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N.Y. State of Shame

Yesterday’s blog had the brightness of an Esham record, which I apologize for; when something’s front-and-center in your head, it’s tough to maneuver around the elephant in the mind. Even though my topic today isn’t necessarily for the laughs, it’s much more pleasant to digest. The mirror is still pointed inward, though, and this time it’s a result of my last blog week. For those who recall, I put together a couple of regional-specific posts—the first, reminiscing about Pete Rock and Marley Marl’s “Future Flavas” radio show, and the second, a collection of my favorite storytelling rap songs of the weirdly-conceptual kind.

I’d thought both would be immune to the anger of the commenting sect, but then a strange, unexpected thing happened; I was accused of perpetuating an apparent East Coast bias on this site. My first reaction was one of disbelief and self-defense. But then, the more I thought about it, the accusation brought me back to 2004, when Democratic candidate John Kerry lost to George “Dubya” Bush—or, American history’s biggest dumbass—in the presidential election. I’d lied to myself throughout that entire race; here I was, living in New Jersey while working in New York City, both areas predominantly liberal. Of course Kerry was going to wreck shop in the nearby polls. So when Bush started whooping his ass on election night, the U.S. map on CNN covered in red all over the South, I was stunned. Not as much by disappointment, but by the shock of my ignorance. “Shit,” I thought, “I really am NY-centric. To my own narrow-minded fault.”

Which brings me back into the hip-hop side of things. As hard as I try to tell myself it isn’t the case, I really am overly partial to the New York sound. There’s always my love for all things Outkast, Scarface, N.W.A. and Hieroglyphics, but when it comes down to it, I’ll always pick the Skyzoo album over the Lil Boosie disc. People keep telling me to fuck with those new Nipsey Hussle mixtapes (and I do, because the guy can definitely spit), but midway through I can’t resist the compulsion to switch the iTunes over to Apathy’s Wanna Snuggle? (Ap’s from Connecticut, technically, but his sound is truly Eastern-minded; and that new album is serious, for the record).

All of this leaves me to wonder: why can’t I completely embrace a new Gucci Mane song? What is it about the NY sound that works best for me? I love all hip-hop, and my CD collection wouldn’t be over 1,500 deep if I’d only copped albums from my neck of the woods over the last 15 years. In fact, I had MC Ren’s “Behind the Scenes” on repeat for hours yesterday. So I’m not close-minded; I’m just a rap head who’s fortunately self-aware enough to acknowledge his downside.

It’s funny, because my older brother and elder cousin used to bang West Coast records over my head back when I was in grade school. Especially tracks by Above the Law (“Murder Rap” is actually a top 10 all-time song in my book) and Eazy-E. If they’d tried even harder, I could’ve written this asking why I’m a New Yorker who can’t stop bumping Cali music. But, alas, that’s not the case. I was reminded of this problem back in college; I went to St. John’s University, out in Jamaica, Queens. One of my good friends there was from South Central, Los Angeles, and he was full of out-of-town habits that were all foreign to me. For instance, the kid walked slower than an elderly woman nursing a Charlie horse, a stroll that he attributed to the slower LA lifestyle. My fellow Metropolitan area folk, we break out in that speed-walk to compete with local insanity.

The craziest thing about my Cali friend, though? He’d never heard of M.O.P. prior to stepping foot onto the St. John’s campus. That absolutely blew my mind. I specifically remember lying on my bedroom floor back in ‘96, ripping the shrink wrap off of my new Firing Squad CD, and running through that dopeness until it was dinner time. Out on the Left Coast, though, this guy could give two shits. He was, and still is frankly, West Coast biased. And that’s proof that regional preferences go all ways. Maybe it’s because I’m from NY, but I always feel like New Yorkers get the “Open your ears” shouts more than others. I can almost hear John Kerry himself yelling that at me. “That’s essentially why Bush was given another four years to drive us into the ground.”

I could deliberate this for hours, for a neverending series of paragraphs, so I’ll quit while I’m (hopefully) ahead. The question I ask, however, is: for those brave enough to fess up to having one, how can we best explain our regional bias? Is it simply a result of growing up in areas where radio stations favor the local sounds? I reply to that, “Well, I watched Yo! MTV Raps religiously, so I’ve always been exposed to every style.”

Is there even a definitive explanation for this? I’ve long thought not, but what do I know? I’m the same guy who visited Waco, Texas (don’t ask), once and stood in amazement at the first sight of a dude wearing a cowboy hat. “They really wear those out here,” I asked my girl at the time. “Yes,” she shot back, “what’d you think, that those only exist in western movies? You really need to leave the Tri-State more, man.” As my friend from Cali used to say, “Chuuuch!” And, yes, he really did say that. -Matt Barone

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