50 Of The Best Rap Lyrics About New York City

By: 09.14.16

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It’s common knowledge that New York City is the point of origin for hip-hop. Though the genre has now spread far and wide, and many argue that some other regions have usurped the Big Apple as the lynchpin of the rap game, New York remains at the heart of many of the best rap songs in history. When you live there, it’s easy to take these neighborhood name drops or landmark call outs for granted. But maybe listening to rap references to Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn takes on a sheen of importance once you’ve left, or if you’ve never even been. Then again, it could be born and bred locals who understand these lyrical odes the best.

Whatever the case, we’ve collected fifty of the finest moments in rap history that the city has cropped up. Given it’s Nas’ birthday, it seemed a fitting day to drop the list, and given he’s one of the best rappers to ever emerge from the borough, he appears here several times. These are numbered for readability’s sake but not meant to be ranked as lists are always subjective and this is more a collection of favorites than a definitive list. So feel free to leave your own favorites in the comments below.

50. “I’m a New Yorkian / I’m fucked from the jump”

Song: “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”
Artist: El-P of Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels is a great example of a New Yorker, the legendary El-P, teaming up with someone beyond the Big Apple’s borders, Atlanta legend Killer Mike, to come up with a sound that supersedes city, region, or place itself. Still, even given RTJ’s universal appeal, where would we be without El-P’s wry recognition of all things bright and bullshit about his beloved home? This line encapsulates the spectrum of pride and exasperation that New York can elicit, depending on the day.—Caitlin White

49. “While I walk through the heart of the Hell and call it home / Shao’ borough Commando, style thorough”

Song: “Always N.Y.”
Artist: Buddah Bless/Mathematics/Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan
Buddah Bless may not be a household name, but despite relative obscurity, All For The Love Of The Gain features a final Mathematics-produced track with the Wu-Tang Clan in tow that deserves to have the dust brushed off it. Toward the end of the track Inspectah Deck quips the line about calling the heart of hell home, another tender and tough line that sums up New York’s eternal dualisms. Whenever I was walking home late at night, grumbling about garbage or subway lines that weren’t running, this line would pop into my head, and its begrudging brilliance is a balm in itself.—Caitlin White

48. “It’s type hard trying to survive in New York state / Can’t stop till I’m eating off a platinum plate”

Song: “Give Up The Goods”
Artist: Mobb Deep
The first time I delved into the subway tunnel, Prodigy’s words echoed through my head. The one thing the street hustler and the CEO have in common in NYC is you’re either predator or prey.—Marcus Shorter

47. “New York, New York big city of dreams / And everything in New York ain’t always what it seems / You might get fooled if you come from out of town / But I’m down by law and I’m from the Dogg Pound”

Song: “New York, New York”
Artist: Tha Dogg Pound
Snoop Dogg is so synonymous with the west coast now that it feels pretty weird to hear him rapping about New York. This song was interpreted as a diss track of New York, though Kurupt denies that narrative now. But keep in mind, when this song was released it sparked so much anger in the hearts of east coast rappers that they went and shot at Kurupt, Snoop and Dat N*gga Daz when they were filming the video. After that, it did become more of a diss. Snoop’s hook twists Grandmaster Flash’s original almost verbatim, before slipping in a Dogg Pound references at the end. History aside, for west coast expats living in Brooklyn, this line can work as an homage to both coast’s influence.—Caitlin White

46. “It’s the home of 9/11, the place of the lost towers / We still banging, we never lost power, tell em / Welcome to New York City, welcome to New York City / Y’all f*ckin with BK’s banger and Harlem’s own gangster”

Song: “Welcome to New York City”
Artist: Cam’ron featuring Jay Z and Juelz Santana
Lifelong New York resident El-P of Run the Jewels has tweeted multiple times about how “Welcome to New York City” helped him pull out of a post-9/11 funk. No one repped New York harder than Jay Z and Cam’Ron, so for them to come together on a blistering Just Blaze track was a huge deal. Juelz Santana’s hook tied it all together by announcing to the world New York was still standing tall.—Eddie Fu

45. “Claiming New York was ancient Babylon / Where the sky stayed the color of grey, like heron”

Song: “Knowledge God”
Artist: Raekwon
There’s a distinct color to the sky and feel of the air in New York City. Raekwon describing the sky as the “color of heron” is exactly what it looks like on certain nights. Especially those nights when the train is out of order and you have to troop several dozen blocks on foot. On nights like that, he sky seems like it’ll never be blue again. Oh and “heron” is slang for heroin… so there’s that.—Marcus Shorter

44. “I live in The Village wherever I go I walk to / I keep my friends around so I have someone to talk to”

