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K-391 - Beast Coast 2014 | © YouTube/WikiCommons
K-391 - Beast Coast 2014 | © YouTube/WikiCommons
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Beast Coast: Bringing Rap And Hip-Hop Back To NYC

Picture of Malcolm Morano
Updated: 2 June 2016
Over the past 15 years, the rap scene slowly but steadily pulled away from New York. Considering that the 1980s and 90s were absolutely dominated by New York rap, this was a sad turn — this hip-hop mecca had been eclipsed. The rise of the rest – Outkast from Atlanta, Kanye from Chicago, and Eminem from Detroit – meant that New York had become just another city in the hip-hop world. But a new generation of artists from Brooklyn is bringing NYC hip-hop back with the Beast Coast rap movement. We find out more.

Beast Coast is a collective of Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, and The Underachievers. Rising to fame via underground mixtapes which proliferated throughout the Brooklyn rap scene, these groups are only just starting to hit the mainstream. Pro Era has now released two full-length albums (Joey Bada$$’s B4.DA.$$ and Kirk Knight’s Late Knight Special), The Underachievers have been backed by Flying Lotus, and Flatbush Zombies just received a prominent feature in Esquire.

Pro Era stands for ‘Progressive Era’, but while their music is great, it actually isn’t very progressive. In fact, it’s an outstanding throwback to 1990s east coast gangsta rap — the genius music of Biggie, Nas, and early Jay Z. Pro Era’s frontman, Joey Bada$$, coined the phrase ‘Beast Coast’ in his song ‘Killuminati‘ — ‘I’m a beast with these flows / Two birds, one stoned, you get geese’d when trees rolled / They say I’m evil cause I trained my ego to see gold / Cause he know (casino), seagulls couldn’t see these goals, please / It’s the return of the beast coast.’ The virtuosity of Bada$$’s wordplay in these bars is a good example of why the ‘Beast Coast’ phrase has stuck — its rappers are ‘beasts’, representing New York in a way that the glam rappers (50 Cent and Cam’ron) never could.

Pro Era is itself a collective of many artists; comparisons to the Wu-Tang Clan practically make themselves. Other notable member are Kirk Knight, CJ Fly, and the late and great Capital STEEZ. Watch their first video, ‘Survival Tactics’, which exemplifies everything that’s electric about their 90s revival flow.

Flatbush Zombies are much more out there. They are the rappers Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott (who also serves as the primary producer). Some combination of colorful voices, psychedelic production, and completely ridiculous lyrics creates the strange and fascinating force behind their music. Their first mixtape was called D.R.U.G.S. — typical enough for a rap tape, until you learn that it’s an acronym for ‘Death and Reincarnation Under God’s Supervision’.

These eccentricities keep them interesting despite their claims to metaphysical consciousness falling somewhat short. Their debut album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey, displays this disjunction between their abilities and their ambitions. Fascinating spiritual songs like ‘Ascension‘ are overshadowed by magnetic dirty-boy jams like ‘Bounce’ and ‘Trade-Off‘. But regardless of their shortcomings, their creative flows and adventurous vocal inflections imbue their music with a palpable excitement.

The Underachievers do a great job of picking up Flatbush Zombies’ philosophical slack, undoubtedly the most socially and metaphysically-conscious group in the Beast Coast collective. Starting with their first mixtape in 2013, Indigoism, the rap duo of Issa Gold and AK combined dense internal rhyme schemes with serious moral intentions. Their psychedelic-meets-90s-throwback style is a beautiful balance of what makes both Pro Era and the Zombies great. Subsequent releases, such as 2013’s Lords of Flatbush, have displayed their capacity to make straightforward bangers, as well.

Experimental electronic artist Flying Lotus reportedly decided to sign The Underachievers to his ‘Brainfeeder’ label after hearing 20 seconds of their music. These guys are the real deal, and their experimental tendencies have continued to grow. Their second studio album, Evermore: The Art of Duality, is a concept album of sorts, unified around opposites — from body and soul, to war and peace. And this is built into the structure of the album itself, which is comprised of musically and lyrically opposed parts. Versatile and intelligent, The Underachievers bring the Beast Coast to new heights.