Don’t Call It A Comeback! Invisible Rise of The New East

“You’re blind baby. You’re blind from the facts” -Flavor Flav

“If I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East/ I live out there so don’t go there” -Notorious B.I.G.

In the wake of French Montana making the unfounded assertion that The Industry is trying to steer audiences away from “New York Style Street Rap,” I decided that a revelation needed to dawn on those of you who may actually agree with that weird ass assessment. Southern rap is still making waves of course, which took us through those godawful ringtone and autotune phases (unfortunately they have yet to get past Trap, but hopefully that’ll be gone soon too.)  But not only is that not true, it’s the opposite of accurate. The East Coast has made the kind of comeback that prophecies are made of, but it was so quiet no one noticed…until now. And we’re gonna chart the course of the East Coast’s current celestial tapestry, mostly chronologically. I think when I show you where we are now, and who brought us here and how, you’ll find the conclusion of who’s on top quite surprising.

Two of the names that are being most prominently touted in the rap game’s success as of this posting are East Coast, but not New York, New Jersey or even Philly. Wale hails from the nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. and Wiz Khalifa is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For some reason no one talks about what it means that these places are undeniably Eastern, and how that affects these artists substantively and stylistically, not to mention how it affects their audience/demographic. That’s particularly odd regarding Wiz because the first single from his 2006 album Show and Prove was called “Pittsburgh Sound.” It’s like he wants you to know where he’s from or something. Shortly after making noise with this release he was signed to Warner Bros. and released the gold single “Say Yeah” in 2008 in anticipation of a major label debut but parted ways with the label before it materialized. In 2010 having signed his own Taylor Gang imprint to Atlantic, and coming off the momentum of five mixtapes released in the interim,  Wiz found success with the gold album Rolling Papers and heavy rotation of the singles, “Black and Yellow,”(Triple Platinum), “No Sleep” (Double Platinum), “Roll Up” (Platinum), and “On My Level” (Gold). With plaques for two other multi-platinum, one other platinum and two other gold singles under his belt, Wiz emptied a clip at the charts with “See You Again,” the Paul Walker dedication song of the Fast and Furious franchise which went on to reach quadruple platinum status in 2015.

Meanwhile at the same time that Wiz was getting some traction with his first album, D.C. decided that Wale was on to something with his single “Dig Dug (Shake It)” and Mark “Uptown Funk” Ronson decided the rapper was worth signing to his Allido imprint. He had already been in The Source’s “Unsigned Hype” column and seemed to be well on his way but it wouldn’t be until 2008 when Allido teamed up with Interscope for $1.3 million that the Capitol would bequeath Wale’s voice to The Nation in the form of a major label debut. 2009 saw the release of Attention Deficit which would birth the singles “Chillin’,” “World Tour,” and “Pretty Girls,” and go on to sell almost 170,000 copies. 2010 saw Wale’s  feature on a collaboration with Waka Flocka Flame and Roscoe Dash receive triple platinum status but it wouldn’t be until 2011 after signing to Maybach Music Group that he got a plaque under his own steam with Ambition going gold. Wale has charted on a dozen other singles since his debut and fifteen where he’s been featured, but it’s a little early to be acting like that’s enough for us to say The East is doin’ the damn thing again.

Not too far from D.C., right around the corner really, an up and comer named Logic was about to turn 2010 into the year Maryland finally put an MC on the map. Young, Broke and Infamous was the mixtape that introduced the mixed race rapper to potential stardom, with two more to follow before he signed to Def Jam and dropped the 300,000 selling Under Pressure in 2014. The next year, Young Sinatra followed it up with The Incredible True Story which hasn’t matched those numbers yet, but hopes remain high that Baltimore will be known for the lyricists it produces. Look no further than King Los if you wanna see someone capable of leading that charge. Dropping Zero Gravity, and Shooter back to back in 2010, he was looking to make at least as much noise as Logic if not more, and why not? He certainly had the skills to match. Having already lost a deal to Bad Boy in 2008, had seemingly done nothing to diminish Los’s hunger seeing as how he subsequently released back to back mixtapes that year as well. Three mixtapes and two signings later(to Bad Boy, then RCA) we had yet to hear an album but 2015 saw the release of GodMoneyWar which peaked at number 4 on the rap charts. It’s not far-fetched to think there’s more in the clip, but right now only time will tell and hope can do naught but wonder.

