of work ethic that’s propelling New York rappers to the top right now.

A$AP Rocky already has a slew of features and music videos under his belt, and reportedly shot multiple videos in one day this month. Action Bronson’s output has been comparable, with him releasing two full-length LPs and an album-quality mixtape in less than a year. Meanwhile, French Montana all but forced his way into rap’s consciousness by sheer quantity of material. Members of Das Racist have put out an album and several mixtapes, both group and solo projects, all released on their own record label, Greedhead. After all those stagnant years where a New York rapper might have more Smack DVD interviews than songs, productivity is suddenly cool again.

 

It’s a movement of actual creative people who care about the art form and want to do something bigger than just go to the club and chill and smoke blunts.

 

 

 

“It’s undeniable at this point,” eXquire comments after he’s finished writing and recording “Igloo.” “It’s not a whole bunch of niggas that can’t rap and are just drug dealing, and putting out bullshit music and making y’all listen to it just ’cause. It’s a movement of actual creative people who care about the art form and want to do something bigger than just go to the club and chill and smoke blunts.” That desire to create something culturally significant—rather than just indulging in the hedonism of a successful hip-hop career—is shared by many of the new New York rappers.

The atmosphere in Heems’ Williamsburg, Brooklyn loft is a product of weed, Marlboro Reds, and a fancy bottle of 1996 Oban Distiller’s Edition Scotch. A week after the L.A. show, he’s fiddling with his BlackBerry and, in between bites of cheese and crackers, waxing nostalgic about New York hip-hop. Listening to his monologue, it’s clear that for all of Das Racist’s humor, Heems is deadly serious about his craft as an MC.

“I grew up listening to the radio and Mobb Deep and Lost Boyz and stuff,” says Heems, decked out in an expensive-looking beanie, blue hiking boots, and an embroidered crewneck. “Honestly, I’ve never been able to retain a lot of that shit. I’m not a dude that knows the words to every classic album. I never studied the shit. But I’m proud of the fact that I’m from New York. I’ll rep until I die. If you’re from here, you know how special it is. You know how much it sucks, but you know how great it is, too.”

 

I’m proud of the fact that I’m from New York. I’ll rep until I die. If you’re from here, you know how special it is. You know how much it sucks, but you know how great it is, too.
—Heems of Das Racist 

 

Heems’s comments take on added weight given the fact that today happens to be the 15th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s murder, a major turning point in the history of New York rap. The rest of the time at the loft is spent mulling over “this weird rap revival” Heems is feeling right now—a sense that’s surely fueled by his constant repeat views of the “Wikispeaks” video.

Looking out Heems’ South 11th Street window, the new, almost-complete Freedom Tower is visible—a fitting symbol of New York’s revitalization. Thanks to tireless efforts at Ground Zero and beyond, spiritual scars are healing, memories of the past are being replaced. But what’s the source of all this replenished energy? Some credit the Giants bringing home Super Bowl championships, or the Yankees and Jay-Z celebrating a World Series win in 2009—even Linsanity and Tebowmania. Others point to a rise in restaurant openings, spiking fashion sales, successful Silicon Alley startups, and a $5 billion explosion of film and TV production.

Renowned Hollywood director and producer Brett Ratner believes in the energy of New York. After developing a lifelong friendship with Def Jam founder Russell Simmons during his time at New York University, Ratner made his bones directing videos for Wu-Tang Clan and Puff Daddy before moving to Beverly Hills—but he still maintains a fondness for the city. “It was a scene of cosmic proportions,” he recalls. “You could walk to any street corner and feel something. Feel the energy, feel the passion, feel the drive. Whenever I feel like I’m cooped up, or I’m bored, I go to New York and I am invigorated.” Ratner’s last film, $150 million Eddie Murphy x Ben Stiller comedy Tower Heist, was one of the 188 movies shot in New York in 2011. “I believe there will be a resurgence of that culture. You know, sometimes it has to dissipate. People die, people move away, people move on, and it’s like a living breathing organism—constantly changing and moving. It’s just when it clicks, when the right amount of influencers are interacting with the other influencers.”

