King: Jay Z
Crowning Achievement: The release of Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life.
Royal Court: Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky, Nas, French Montana
The last time there was a real vacancy on the throne of New York City was in the late ‘90s, when the Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in his commercial and lyrical prime, and New York’s finest seemed to go supernova all at once, from Diddy and Ma$e to Busta to DMX to Nas to Jay-Z. For a while the city was X’s; he pulled the unrepeatable trick of releasing three Billboard chart-topping multi-platinum selling rap albums in the same 19 month stretch. But in the thick of it, he shifted gears, falling back from rapping full-time to expand his empire to the silver screen (and settle up a gaggle of legal issues). X’s hiatus was Jay’s coronation. After commanding the attention of the streets from BX to BK with 1998’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” off Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life and solidifying his reign with 2001’s undisputed classic The Blueprint, Jay thundered into a win streak that took him from local curiosity to King of NY to national superstar to the adept businessman and friend of the POTUS that he is today.
Even when Jay took a two-year sabbatical from rap (that still involved a good bit of rapping) following 2003’s The Black Album, he still debuted to the biggest sales week of his career up to that point with 2006’s Kingdom Come. And though his albums have since been released to increasingly mixed reviews, he still managed to score a late-career No. 1 single and citywide anthem in Blueprint 3’s “Empire State of Mind” and conquer the world once more with Kanye on Watch the Throne’s “Niggas in Paris.” While Kendrick Lamar’s out boldly claiming King of New York from a hill over Compton, Jay was convincing Samsung to buy the first million copies of this summer’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and the Recording Industry Association of America to recognize the prepaid copies with a platinum plaque. And after that paid giveaway, Jay’s about done selling another million just weeks after MCHG's release. This is to say nothing of the music’s dominance in car stereos and barber shops all over the five boroughs or the triumphant Legends of the Summer stadium tour with the newly resurgent Justin Timberlake.
New York’s got competition creeping up in the form of upstarts like A$AP Rocky and French Montana, both of whom's music gets quite a lot of burn throughout the city, and attention must be paid to Nas, who murdered every song he appeared on since at least 2011 and pushed a respectable couple hundred thousand units of 2012’s glorious comeback album Life Is Good. There’s also Nicki Minaj, who, though she seemed to be increasingly disinterested in courting a purely hip-hop audience over the last two Pink Friday albums, is still racking up platinum singles and albums and sold out tours in the name of the Big Apple. They say New York fell off, but anyone who seriously thinks so is Ray Charles to the actual stats. —Craig Jenkins