I said Manhattan keep on making it, Brooklyn keep on taking it.
– Boogie Down Productions, “The Bridge is Over“
When it comes to Hip-Hop, traditionally, New York City has had this on lock. While many states and cities can boast all types of stars hailing from their respective areas, no place has them all piled up like NYC. Now, that may be due to it’s size, as they are spread across five boroughs: Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan, but facts are still facts, B. All have their designated torch bearers. Queens boasts Mobb Deep & Nas, the Bronx claims KRS-One, Staten has Wu-Tang and Brooklyn has… well everybody. Manhattan, on the other hand, is home to probably the flyest rappers to come out of NYC. Cultural icons like Cam’Ron & Mase call Harlem their home, while the late Big L is considered to be one of the finest lyracists of all time, despite having only one album released at the time of his death. Even now, A$AP Rocky, Ferg and their crew have revitilized the whole Uptown scene, while Bodega Bamz has his TanBoys crew at the center of a Hispanic Hip-Hop revolution in the Spanish Harlem area. But that’s Uptown. What about those who live downtown? Who is their hometown hero? If Chelsea native YL has anything to say about it, he’ll be that guy, & judging by his debut project, Open 24, that time may come sooner than later.
I first came across Y while browsing Instagram and killing time. Being a longtime Pro Era fan – okay I was a “Stan” at one point, f*ck it – I follow a few different, Beast Coast related pages, one of which often posted new, similar music from the NY area. Passing by their post on my feed, I quickly stopped and watched the accompanied clip. What drew my attention was the melancholy vibe of the not only the track, but the video. YL’s icey and almost lazy demeanor meshed chillingly with the snowy visuals that came along with it. I was hooked. This video was, “Side Effect” a lowkey, yet lyrically dense song that served as the first single for his upcoming project. When the project, Open 24 came out just a few days later, I immediately tapped in. At first listen, the tape sounds like it was found in a Nas, illmatic lunchbox-time-capsule from the mid-90’s. YL’s silky smooth cadence and old-soul lyrics are accompanied by Roper William’s dusty, yet polished production that would make even the late J. Dilla wince his face. Throughout the 13-track tape, Y bares all and spares nothing. Pieces like, “Dwele Song” highlight his intricate wordplay and ability to keep on topic. During the track, Y tells a familiar story of a young man realizing his successes but missing how it’s affecting those around him, especially his woman. It’s the kind of track that hits you emotionally when you really listen to the lyrics, but on the surface seems like the perfect chill song. Among all of YL’s many qualities, I believe the ability to feed the backpackers while also sounding melodical enough to grab mainstream listeners will be what propels Y to reaching a bigger audience.
But then again, this is Hip-Hop, and melodic or not, you have to spit, and that’s what YL is best at. Despite “Dwele Song” being a personal favorite, the tracks that highlight who YL is as an artist have to be, “2 Doors Down”, an ode to being the worst – or best, depending on your perspective – neighbor in the world, and “Cinnamon”, a scathing tell all that showcases YL in his most comfortable zone; effortlessly ripping off lines one after another to the tune of a looped sample that sounds like it was from the goonies. It’s raw, it’s fresh and it’s something that’s missing in Hip-Hop right now.
When speaking on the 20-year-old, it’s also what his manager, Waqas Ghani, aka “GIANI“, says attracted him to the young emcee:
“The talent and ambition. He has his own style and vision, and despite what’s “hot” now, he stays true to the art he wants to showcase, you know? I played his tracks for a few artists I know in the industry, and they all fucked with the sound and cosigned him. So, I know it’s the right thing to do.”
Speaking more on YL, GIANI continued:
“This dude is a workaholic — always doing something music related. If he’s not creating his own beats, he’s either recording or making mixes for others. Usually it’s as simple as letting the beat play out, and writing to it for about 20 minutes. Smoke one up, lay down the verse then listen to it over and over. Sit on it for a day or so, then add the finishing touches. Then repeat the process all over again for the next track.”
With that being said, if you still aren’t convinced that the Chelsea native is a force to be reckoned with, check out our interview with him below where we talk about his begginings as an artist, connecting with Pro Era and more.
RESPECT. Magazine: Where are you from, exactly?
YL: Born & raised in Chelsea NYC. Shouts to 8th Ave.
RESPECT.: What made you fall in love with music?
YL: I really can’t say it was one artist or a specific moment, it’s just one of those things that’s always been around. I guess I could blame my love for music on the car rides I had with my father and grandparents growing up. Just listening to the radio.
RESPECT.: What made you fall in love with Hip-Hop?
