Is East Coast Rap Losing Its Regional Identity?

Onyx Contributor:  Johnny Silvercloud (@JohnnySilverclo)

What ever happened to East Coast rap?

You know… the high flying, off the top-rope, scientific lyricism?  What ever happened to the regional dialect?  What ever happened to that East Coast syntax?

How come Meek Mill’s dialect for example, doesn’t sound like Black Thought’s, Beanie Siegel’s, Freeway’s, or Will Smith’s?  How come he doesn’t sound like Cassidy?  Let’s be clear here, I’m not saying that folks should sound exactly alike in structure, word reference and experiences.  But what’s up with the slow ass drawl?  Was he shot in the mouth like 50 Cent?  Hell, even Asher Roth sound more like a Philly Rapper than Meek Mill.  What the fuck happened to East Coast rap?

There was a time period where you can drive across the United States and truly enjoy the diversity of hip-hop; every region had its own sound.  This was important, because this lets you know that every region in America had its own interpretation of hip-hop as a whole.  Just as every region had its own dialect due to the history of the people of the United States, rappers from different regions had a different sound.  The Cajun dialect native to Louisiana would have some Louisiana rappers speaking like Gambit.  The overall New England influence gives most New York, New Jersey and Boston rappers a tongue for fast syllables.  Washington D.C., while East Coast (sorry South-wannabes) it’s caught in the middle of the North and South, which gives it a whole other sound.

Different Dialects are Fun

Being that hip-hop is a talking-based music type, dialects are pretty fucking important.  Differing dialects will govern how a person express themselves, often granting a wide range of different things that can be said meaning the same thing or for the same purpose.  A Southerner caught between Atlanta and the Carolinas might say, “I fin/fittin’/fixin’ to eat”, while a Mid-Atlantic (DMV area) person might say, “I’m bound/’bout/about to get some grub”.  Both are moving towards the same task, yet they say totally different things.  These are the things that not only makes hip-hop fun, but also serves as a learning tool being that hip-hop might be the first thing someone comes across that allows them to listen to others who are far away.  Sure movies can serve this purpose, but most visual media normalizes only the bland newcaster-style Midwestern, Los Angeles and New York styles.  Unless you have cousins and family elsewhere which you spent your childhood summers with, story-based hip-hop is your best bet.

Today’s New York (and Philly, D.C., and New Jersey) Rappers Piss me Off

I’m going to be real here:  East Coast rappers want to be Dirty South so bad.  This shit really urks me.  Hip-hop was born in New York, therefore, there’s no reason why any East Coast rapper needs to slow down their speech, dumb down their lyrics or talk with a drawl.  Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but that drawl Meek Mill has isn’t native to the East Coast.  Usually, if someone talked slow on the East Coast it’s because they either were Maseor you was shot in the face.  Meek Mill may have taken shots to the face, lyrically by Drake of course, but there’s no reason why he doesn’t have that Philly sound.

This might be why so many of these new rappers go under my radar; they don’t sound right to me, so I don’t even bother seeing them.  For an East Coast hip-hop head it’s awfully difficult to stay relevant in the music game.  I have a hard time finding new folks to like and keep tabs on.  Each time I hear a Dirty South sounding East Coast rapper, it’s like a swift kick in the balls.  And I don’t like being kicked in the balls.

It’s not like I don’t appreciate Southern rap folks and styles.  Ludacris?  T.I.?  Outkast?  Edgar Allen Floe?  There’s plenty of Dirty South folks I’m feeling… I’m just not feeling everyone on the planet — especially East Coast folks — sounding like they are from the South.  I want folks to be themselves, have their own identity.  I’m not even going mention auto-tune.  I sincerely fear a future where every rapper sounds like Future.


Is it totally the Rapper’s Fault?

In doing some research as to why in the world New York rappers are faking accents, I find that it might not necessarily be their fault.  In this amazing documentary called If These Knishes Can Talk, we discover that the New York accents might be dying out.  This might be due to social pressures to sound like something else, on top of many folks importing from elsewhere in the United States.  So technically, the decline in New York’s accent in hip-hop might be analog to the decline of the New York accent as a whole.  I find this reality quite painful; perhaps the New York rappers of the future will not preserve the New York sound at all.  The influx of new people is always going to change the language of the East Coast.

Where do we go from here?

Overall I think we will always have those East Coast purists out there.  The sad thing is the fact that these rappers may get harder to find as time marches on.  Myself?  I’ll always exercise the due diligence to look for the hip-hop I identify with.  But as far as the mainstream?  It’s looking pretty bleak.  Sooner of later, the whole hip-hop map will sound Southern.  Being objective, it might be a good thing; Southerners tend to talk slower which may give people a better chance at understanding what’s said.  I don’t know.  In the meantime, since I’m aware of this change I truly understand the meaning of “ignorance is bliss”.  At the same time, I don’t ever wish I never knew how it was like before.

For those East Coast purists, I see you.  And if I don’t, I’ll find you.  If you’re not wack, that is.

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