You may not be able to tell from the radio, but New York hip hop is having a moment. The Brooklyn-centric Beast Coast movement has taken over as the new hope for young hip hop heads in the Tri-state area, myself included. Although the Underachivers had top billing at the sold out Irving Plaza show, the guest appearances by Flatbush Zombies and Joey Badass made it feel more like showcase of New York’s rising stars.
I didn’t know what to expect from openers Denzel Curry and Dillon Cooper, but they both came ready to gain some fans, rapping without backing vocals and turning the crowd into a mosh pit for each of their respective sets. The audience – filled with 16 year olds in tie-dye – knew many of the words despite their somewhat underground status. Dillon, originally from Brooklyn, had the hometown advantage, but Denzel’s Florida trap sensibilities resonated with the crowd. His neon ski goggled helped the turn up factor. I was impressed by his maturity and heavy sound, especially for a 19 year old. By the time 10:00pm hit, much of the crowd was shirtless and sweaty.
Powers Pleasant, DJ and producer for Pro Era as well as The Underachivers, kept the energy going with a short set ranging from hip hop to Prince. During “I Don’t Like” a kick-fighting most pit broke out, inspired by Pusha T‘s Ric Flare references. People calmed down as the set ended with Purple Rain, which was perhaps a metaphor for the gallons of sweat the teenage crowd was now unleashing onto the Irving Plaza floor.
When the Underachivers hit the stage, the crowd surged forward. The duo, AK and Issa Gold, did just a few songs before their fellow Beast Coast rappers Pro Era jumped on stage. This was a welcome, if predictable moment, considering the strong relationship between the Brooklyn crews. As Joey Badass rapped “Survival Tactics” it was clear he is a somewhat reluctant star. He seemed hesitant to own the stage, letting crew members spray water bottles and jump into the crowd.
Flatbush Zombies rushed the stage after Pro Era had their moment, and Meech, Zombie Juice and Eric jumping right into their hit “MRAZ.” They bounced around the stage as the audience went crazy.
The Underachivers came back out to perform a full set, including “Proclamation” and “Herb Shuttles”. But the duo weren’t alone onstage for long. The Pro Era crew came back out, along with Denzel Curry and Dillon Cooper for one final song as the crowd continued to mosh and smoke blunts, often at the same time. The DJ Powers ran out from behind his laptop to the speaker towers and stage dove into the crowd. His small body was lifted from the sea of tie-dye and leather back up toward the stage. Some guys from the crowd attempted to follow suit, but couldn’t quite get up the courage to jump the 10 or so feet.
The amount of sheer NYC talent on the Irving Plaza stage was impressive, and the chemistry between the various rappers was apparent. The Beast Coast movement may be a tri-state area phenomenon now, but the complex lyricism and youth-driven perspective is quickly gaining a mass audience. In a city where artists are often pitted against each other, it’s unique and refreshing to see rappers not only collaborating, but genuinely getting along. The NYC rap scene and the fans experience is better off because of it.