“Where you discover the energy to be on such a time?”
Fat Joe had been awake since 5 a.m. to arrange for a CNN segment, and now it was almost 10 p.m., and he was fading. But FunkFlex, the Recent York radio mainstay, had requested his presence at a small gathering of the Recent York rap tribes a few nights before Thanksgiving, and so Joe was holding on just as Flex was revving up.
For greater than three many years, Flex has been the carnival barker-in-chief of Recent York rap, a nighttime radio fixture on Hot 97 (WQHT-FM) — the rare D.J. whose hysteric chatter can merit real-time listening — and a stalwart of nightclubs throughout the town and the tristate area. He’s a humorist and an antagonist, sometimes with a goal in mind, and sometimes simply for the theater.
Within the principal, he’s a booster, a barometer for the way Recent York understands itself through its hip-hop — a bridge from the Nineteen Eighties to the current day. Within the era when Recent York rap was at the middle of hip-hop globally, Flex (then Funkmaster Flex) was at the middle of Recent York rap. But those are bygone days now; even with the rise of drill, Recent York rap stays a regional concern. And so these days, Flex, 55, has been wondering how he might bring Recent York back — if to not the middle of the conversation, then at the least to a way of hometown pride.
Last week, he put out a call to see what might occur if various generations all ended up in the identical room, the studio on West twenty fifth Street where he often movies his freestyle series for YouTube. He put the decision out to a few of the city’s young rising drill stars, and in addition into the group chat he has with a few of the city’s elders: N.O.R.E., Busta Rhymes, the Lox, Fabolous, Fat Joe and more.
From the start of the night, dividends were being paid. B-Lovee, some of the promising drill rappers from the Bronx, was telling Fat Joe, three many years older, about his neighborhood. “That’s the primary place I ever seen KRS-One in person,” Joe told him. “Van Cortlandt Park, South Bronx, block party.” Sheek Louch, one-third of the Yonkers rap crew the Lox, looked on. Flex turned to B-Lovee and said he couldn’t tell him who had been supplying him together with his music that hadn’t yet come out, but that it was in good hands.
For the previous couple of months, Flex has been setting aside time on his Thursday night show to play unreleased music, a method of pushing back against the algorithmization of hip-hop. Local radio D.J.s were tastemakers once, but playlists are way more powerful now. Flex knew this, because he himself had fallen victim to them.
“I used to be going the straightforward route — Apple, Spotify Rap Caviar. I used to be picking my music through there for some time,” he told Jim Jones later that night. “I called you one morning like 7 a.m. It’s Thursday, things are being released and my phone ain’t ringing. No person’s asking me to play [expletive]. It bothered me — I ain’t hot? What I feel don’t [expletive] matter?”
Flex had to simply accept that he’d lost a bit little bit of his gusto over time. And so he recalibrated, digging in and in search of out music nobody had heard — songs that hadn’t yet hit streaming services (even when just just a few hours upfront of their official release), or more excitingly, old unreleased songs languishing on hard drives. “I’m getting loads of songs that had samples that didn’t clear,” Flex said. “I’m getting a song that didn’t make ‘Paid in Full,’” the classic 1987 album by Eric B. & Rakim.
As he was saying this, there was a lightweight commotion on the door as Roddy Ricch, on the town from Los Angeles to advertise his “Feed tha Streets III” album and the one non-Recent York rapper in attendance, got here by to record his freestyle for Flex’s YouTube series. When all three members of the Lox — Jadakiss, Styles P, Sheek — entered the studio after he laid down his verse, he melted only a bit: “They done put the pressure on,” Ricch said. “Real spitters within the constructing.”
After Ricch left, the new seats went to Jim Jones, in a lavender Moncler puffer jacket and a tangle of chains, topped off with one featuring a diamond portrait of the Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo, and Dyce Payso, certainly one of Jones’s protégés. After Dyce Payso rapped a verse, Jones caught a sense and murmured his way through some untested lines. “Everyone got here up here with bars,” he said sheepishly. “I’m just respiratory.”
Flex and Jones got to talking concerning the golden era of the Diplomats, when Flex was perhaps a tad late in playing their music on the radio. Cam’ron, the crew’s leader, brought him to West one hundred and fortieth and Lenox Avenue to see the potency of the movement firsthand. “Did I catch up fast?” Flex asked Jones. “Very fast,” Jones concurred.
Now, Recent York was beginning to feel familiar to Jones again. “Shout out to all my drillers on the market,” Jones said. “It’s feeling like ’02 once I step outside. It’s feeling just like the Tunnel.”
To Flex, Jones added, “You bought the town looking forward to Thursday again.”
Following the success of his Thursday night anti-algorithm sessions, this gathering was step one Flex was planning toward providing Recent York with a sturdier foundation. He described a plan to place out an old-fashioned mixtape — physical copies only — featuring unreleased songs and freestyles that aren’t otherwise available on the web or streaming services.
Just after midnight, he was discussing his upcoming club schedule while picking at a Tupperware container crammed with cucumber and cherry tomatoes. “Every three months, we gonna do a clubhouse session like this,” he said to Tat Wza, his longtime consigliere, who had been manning the boards all night.
B-Lovee had been there all night, mostly quiet, mostly listening. When he finally got up to depart, Flex told him to tug as much as the Recent York-centric Thanksgiving party he was hosting, featuring local royalty French Montana and Lil’ Kim, and in addition the drill stars Fivio Foreign and Ice Spice. “We gonna set a tone,” he assured him.