YL: Hip hop specifically was something I got into really early in my life. I grew up in the era of music video countdowns (MTV, VH1, BET) and the beginning of Limewire. I have an older brother and we would watch those shows religiously and were just fascinated by the all the different characters and sounds. My brother definitely put me on to a lot of classic material while I was still super young, which looking back is sort of crazy. I was like 11-12 listening to illmatic and Ready To Die. We would even make our own compilation mixtapes on blank CDs with songs we were fuckin with at the moment.
RESPECT.: Your style is very nostalgic, and has a “Golden Era” feel to it. Who are some of your biggest inpirations?
YL: Definitely cats like Nas, Ghost, AZ, MF Doom, Raekwon. I could really go on and on, but I’m a lyrics guy, and I just like listening to really good raps. I like listening to shit that makes me wanna write. Of course i draw inspiration from other sources too like great film, photos, life experiences blah blah. I started making music in my senior year of high school. One of closest homies, Rob, had read some “poetry” I wrote in my iPhone notes and he called me the same night and made me recite it over the phone to him and my man Mid. Obviously it was wack but after the phone call he just told me to keep writing and he would send me like Flying Lotus and Black Milk beat tapes. I would record everything I wrote at Mid’s crib in Astoria. Those are my earliest memories recording music. Crazy.
RESPECT.: What’s one time you wanted to quit, but kept going? What kept pushing you?
YL: I don’t know. I get that feeling every so often. You know you see someone else success and wonder what they’re doing that you’re not. I think it’s better to answer those questions and use that information than to hate for no reason. I just remind myself that I’m trying to do something that’s different from whats popular right now. Everyones come up is unique.
RESPECT.: What type of career are you looking to have? Are you looking to be a superstar and make as much money as possible, or is artistic immortality more or less something you’re looking to obtain?
YL: Above all, I just want a long career. I’m absolutely in it for the love first but I need my paper too. As long as I feel like I’m contributing to the culture and not sacrificing my artistic integrity, I’m happy.
He kind of just woke me up with a call one morning like “Yo I’m bringing Dirty over to your crib wake up.”
RESPECT.: If not rap, what would you be doing?
YL: Damn. I can’t even call it because I still live a very regular life in my eyes. Probably finish my last 2 years of college and figure out the rest there. I never really think about it to be honest.
RESPECT.: What’s your take on the current state of Hip-Hop?
YL: I think there’s a lot of good talent in the game right now. Some getting more shine than others but if you look for it you’ll find it. If I have to critique I would just want to see less biting. Being inspired is cool but I don’t understand how you can deadass mimic the same shit someone else does, put it out and feel comfortable with it. Thats corny.
RESPECT.: Talk about growing up in NYC. How is it different, inspiration wise, from somebody who grew up down south or out west?
YL: I can’t give a fair comparison to south or west because I didn’t grow up there but from my experience as a New Yorker, I feel like you just see a lot very fast and very early. And I’m not even talking necessarily bad things, I just mean diversity. Everyones neighborhood is different. You could have like 2 friends and 1 lives in Harlem and the other lives in Soho, you already get to see 2 sides of life. The fact that it’s so easy to get around in NY I feel plays a role in why its so easy to have so many unique experiences and people.
RESPECT.: How did you connect with Roper Williams?
YL: I’ve known them boys for a while. One of them went to high school with me and thats how we connected initially. Around the time I had just started hearing their beats, and I just started to record, so some of my very first tracks were on Roper Williams beats. After I graduated high school I kept in touch and they would still send me beats and I would go to Jersey and check them. About 3 years ago we just decided we need to do a project together and thats how Open 24 came about.
RESPECT.: At what point did you realize, “Hey, maybe I can make a living off of this?”
YL: That’s tough. Ever since I started making music I always felt like it was for me and that I really could do it, but I’d say after I clicked up with GIANI I started to see some new results with my music and the people I was meeting.
RESPECT.: Speaking of GIANI, Talk about connecting with him. How did that happen?
YL: I’ve actually known GIANI since I was in grade school but he’s a little older than me so we never really chilled like that growing up. As I got older we got cooler with one another and he used to sell me weed low key. He would offer me advice on what do with my music and how to move forward but maybe about 2 years ago I made him my manager officially. We been moving ever since.
Being inspired is cool but I don’t understand how you can deadass mimic the same shit someone else does, put it out and feel comfortable with it. Thats corny.
RESPECT.: Were you a Pro Era fan before working with Dirty Sanchez? How did that collaboration come about?
YL: Yea I was already aware of them and was bumping their stuff before I actually met Dirty. That really came about through GIANI. He kind of just woke me up with a call one morning like “Yo I’m bringing Dirty over to your crib wake up.” We actually made “Tres.Passing” that same day. From there we just stayed cool.
RESPECT.: What’s your take on the current state of affairs in America?
YL: I can’t even front like I’m super on top of all the politics that go on like that. I think were living through some very interesting times that hopefully end in a positive outcome.
Check out, Open 24, here and stop sleeping on The Kid.