But why does the city’s rap scene specifically feel alive again? “This shit works in cycles, man,” says Queens-born Action Bronson while seated on a crowded tour van in Austin, TX during the South by Southwest music festival. “It’s all recycled thoughts, anyway. It’s only hot until the next shit pops off. The thing is, you’ve got to get on that next shit before anybody else.” Bronson’s manager, music industry veteran Dante Ross, agrees. “With the Internet, there’s a lot more parity. People like shit from all over the country now. The regionalism in rap has decreased a lot. A lot of the boundaries that existed in rap seem nonexistent at this point, especially for artists. So I don’t know if I buy into the idea of the ‘new New York.’ I’m just glad there’s some good music coming from anywhere right now.”

 

It’s all recycled thoughts, anyway. It’s only hot until the next sh*t pops off. The thing is, you’ve got to get on that next sh*t before anybody else.
—Action Bronson

 

If there is a genuine rap renaissance going on in hip-hop’s birthplace, what’s keeping the revival from universal recognition? Bad Boy artist Red Cafe blames it on the lack of a cohesive sound. “A big thing for me is the production,” he says. “If we go back in time to Premier producing a large part of our artists, you saw the success with Nas and Biggie and Jay and Guru—and all the people that he produced. You saw them win. Even Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze, Trackmasters, and the list goes on. Irv Gotti and his team. Puff Daddy and his Hitman team. When the artists were being produced in New York, we were making great records and we were putting up numbers that were incomparable. I feel like we always got great MCs and rappers, but until the producers step up, we’re gonna be just in a place where we’re bouncing back and forth.”

New Yorkers Harry Fraud, Party Supplies, and A$AP Ty Beats—of “Pe$o” fame—are among the city’s most noteworthy beatmakers at the moment. All would seem to have bright futures ahead of them, but there’s no question that the idea of a homogenous “New York sound” has been dismantled. Live.Love.A$AP may be the closest thing to a quintessential contemporary New York rap record, but it sources production from all over the nation. Even producers like Clams Casino and Araabmuzik, who’ve found success with New York artists, hail from New Jersey and Rhode Island, respectively.

Bronx representative French Montana prides himself on standing apart from the cluster of artists labeled as “New York rappers.” Crediting his own success to an independent streak, he advises newcomers to take a deep breath and to think long and hard before making moves. “It comes down to decision making,” he says. “Business decisions—knowing when to drop, knowing what kind of deals to do. People buy into the lifestyle now, they don’t buy into just music. They wanna be like you. You can be the most talented artist, but make one wrong decision, and your talent don’t mean nothing.”

Even as someone who frequents the city’s most exclusive events on a nightly basis, 40 Oz. Van cautions that New York is still a tough market for aspiring newbies. “A lot of us are out here struggling,” he admits. “Don’t get it twisted. We might have celebrities in our phonebook, but we don’t have millions in our bank account. It’s unfortunate to say, but you’ve got a thousand people out here trying to do the same things and only, like, five out of a million are going to make it. That’s the thing about New York, we’re always hungry. But the thing that we’re lacking is unity.”

 

Don’t get it twisted. We might have celebrities in our phonebook, but we don’t have millions in our bank account. It’s unfortunate to say, but you’ve got a thousand people out here trying to do the same things and only, like, five out of a million are going to make it.
—40 Oz Van 

 

Like the regional sound that some people are mistakenly waiting for, New York’s “hip-hop community” has gone through some serious changes. The video for Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s “Huzzah” remix brought New Yorkers Despot, Das Racist, El-P and Detroit transplant Danny Brown together on one set. “We all have a mutual respect for each other because we know the dedication and the hard work it takes to get you here,” eXquire explains. Meanwhile A$AP Yams has been tweeting about bringing Danny and eXquire on tour with Rocky and California upstart Schoolboy Q.

The improved musical climate seems to be rubbing off on veteran rap acts as well. Q-Tip just signed with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music. Nas is popping up on J. Cole, Tyga, and Nicki Minaj albums. Fabolous is still jumping on mad remixes, and Jadakiss is always good for a hot feature. Cam’ron is currently in the midst of releasing a new song every day for a month. Busta Rhymes had the standout verse on a No. 1 Chris Brown hit and inked a deal with YMCMB. Sean Price is leveraging the blogs to reach an entirely new legion of fans. Wu-Tang is booking swanky Fashion Week parties while the RZA produced on Watch The Throne, rap’s most undeniable tour-de-force in years—which of course features Brooklyn rap mogul Jay-Z and was partially recorded in Manhattan’s Mercer Hotel.

