As Nas once famously said, “Hip-hop is the streets,” and the streets are at the heart of the culture — DJ Kool Herc debuted the music that we now call hip-hop on Aug. 11, 1973 at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. Throughout the decades, New York has served as the backbone that has kept the genre up, and the city’s talent — like Brooklyn’s The Notorious B.I.G. or Queens’ Nas and Nicki Minaj — has been the blood that keeps the genre alive and innovative. The essence of hip-hop lies in its continuous evolution and emerging talent. Here are three rising New York rappers to keep an eye on.
First up on the list is Deem Spencer. Hailing from Jamaica, Queens, and with four albums under his belt, he is an artist that refuses to be boxed in. His reflective lyrics and experimental production, influenced by New York’s jazz and soul music, create a soothing and mellow tone suitable for meditative car rides or lonely nights under neon lights. At the core of his music is an underlying sense of hope that propels it forward, according to his website. A regretful and cryptic example can be found on “There Was Plenty of Time Before Us,” when he says, “I didn’t do the super bad thing I told you I’d do / But I tried to. Didn’t do it but I tried.” The remorse of these lyrics molds itself to relate to anybody’s story. Other recommended songs include “To have it all” for a classic R&B, hip-hop-infused vibe, and “shorty, Pt.3” for a reminiscent and chill mood. He currently has 63 thousand monthly listeners on Spotify; listen now and you could say that you’ve been there from the start!
Second on the list is Puerto Rican rapper and songwriter Princess Nokia. Having gained a lot of notoriety in recent years, with over 2.7 million total listeners on Spotify, they are currently walking the blurred line between underground and mainstream artistry. They said in an NME interview, “I don’t have a makeup artist and I don’t need a stylist. All of this is still strictly a DIY thing. I’m at a mainstream level now in terms of the attention I’m getting, but I haven’t gone mainstream.” While the “DIY” approach used by Princess Nokia solidifies their authenticity in their sound, part of that mainstream appeal is their callbacks to a ‘90s style flow and production, making listeners feel like they’re listening to a classic, established artist. Princess Nokia displays a deep honesty in their songwriting, talking about things we don’t want to talk about but all need to hear, with themes of identity and spirituality. Recommended listening is their album “1992 Deluxe”; standout tracks from the album include “Bart Simpson,” “Kitana,” and “Tomboy” for those who have felt othered for their gender expression.
Last up on our list is Brooklyn’s Rockstar Payso, with a mission to combine rap and rock. His more guitar-laden songs are perfect for headbanging and “raging out,”as Rockstar Payso put it, while his trap music evokes feelings of vindication. His inspirations include 50 Cent and Lil Wayne; his rock influence and versatility makes him stand out among the sea of rappers. He currently has about 30 thousand monthly listeners on Spotify and will undoubtedly garner more. Recommended songs of his include “Ready”, “No Problems – Tom Budin Remix” and “Love is a War.”
At its heart, hip-hop is a reflection of the people; to keep your pulse on the genre is to keep your pulse on the culture as a whole. Besides supporting local artists and community, staying up-to-date on new talent is a good way to be on the cutting edge of the music scene. The innovators, rule-breakers, and avant-garde are oftentimes indie artists. To escape from the monetary and record label pressures that Top 40 artists face, stream and buy Deem Spencer, Princess Nokia, and Rockstar Payso music, and experience art in its most raw and authentic form.