2011 was the year that things really started rushing back to the other side of the board. Not only was everyone I named already (and some I have yet to) making moves, but Mac Miller, Nitty Scott, MC, Action Bronson, A$AP Rocky, (and of course ASAP Mob) would all pull attention back to lyricism and all but one of that lauded lineup hails straight from the birth city of Hip Hop itself. Mac seems as good a place to start as any, hailing from the same city that gave us Wiz Khalifa. Signing in 2010 to Rostrum, his 2011 debut, Blue Slide Park sold 145,000 copies in its first week. Having built buzz from his gold single “Knock Knock” from the mixtape, KIDS, he would receive two more gold plaques and one platinum for subsequent singles. In 2014, Mac Miller signed to a Warner Bros. deal for $10 million and released GO:OD AM in 2015 selling 73,000 copies in its first week. But let’s not kid ourselves, those ain’t Macklemore numbers, are they? So we head back to the city and see who’s holdin’ it down.

Queens’ very own Action Bronson came out in March with the album Dr. Lecter, released independently and followed it up with a mixtape collaboration with Statik Selektah in November called Well Done. The wheels were already in motion. Managed by Paul Rosenberg (The very same one from the Eminem skits) he found a home at Warner Bros. (same as Mac Miller) in 2012 but the following year moved over to Atlantic (same as Wiz Khalifa. Coincidence? Actually yes, I think so.) Saab Stories reached 6 on the US rap charts and his album Mr. Wonderful got all the way to 2 but that’s not enough for us to be talkin’ all this comeback talk. So we head to Manhattan and the Heart of the City to see A Man Called A$AP. Four months after Action Bronson would  turn heads with his Ghostface Killah-style comparisons, A$AP Rocky would release the mixtape Deep Purple and the single “Purple Swag.” That October, Live. Love. A$AP‘s critical acclaim would be the final straw to convince RCA to invest $3 million in the burgeoning Harlem Hot Boy. 2012 saw him snag a double platinum single. 2013  yielded a gold album and a gold single. And somewhere in the middle of all this it was my pleasure to discover the wonder that is Brooklyn’s Nitty Scott, MC. Having heard an absolutely murderous verse from her on BET’s Cypher for The Hip Hop Awards, I looked up everything I could find from her and low and behold! The Cassette Chronicles was what I got. That same year Doobies x Popsicle Sticks would be released, both precursors to 2012’s much-anticipated The Boombox Diaries Vol. 1. Ms. Scott seems resistant to the offers the major labels have been throwing her way but that hasn’t stopped her from touring Europe, (soon to be headed to Japan) and collaborating with notable vets like Styles P, and up and comers like Kendrick Lamar and the previously mentioned Action Bronson among others. Fingers crossed but if she gets enough buzz and the right deal we might get the successor to Lauryn Hill (minus the singing) that we’ve been asking for for over a decade now (knock on wood.)

The same year that Nitty’s boombox Radio Raheemed it’s way through The BK , Biggie’s borough had something about to drop that would prove much more worthy of press than the Mayan Doomsday predictions. That something being The Beast Coast. Flatbush Zombies, a trio of grade school friends had formed in 2010 but it would be two years before the “Thug Waffle” video hit Youtube and they released the mixtape D.R.U.G.S. ( an acronym for Death and Reincarnation Under God’s Supervision.) On September 11th the following year they released another mixtape titled BetterOffDEAD to rave reviews. Before going on to release 3001: A Laced Odyssey this year (which would sell 28,000 copies in its first week) they would come together with another faction of the Beast Coast collective and form Clockwork Indigo, releasing a project of the same name and touring together. That faction was The Underachievers. Forming a year after Flatbush Zombies, the duo signed to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder Records in 2012 releasing two mixtapes that year and a third in 2013. In 2014 their debut album, Cellar Door: Terminus ut Exortium would reach 12 on the Independent charts. 2015 saw their sophomore effort Evermore: The Art of Duality, but we have yet to see what they plan to hit 2016 with. Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era would prove to be the most visible breakout stars of the Beast Coast collective. Signing to Cinematic Music Group in 2010 it wouldn’t be until February of 2012 that they would release The Secc$ Tape and Joey would put out his own solo effort, 1999. Even though he was on the list of “Rappers To Watch For in 2013” Capital STEEZ a founding member who had made the mixtape, Amerikkkan Korruption, would commit suicide on Christmas Eve, never seeing the year he was anticipated to dominate. Though the group had released P.E.E.P. The aPROcalypse, another mixtape, before STEEZ’s untimely demise, other moves were yet to be made. The group would spend the next two years touring and releasing mixtapes, building buzz until Joey Bada$$’s B4Da$$ would be released in early 2015, selling almost 54,000 copies in its first week, enough to put the debut at number 5 on Billboard. By March it would already have reached 120,000. Joey’s groupmate Kirk Knight’s Late Knight Special would come out in October and reach 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. But even though I’ve named over a dozen acts, some of you nonbelievers will still be dismissive and call this a fad, and that’s okay. There’s more in the chamber.

