Have A$AP Rocky and French Montana Brought Back NY Rap?

February 11th, 2013

(Photos: XXL Magazine)

By Gee King

This week, XXL Magazine revealed its new February/March cover featuring top big apple prospects A$AP Rocky and French Montana. Both MC’s have built considerable buzzes in the past two years, generating an air of excitement around New York hip hop that’s been desperately missed since 50 Cent’s arrival over a decade ago. But the headline beneath them, boldly declaring “NY’s Back,” should feel premature to fans accustomed to New York media’s habit of rushing to hail the city’s next rising star. Granted, A$AP and French have already proven themselves more worthy of the hype than Papoose, Saigon and the rest of the NYC saviors-turned-disappointments that have come and gone since 2003. But Harlem’s trill pretty boy and the Bronx’s harmonizing coke boy still have a lot to prove if they have any hopes of living up to XXL’s premature proclamation.

We know they can make hit records and fly videos, but is either capable of defining and carrying New York’s new era on their back for the long haul? Or are they just the fleeting products of a hype machine that will use their juice to pack clubs, move mags and lock down radio spins with no long-term impact or progress for themselves or hip hop culture as a whole? Despite their undeniable star power, neither French nor Rocky could ever be confused for the thorough lyricists and enigmatic characters that made New York City the mecca of rap in the 1980s and 1990s. Realistically, peers Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson are more comparable to the MCs that fans still immediately identify with the five boroughs. But those grounded enough to acknowledge the culture’s progress beyond classic NY boom bap still don’t have to settle for half-baked combinations of up top swag and Dirty South flavor as the game’s vibe bounces freely throughout the nation via modern technology.

Beyond the fact that the XXL cover boys’ respective A$AP and Coke Boy movements lack any original core message or purpose lies the sinking feeling that neither desires or feels deserving of the bright lights being shined on their gold chains and grills. Rocky delayed his solo debut in order to release his A$AP Mob’s group effort first and French’s principle motivation for rapping has always seemed to be carrying on the spirit of his locked-up homie Max B, who pioneered the sound wave French is currently riding to success. While Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas were ready to die for a chance at carrying the torch, French, Rocky and the rest of NY’s up-and-comers appear content to pass it back and forth, terrified at the responsibility that would come with holding it for the long haul. Perhaps their shyness represents an evolution in the mindset of the modern MC. But with luminaries Drake and Kendrick Lamar still very keen on holding the light, it’s more likely that NY’s next generation is just happy to be in a position to catch the occasional glow.

Though their stardom suggests major flaws in the system, neither Rocky nor French can be blamed for making the most of mainstream hip hop’s troubling situation. Both represent the best way they know how — Rocky by combining the uptown flare that birthed his consciousness with the southern sound that identified his individuality; French by using his hustler mentality to fuel a long overlooked element of NY’s post-millennial sound. But those expecting either to step up and bear NY hip hop’s burden for dolo will be drastically letdown before the end of 2013. With fresh looks and solid songs, Rocky and French have proven to deserve their spots on hip hop’s mainstream radar. But their ability to bring and keep New York back is still yet to be proven beyond the tall shadows of doubt cast by the preceding legends who not only defined the five boroughs, but hip hop culture as a whole.

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