"I'm from where Nicky Barnes got rich as fuck,
Rich and A' hit the kitchen, they were pitching up,
Rob Base, Ma$e, Doug E. Fresh switched it up,
I do both, who am I to fuck tradition up?"
—"Killa Cam" by Cam'Ron
It wasn't a coincidence that the vast majority of '70s Blaxploitation movies were set in Harlem. Uptown was always New York's most flamboyant borough, so when hip-hop spread across town from the Bronx in the late '70s, Harlem's take on it was more ostentatious than their BX neighbours.
It's a tradition that's run through the veins of every Uptown rapper ever since. Be it rap's original smooth operator Spoonie Gee, the "did he really just say that?" punchlines of Big L, the Treacherous Three's pioneering multisyllabic lyricism, Cam'Ron's mastery of language, surrealism, and bad taste, or A$AP Rocky's high-end streamlining of regional rap styles.
From Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde and Doug E. Fresh to The Diplomats and DJ Webstar, and stopping at all points between including Ma$e, MobStyle. and Max B, here are The 25 Greatest Harlem Rap Songs: a mixture of sure-shot singles, street classics, and underrated favorites you need to know.
Written by Marty Macready & David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
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