2013 gave us Lil Dicky, Troy Ave and finally saw a long-awaited veteran give us a solo release. Growing up in a suburb just north of Philadelphia, Lil Dicky was a comedian/actor who was really only interested in rap as a way to get attention for his comedic writing skills. Upon realizing that he had some serious talent on his hands and a newly awakened passion decided to see just how far he could go with it. Releasing So Hard and Hump Days in the same year, his single “Lemme Freak” peaked at 3 on the U.S. Comedy charts, but 2015 was when he finally gave us the debut Professional Rapper which would hit number 1 on the Comedy, Rap and Indie charts and 7 overall. In terms of content, humor, rhyme schemes and delivery, Lil Dicky may be the successor to Eminem that no one ever thought we’d see but it’s much to early to make that call as of yet. Troy Ave on the other hand is much closer to following in the stylistic footsteps of 50 Cent. Troy had already been making some noise in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with eight mixtapes from 2009 to 2013 by the time he released New York City: The Album in November of that year, debuting at 47 on Billboard’s Top 200.  In December he released another mixtape before the year was out and three more in 2014 before his sophomore effort, Major Without A Deal hit the streets and made it to 13 on the Rap charts. A month before Troy’s debut would reach us, a future collaborator for that album would give us something we’d been looking forward to since he first parted ways with the other half of his duo and very own brother. Pusha T, formerly of Clipse, finally dropped his solo debut, My Name Is My Name, on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. music imprint, selling 74,000 copies in its first week. Clipse had been around for awhile, that’s true but fans had been watching and waiting for King Push to make this kind of move since his brother Malice split from the group. Hype had been building little by little since the Fear of God mixtape started making the rounds in 2011 and his appearances on the Cruel Summer compilation in 2012 helped get the heat turned up to the boiling point. But let’s be realistic, no one I named thus far (except Wiz) could really be considered dominant, in the rap game. Not on the same level as say, Kendrick Lamar, or J. Cole. No, that would be the province of my final two entries who need no introduction, Drake and Nicki Minaj.

Did you miss that? Nicki Minaj is from Queens, look it up. And as much as purists may hate it, she really has no equal as far as females go in the rap game right now (and really hasn’t for years.) As for Drake, is there really anyone who can argue the fact that he’s been on top of the game since 2009? And he’s from Toronto, Ontario in Canada. Talks about it constantly. Where did you think that was? The Raptors are part of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Take a look at a map and you’ll see that Ontario is right next door to New York, which is of course, the East Coastiest state that ever East Coasted. Let’s be honest it’s not like Drake sounds like he’s from any other area either, not even the South, with his Tennessee cousins and Lil Wayne as his mentor. Nope, Drake is basically East Coast. Wouldn’t a rapper from Mexico whose style was vaguely similar to someone from Houston still be considered a Southern rapper? And I would love to make cases for Skyzoo, Your Old Droog, Mickey Factz and Cory Gunz but I really was only trying to stick to people who 1. Dropped official albums 2. Made it to the charts (I only cheated a little there with Nitty Scott) and 3. Have done the first two within the last ten years. As you can see, I didn’t even bring up any 90’s vets or fan favorites from 2000-to’05. And I still MADE. MY. CASE. Do you smell that? Is that Ocean breeze? I think it’s safe to say the winds have finally started changing…

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JoJo Kalita

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