Last year, Sha Stimuli, a 33-year-old Brooklyn rapper, packed up and moved to Atlanta. He wanted to widen his audience, he says, and the South beckoned. He’s not the only one moving on.
In recent years, there is a growing sense among hip-hop heads that New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is passé. While there are still stars emerging from the borough, the action, the excitement is taking place elsewhere.
“In the last decade, New York has been left behind,” says Sha Stimuli. Although being a Brooklyn rapper may have helped his career ten years ago, today he sees it more as a disadvantage. “Me saying I’m from Brooklyn doesn’t actually help, because there is no novelty there,” he says. “People got bored of Brooklyn and New York.”
But people weren’t always bored of Brooklyn. Hip-hop may have first emerged from the Bronx in the late 1970s, but it is Brooklyn that, for a generation, has been known around the world as the genre’s incubator. Brooklyn, along with the rest of the East Coast, withstood the coming of a rival from the West Coast—and a resulting battle whose intensity escalated into bloodshed, with the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. More recently, both East and West Coasts have seen the rise of southern hip-hop in such cities as Atlanta and New Orleans, which have produced a sound more focused on the beat than on the political message that made the East Coast’s success.
All the while, the names associated with Brooklyn hip-hop have remained the same—Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Busta Rythmes, M.O.P.—leading to talk that perhaps after all these years Brooklyn, once so essential in hip-hop’s evolution, has lost its touch.
But has it? As Notorious B.I.G. once rapped, “where Brooklyn at?”