A New Generation Seeks to Reinvent Rap in Its Birthplace

DJ S. WHiT, in the middle of producing a Beats 1 radio show on Apple Music, asked people in the room which one of Jay-Z’s three “The Blueprint” albums was their favorite. Earlier, she asked for opinions about how long a Houston rising star, the rapper Megan Thee Stallion, could keep her spot in the male-dominated industry of hip-hop. She then walked her colleagues through where in the show to place a track by the Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo.

This is her balancing act these days: deciding how much she should cater to what is popular on the rap charts (mostly Southern and West Coast rappers) and her desire to represent New York’s hip-hop scene. The Queens native is passionate about her city but asked, “What is the New York sound?”

S. WHiT is part of a group of twenty-somethings pushing to figure that out, using their talents and art to lead New York hip-hop in a new direction, one that pays tribute to New York’s past but is still uniquely theirs.

The legacy of New York rap looms large for the 26-year-old Radamiz, who was born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He started rapping 14 years ago, inspired by the lyricism of battle rappers and what he calls the “top tier” of hip-hop: Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” album, which Radamiz said influences his art and who he is as a man.

He said one of his favorite lines that encourage him to persevere is from the eighth track of the album, “Can I Live”: “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant/that’s how we on it.”

He grew up in the Sumner Projects, a 10-minute walk from the Marcy Projects where Jay-Z was raised. He’s had his own successes — sold-out shows, opening spots for artists like Kendrick Lamar and Nas, and a partnership with New York’s landmark Payday Records.

From left, facing camera, Tyron Perryman, Radamiz, Crimeapple and UFO FEV at a live recording of the “Tea & Converse” podcast. Jason J. Armond/NYT Institute

New York is widely regarded as the birthplace of hip-hop; its founders came out of the Bronx in the mid-70s. It began as an outsider movement with many moving parts: the lyricist, the DJ, breakdancers, graffiti artists and more. Early fans flocked to the genre for its hard truths about rappers’ lives, while some demonized artists for supposedly glorifying violence and upending music norms. But by the mid-80s, record labels saw rap’s potential to make money, and a wave of legendary rappers, like Jay-Z and Nas, followed.

Since then, the genre’s hot spot has shifted to Atlanta, where the city’s subgenre of trap music relies less on lyrics and more on melodies and beats. This approach has become wildly popular, securing artists high chart positions and streaming numbers. Record labels have responded.

If Atlanta hip-hop “is making money, or can make money, then it’s going to get more money put behind it,” said Will Scott, the marketing director at Payday Records.

Radamiz acknowledged the pressure to mimic the South’s style, but he has not succumbed to it.

“Everything that I’ve gotten so far, I feel like it’s mine because I haven’t done it chasing somebody else’s idea of success,” he said. “I’ve done it doing it my way.”

He raps, but has also modeled, acted in a short film and ghostwritten for other artists.

This level of versatility is also embraced by LATASHÁ, another Brooklyn rapper inspired by the New York legacy but determined to go her own way. Like the other rappers, she wants to be known by her rap moniker for this article.

Before LATASHÁ took the stage on a recent evening at the Rose Gold nightclub in Brooklyn, the emcee introduced her as a rapper, songwriter and performance artist. She maintained a steady and boisterous energy, dancing and rapping onstage and off, where a circle of cheering audience members fell in place around her.

“There’s one rule,” she told them. ”You have to dance.”

Cor.ece, center in hat, a hip-hop artist from Brooklyn, and Whitney McGuire dance at the Rose Gold club in Brooklyn. Jason J. Armond/NYT Institute

Her performance style stems from her own exuberance, but also serves as an answer to the boredom she has felt from the way many rap concerts are performed, with artists standing in place, inadequately rapping over the track playing in the background.

She studied performance art at Wesleyan University in Connecticut; her first piece was a play, “Memoirs of Hip-Hop,” in which rap is a person and its parents are jazz and blues. She later became the first resident hip-hop artist at National Sawdust, an “incubator for new music,” as its website says. Her music also draws from genres like electronic music.

The rapper Malik Abdul Rahmaan, in doorway, taking in some fresh air before his performance at the Rose Gold club in Brooklyn. Jason J. Armond/NYT Institute

After nearly eight years performing in New York as an artist, LATASHÁ plans to move to Los Angeles for a change of scenery. She expressed dismay at how gentrification has increased rents in New York, making it harder for artists to congregate in a central location.

“Everybody’s in heavy survival mode,” she said. “New York rappers are trying to eat.” Being a female rapper has its unique set of challenges as well, she said. She feels she’s underpaid in New York and hopes for more opportunity in Los Angeles.

In spite of it all, LATASHÁ, S. WHiT and Radamiz remain optimistic about their careers. With the dominant sound clustered elsewhere, they have room to focus on the music they love.

“You have those that are moving the needle,” S. WHiT said. “You have to let New York redefine itself.”

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the marketing director at Payday Records. His name is Will Scott, not Simon. An earlier version of a photo caption misspelled the surname of a host at an event and incorrectly described the event. His name is Tyron Perryman, not Perry, and the event was a live recording of the “Tea & Converse” podcast speaking with Latino MCs about their music journeys, not a panel discussing rappers in Brooklyn.