A Short List Of Living Rappers Who Can Claim ‘King Of New York’ Status

Thomas Mulgrew

So I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Kendrick Lamar’s recent verse on Big Sean’s “HOF” was, to put it mildly, somewhat controversial. In his guest appearance, the West Coast MC not only proclaimed himself to be the “King of New York,” a title few people can legitimately claim, he also provided a list of rappers he is “trying to murder,” including Pusha T, Big K.R.I.T., A.$.A.P. Rocky, and even Big Sean.

Damn Sean, you got called out on your own song! That can’t feel good. With such a bombastic claim, it’s time to take a more in-depth look at the often used, but rarely used correctly, moniker: “King of New York.” Who could put such a crown on their head?

Here are five rappers who could sit comfortably on the throne.

1. Jay Z

Hyphen or not, this list starts with Jigga. Sh*t, his last album with Kanye was aptly entitled Watch The Throne, after all. Jay is the biggest thing to happen in rap since, well, probably ever. From humble beginnings in Marcy projects, Jay is now the mogul all others are forced to compare themselves to. You wanna talk about albums sold? Jigga. You wanna talk about being a businessman and an entrepreneur? Jigga. You wanna talk about the hottest chick in the game? Jigga. The dude vacays with the Obamas, end of story.

2. Nas

Like always, Nas is looking up at Jay. Lyrically though, Nas is a man without peers (check “Ether” to see for yourself, sorry Jay). Coming out of Queensbridge, Mr. Jones lays claim to having the greatest hip hop album of all-time in Illmatic, which alone would put him on this list. However, in the 20 years since his debut dropped, Nas has steadily put out classics, including last year’s Life Is Good because, you know, his life ain’t in a bad place.

Nas could be considered the only relevant MC left from the “golden era” of NY hip hop, no small feat in a world of Datpiff.com mixtapes and Soundcloud downloads. Mr. Jones has been a lyrical terror since before your favorite rapper was probably born.

3. Cam’ron

Although we are a few years removed from the moment in time that was Dipset, Cam’ron still casts a long and pink shadow over the NY rap scene. No one ruled the early aughts like Cam, Juelz Santana and Jim Jones. With club bangers, weed anthems, drug dealer memoirs, Killa Cam left no stone unturned while reigning supreme. His greatest legacy, however, rests in the flamboyant style he brought out of Harlem into the world, carrying on the flashy style of Nicky Barnes and other Harlem street legends. I mean, the dude rocked pink fur in the summertime. I repeat, the dude rocked pink fur in the summertime. King for life.

4. Joey Bada$$

You want some perspective? Nas’ Illmatic dropped in 1994. Joey wasn’t born until ‘95. Damn. However, as history has continually shown, there’s nothing wrong with crowning a boy king, and Joey makes a great case. In just a couple of years, the Flatbush MC, along with the rest of his Pro Era crew, has taken over NYC. His 1999 mixtape put everyone on notice that he was intent on carrying the torch for authentic, 90s era hip hop.

A daunting task alone, Joey has somehow managed to blow up without a hit single or any major radio play. His flow is reminiscent of earlier days of hip hop, where lyrical skill was more important than image and radio play was a bonus rather than a must to signify a great record. Although young, Joey is already in the prestigious discussion for King.

5. A$AP Rocky

Much in the same vein as Joey Badass, A$AP represents the next generation of NY hip hop. Another Harlem native, A$AP has firmly placed himself in the vanguard of the Big Apple renaissance. Not only did Long.Live.A$AP. LP debuted at #1 on Billboard, but he’s also dated Iggy Azalea and can now be found with model Chanel Iman on his arm.

In other words, A$AP has come a long way from dealing crack in the Bronx. And like his Uptown predecessor mentioned above, A$AP’s signature style has played just as important of a role in his popularity as his music has.

A man of high fashion, A$AP rocks outfits that would’ve been taboo in rap only a few years ago. Street goth chic can be traced back to the young tastemaker whose fashion sense has come to dominate streetwear. All black everything with a Comme des Fuckdown beanie? You can thank A$AP for that.

A rapper from Los Angeles claiming to be the King of New York? Biggie, Big L and Big Pun must be rolling in their graves.

Thomas Mulgrew