There are a slew of young, talented rappers coming out of New York these days, but none of them sound very "New York." The A$AP crew of Harlem, which recently toured with Toronto's Drake and Compton's Kendrick Lamar, have a "placeless and universal" sound that seems more influenced by Houston's chopped and screwed beats than DJ Premier's horns; Azealia Banks has a distinct enough flow, but her tracks are more electronic than anything practiced by New York's hip hop gatekeepers. And out of Brooklyn, Kilo Kish has outsourced beats for her casual, monotone rhymes to The Internet, Syd the Kid's spaced-out L.A. duo.
But the old guard—Nas's Illmatic, Mobb Deep's The Infamous—is still a welcome influence. That's clear enough with a song like "Survival Tactics," from Brooklyn high school students Joey Bada$$ and Capital Steez (the video, directed by Creative Control, is viewable above).
The record is almost jarring in its studied allegiance to New York hip hop formalism. Joey and Steez, members of a Flatbush crew called Pro Era (short for Progressive Era, and comprised mostly of students from Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School), rap over a beat that sounds as if it came from Large Professor's crates, and Joey has an energized, natural flow worthy of Big L's memory. They take minor shots at A$AP Rocky ("Y'all collect pesos/That money ain't right here") and Lil' B ("Tell the Based God don't quit his day job"); mostly, though, they talk up their Pro Era crew and express some political views that sound more earnest than the likes of Mr. eXquire and Action Bronson, New York rappers who both have at least 10 years on these two.
"Fuck what I once said, I want the bloodshed," Steez raps, "'cause nowadays to get respect you gotta pump lead." "Fuck the police," Joey says on a mid-track voiceover, replacing a hook. "Fuck every ass-corrupt politician on Wall Street. P.E.! Public Enemy!"
Joey has a mixtape, 1999, due out soon; Steez recently released AmeriKKKan Korruption. They're both very young. Joey's just 17, and the comparisons he's so far drawn—to Big L, Nas, Prodigy, and even Biggie—suggest not only at incredibly high expectations, but at a general hope that he'll retain this sound. Hip hop heads are forever nostalgic and eager to recall a time when everything was "just better"; New York hip hop heads add to that a conviction that the city's Golden Age is the only time worth remembering in music, period. And about two years ago, Joey—then known as JayOhVee—uploaded a video of himself freestyling in a small cypher. He was 15, and the video made it onto the website WorldStarHipHop. Now its YouTube description calls it "vintage." New York nostalgia has never moved so fast, or sounded so good.