Troy Ave holds money while bringing New York back.
When 2014’s XXL Freshman cover was released, the inclusion of Troy Ave in the increasingly-irrelevant tableau of industry plants, late-pass viral sensations, and regional heroes that the magazine begrudgingly placed on the cover was something of a foregone conclusion. Through savvy campaigning, relentless networking, and more than a little bullshit, the New York rapper has positioned himself as the next big thing in New York hip-hop. A placement on the main stage of Sunday’s Hot 97 Summer Jam concert only seems to confirm this.
Except, Troy Ave is not the next big thing in New York hip-hop. Not at all.
If you don’t know who he is, Troy Ave is a rapper from New York who would like you to know that he has sold drugs (in New York) and continues to put on for his city (which, again, is New York). His raps are po-faced retreads of gangster clichés and his beats sound like the Lox passed on them for being boring. He is the last remaining living human who thinks it’s a good idea to solicit Memphis Bleek for a guest verse. One of the members of his BSB crew is named Avon Blocksdale. He sounds like he really, really, really wants to be 50 Cent, to the point that both of his singles in Hot 97 rotation right now feature a member of G-Unit, and one of them, “Show Me Love,” is a literal rewrite of 50’s “In da Club.” 50 Cent has reacted to Troy Ave’s existence with bemusement, commenting, “I like the idea of Troy Ave… but in reality, he sounds a lot like me.”
If he is our city’s great rap hope, then we are fucked.
That is, unless you ask Troy Ave. In an interview with Vibe shortly after the release of his record New York City, he claimed, “I know that New York City: The Album is classic… It's album of the year, and that's not just my opinion, that's everybody's opinion,” later adding, that the only kings of New York rap have ever been, “Big, Jay Z, now Troy Ave here after.” (This is also the interview where he dismissed Kendrick Lamar as a “weirdo” by saying, “Kendrick Lamar wears shorts above his knees. I'm not trying to diss the nigga because I'm just speaking the facts,” which is hilarious on about 57 different levels.) In a segment filmed with professional sycophant Elliott Wilson, his statistics are reiterated—XXL cover. Summer Jam appearance. Ave explains his success by saying, “You’ve gotta be where you’re from and sound like where you’re from and represent that.” He’s so fixated upon the fact that he’s “bringing New York back” that he has no idea what actually that might possibly entail.
Troy Ave embraces his fellow rapper Rich Hil, the rapping son of Tommy Hilfiger, while bringing New York back.
When I met Troy Ave nearly two years ago, we spent an entire day together. I found him to be genial, savvy, and extremely ambitious. He casually pulled a gun out while we were riding around in his Jeep, the same Jeep that ended up showing up on the cover of New York City. He didn’t mention wanting to be the king of New York once, because he wasn’t interested in that. He wanted to pitch himself as something of New York’s answer to Jeezy, the rapper who sold drugs and rapped on the side. But following the release of his mixtape Bricks in my Backpack 3, nobody cared. So he changed his tune and started telling people he was the king of the city and bringing New York back, because people seemed to give a fuck about him whenever he told people he was the king of the city and bringing New York back. This leads me to a pro tip: If you’ve got to tell everyone you’re the king of something, you are probably not the king of that thing.
To say that Troy Ave is an opportunistic, out-of-touch bozo who does not actually represent the hopes, dreams, and realities of New York rap fans is to state the obvious. As sure as the sun shines and the clouds piss rain on our heads, there will always be a Troy Ave, the archetypal New York hardhead who makes New York rap in a way that shows fealty to the New York rap canon, all the while managing to have the ear of the streets. Because the vast majority of the rap press resides in New York, the Birthplace of Hip-Hop, they will pay attention to him, give him national press, and then scratch their heads when no one in any other part of America gives a shit. Troy Ave is nothing more than the next in a line of Mainos, Papooses, Uncle Murdas, Vados, and Saigons: sacrificial lambs who must fall flat on their faces and die in order to further prove that New York is not the center of the hip-hop universe.
Troy Ave takes a selfie while wearing a hat while bringing New York back.
However flat Troy Ave’s rhetoric might be, it does resonate with a certain section of the rap media, a set of stodgy conservatives who are to hip-hop as the Christian Right is to politics. Just like George W. Bush became the president by appealing to the base who are worried about the direction the country is going in, Troy Ave has preached taking hip-hop back to a simpler, more idyllic time when New York ruled hip-hop with an iron fist, dictating the direction the culture headed rather than constantly trying to play catch-up. This playing-to-the-base rhetoric has helped him gain traction amongst old heads who have had enough of weirdo rappers taking hip-hop in a direction that they neither care for nor understand. When Troy Ave fishes for brownie points by bitching about the fact that Kendrick Lamar wears his shorts above the knee, he’s essentially playing the same bullshit card as when some bozo in a garage rock band complains about dudes getting on the radio by using synths. He’s consistently earned positive press from MTV News, but the vast majority of the posts have been written by a writer named Rob Markman, whose twitter bio reveals that he and Ave have the same manager. Connections such as these help forge the illusion of Ave having a movement in the city, but they do little to actually help him gain traction in terms of convincing actual human beings with ears and brains (which rap journalists are not, generally) to listen to his music.
If you’re wondering why Troy Ave writes checks he continually is unable to cash, a cursory glance at his music reveals why. His music isn't actively shitty, it's just that all of his ideas are recycled; simply retreads of things that other, better New York rappers have done in the past. It’s not that New York rap has to constantly be innovating or else it can’t be done well; far from it. Look to the work of careful craftsmen such as J-Live, Cormega, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, or Meyhem Lauren, all of whom make great, classic-sounding records that work within the various paradigms of New York hip-hop without getting all preachy about it. The difference between those guys and Troy Ave, of course, is that while Troy Ave tells you what he’s going to do and does it poorly, those guys just do what they do, and do it well. Meanwhile, dudes like French Montana, Chinx, A$AP Rocky, and A$AP Ferg who are actually putting on for New York understand that the point of artists like Dipset and G-Unit was to represent for the city in new ways, regardless of whether it fit the mold of old-school boom-bap or not. This is why Coke Boys and A$AP Mob are interested in sounding unique and exploring new ground, and Troy Ave and his BSB crew are conservative, make subpar versions of old songs, and won’t shut the fuck up about how they’re from New York. Great rappers innovate, and shit rappers imitate. It seems that Troy Ave hasn’t figured that out yet.
Drew Millard doesn't wear shorts above the knee. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard