The current New York City hip-hop scene is defined by two brands of rap: the mainstream, street-tinged sing-rap, à la Lil Tjay, Lil Tecca and Smooky MarGielaa; and the underground and esoteric experimental rap from artists like Mach-Hommy, Tha God Fahim, MIKE and Medhane. However, there exists a space between the mainstream and the underground — a sweet spot, so to speak — that must be filled. With the release of their first album, Escape from New York, Beast Coast attempts to bridge the gap between the headier underground and the more outgoing mainstream.
The absolutely gargantuan Beast Coast collective is comprised of Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era and The Underachievers. Each individual group made their name in the early 2010s by crafting their own version of the renowned New York rap and collaborating with one another. The groups clearly had bars and the requisite New York sensibility, but that could only get them so far. As a result, the groups chose to modernize New York rap by updating the beats from boom-bap to something entirely new, rapping about esoteric and occult themes like conspiracy theories and indigo children and presenting themselves as intellectuals beyond just slick-talking tough guys.
Escape from New York should have been recorded and released five or six years ago, when each group was at their peak. However, it’s better late than never. The album is a collection of posse cuts similar to Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers, each song a different combination of the group’s 10 members. Also like Wu-Tang Clan, the most charismatic and versatile members are featured more frequently than the more subdued and lowkey ones; Meechy Darko, the gravel-voiced frontman of Flatbush Zombies, is featured 11 times, while Pro Era’s CJ Fly is only featured three times. Perhaps this is for the best, though. CJ Fly and Meechy Darko both made the best of their appearances and showcased exactly why they are in Beast Coast, despite CJ having limited exposure.
The album’s second track, “Left Hand,” is a culmination of all the hype Beast Coast has built over the past handful of years. All nine of the group’s rapping members bring their A-game for what might be the best posse cut of the past few years. “Left Hand” is something of an ode to the New York rap scene’s affinity for ruthless shit-talking. Repeated references to the left hand signifies disrespect for anyone who is not with Beast Coast’s movement. Meechy Darko, arguably one of the group’s strongest rappers, serves on hook duty, freeing each member to talk their shit and show off a little bit without the threat of being blown out of the water by Meech.
Because of this compromise between the members, the song works beautifully. Each member displays insane chemistry with one another, and they truly seem like they’re having fun; it’s refreshing to say the least. The song perfectly bridges the gap between New York’s mainstream and underground, and is already racking up impressive streaming numbers.
Despite the impressive tone that “Left Hand” set, much of the album fails to live up to its high expectations. The members more often rap about how good they are at rapping than actually demonstrating how good they really are. On “Rubberband,” Joey Bada$$ raps, “Uh, they say I’m criminally underrated / Top five? Nah, more like the fuckin’ greatest,” and his entire verse follows this route. It’s a shame — Joey may be a great rapper, but on Escape from New York, all he does is claim greatness, never proving it.
Tragically, many of the members follow this same trend and are often far too focused on chorus melodies and too distanced from the grimy bars that used to define them. For a group known individually for their lyrical depth and dexterity, most songs consist mainly of smack talk and boasts, rarely delving into topics deeper than their lyrical prowess and criminal endeavors.
Escape from New York is by no means a bad album, and it has some immensely entertaining songs, like the Caribbean-inflected “Snow in the Stadium” and the triumphant “Last Choir.” However, it feels like a preemptive victory lap for a collective that has yet to prove itself. Beast Coast shows they may someday bridge the gap between the mainstream and the underground, but Escape from New York leans far too close to the mainstream to effectively connect the two ends of the New York rap spectrum.