Underground rapper Despot—a part-owner of New York’s Santos Party House who’s credited with introducing eXquire, Danny Brown, and Das Racist to one another—cautions against reading too much into these developments. “We’re just making music,” he says. “It feels good for me to be around people who are new at it and excited and being immediately successful at it. But to label this era is a waste of time.”

 

Maybe the title “new New York” does feel a bit forced for a city that remained very much world-class—even during a decade in the doldrums. But catchy slogans aside, there’s something happening in New York right now. The rap scene has reached a breaking point in the tug of war between the old guard and the new. It’s telling when members of Mobb Deep have Twitter breakdowns during the same week that A$AP Rocky announces his first featured Summer Jam appearance.

 

I know n*ggas in Paris that wake up and log in to their computers to see what’s going on with New York. It’s just cool. New York feels vibrant... It feels electric to walk the streets at night. It’s like, ‘Yo, this city is badass.’
—Theophilus London

 

All this speculation begs the question: is New York back? The answer is a resounding Yes. “It’s a new generation,” says Manhattan native DJ Jesse Marco. “I think it’s back, just in a different way. It’s not as aggressive. It’s not as mean. It’s not as blue-collar. It’s fancy and it’s kind of jiggy and kind of artsy. It’s like, ‘I want to party and fuck models and shit’.”

You could argue that those values have always been in place, but there’s a distinct difference between the past decade—when it felt like a few rich guys were flashing their affluence in our faces—and the current atmosphere of seven-figure deals for A$AP and eXquire. “New York is still an influential center,” says adidas trend marketer Bradley Carbone. “It’s New York and that’s not going anywhere. You can down-talk it, you can say there’s other parts of the world that are running stuff, but there’s a reason why people are still here.”

“Ten years from now, you can look back at all the photos, all the Tumblr screenshots like, ‘Wow. That was what New York was like’,” Theophilus London offers. “Niggas are watching it. I know niggas in Paris that wake up and log in to their computers to see what’s going on with New York. It’s just cool. New York feels vibrant. There’s really dope street art. Niggas like Retna or Neckface or Paul Richard or Katsu or Roa are just throwing shit up on the street. It feels electric to walk the streets at night. It’s like, ‘Yo, this city is badass.’ We’ve got everything. It’s dope to see how, on some Watch The Throne–era shit, black dudes are putting their money into creative shit.” But even in the midst of micro-documenting what some New Yorkers hope will one day be seen as a new golden era, many artists are looking back and taking cues from New York’s rich rap legacy.

 

By the time Blue Ivy Carter’s old enough to download her first mixtape, eX wants to be known as Brooklyn’s finest.

 

“You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” says Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire one spring afternoon while seated on a couch in Harlem, engulfed in residual blunt smoke. “You have to uphold the legacy of where you’re from. You gotta continue that legacy but you also got to set your own path.”

While others in the room suggest idling away the night checking out new blog posts and music videos, eXquire is glued to vintage YouTube clips of New York rap legends in their prime: The Notorious B.I.G. performing live in 1995; Big Punisher at a 1998 restaurant-table cypher, freestyling with Canibus, DMX, Mos Def, Mic Geronimo, and John Forte. He’s studying the flows, but also the psychology of the cypher, critically analyzing who stayed cool and who caught feelings.

“You have to look towards the past and analyze their movement and the things they did right and the things they did wrong,” he says after the clip plays out. “And not emulate but learn and take little jewels and move on.” For New York rappers navigating between memories of a golden era past and visions of a glorious future, the desire to bring hip-hop’s mecca back to dominance is a matter of Manifest Destiny.

For so long rappers had to go to New York to get on, which led to an arrogant overconfidence in this city that had a nasty collision with a decade that was bookended by the 9/11 attacks and an epic Wall Street meltdown. But that moment out of the spotlight may have been a blessing. During the recovery from the city's crash, more artists from flyover states popped up using the Internet, forcing New Yorkers to humble themselves and learns the tricks that rappers in other regions had mastered—and it's working. Maybe riding the bench for a minute was worth it.

It’s this willingness to go all out, put in overtime work, and learn new tricks mixed with the best of  NYC's rap legacy that might just give eXquire and his generation of New York rappers the upper hand once again. By the time Blue Ivy Carter’s old enough to download her first mixtape, eX wants to be known as Brooklyn’s finest. And he's surrounded by artists with similar ambitions, proving that there is some love in the heart of the city after all.