Song: “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”
Artist: Beastie Boys
I’ve never lived in New York, but as I’ve gotten older and that dream has become more unappealing I’ve come to believe that it would be frightening, thrilling, hectic, and lonely. I think of New York and I think of one million things to do and one thousand relationships — everything moving super fast save for the few you’re lucky enough to hold tightest to. This lyric makes me think of how a few true friends might help to keep you from drowning in a city that might feel like it’s up to your neck and rising.—Jason Tabrys

43. “I’m from where beef is inevitable, summertime’s unforgettable boosters in abundance, buy a half-price sweater new”

Song: “Where I’m From”
Artist: Jay Z
This whole song could be cited really, and it’s hard to nail down just one bar that really encapsulates New York. But when Jay whittles the city down to beef, summertime and boosters with clothes half-off it feels both relatable, and an entirely unique experience all at once. You could get those three things in any city, but in the same city, and as just a small piece of a much larger puzzle? That’s New York.—Eddie Gonzalez

42. “Blacker than midnight on Broadway and Myrtle”

Song: “Mathematics”
Artist: Mos Def
Plenty of rappers will give lip service to the familiar and historical parts of New York that tourists visit every day, but it takes a local like Mos Def to shout out a particular corner in the middle-of-nowhere Brooklyn to make a point about his own identity. It’s dark on that corner, sure, but he’s rapping about the neighborhood composition as much as anything else. Nothing like an obscure reference of a throwaway corner to make you miss living within a microcosm of one of the busiest and brightest cities on earth.—Caitlin White

41. “Ain’t nothing nice in New York / Stick you for your cake and your icing that tough talk don’t mean nothing when you’re up North”

Song: “Buck 50”
Artist: Ghostface Killah featuring Method Man, Cappadonna and Redman
Method Man is the reason I fell in love with Hip Hop so anything he says in a rhyme is basically gospel to me. His descriptions of New York City streets are always witty and fun with an underlying sense of forbidden, much like the man himself. So when he says there are certain parts of the town you don’t want to be in because you’ll get stuck up, there’s plenty of truth to it. Of course you could say that about any city but it seems more truthful when it’s about the largest city in the country.—Marcus Shorter

40. “I got my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason / Then I ride the I.R.T. right up to Penn Station”

Song: “B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak Freak”
Artist: Beastie Boys
Mentioning Penn Station is certainly a very New York thing, but it’s the Beastie Boys’ affinity for the Knicks that really makes them stand apart. In addition to espousing the team as a whole, they also take the time to shout out specific players, be that Latrell Sprewell or Anthony Mason. Mason was a dyed in the wool New York baller, and a particularly fitting player to be mentioned by the Beastie Boys.—Chris Morgan

39. “I’m at the, gamblin spot, my hands on a knot / New York Yankee cap cover my eyes, stand in one spot”
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Song: “New York State Of Mind Pt II”
Artist: Nas
There aren’t too many MCs who embody the icy coolness of the New York persona like Nas. Even the wallflower posture he describes is a particular kind of aloofness that is prevalent in the city.— John Gotty

38. “Cause times is bad like luck, that’s why I don’t give a fuck / I dig up my nose and my butt on the bus / Or the train this is for n*ggas walking in the rain / Listening to they Walkman talking the New York fucking slang”

Song: “Graveyard Chamber”
Artist: Gravediggaz
Uber killed the thrill for visitors who wanted to ride the city’s subway system. As such we were all deprived of seeing sights like these, that is, of course, unless we go digging.—John Gotty

37. “Sometimes I feel like my only friend, is the city I live in, is beautiful Brooklyn”

Song: “Brooklyn”
Arist: Mos Def
The pride New Yorkers have for their city is only rivaled by one thing: the pride they have for their individual boroughs. For those who live outside The Big Apple, this polarizing loyalty to the different sections of New York may seem overstated. Yet for true blue New Yorkers, such as Mos Def who’s a proud Brooklynite, this rift couldn’t be more warranted. —Elisabeth Brier

36. “Like a momma you birthed me Brooklyn / you nursed me schooled me wit / Hard knocks better than Berkeley”

Song: “Hello Brooklyn 2.0”
Artist: Jay-Z
Though attending the school of Hard Knocks is a somewhat cliched narrative in mainstream music and rap specifically, living legend Jay-Z makes it sounds oh so sweet in “Hello Brooklyn 2.0”. The idiom is also apt in this case as Beyonce’s other half certainly did not attend Berkley, and as one of the world’s most well-paid rappers, evidently did not need to.—Elisabeth Brier

35. “There’s no place like home New York, New York / I run this city, I don’t dance around like Diddy”

Song: “N*ggas”
Artist: 50 Cent
While it’s unclear if this lyric is a malicious jab at Puff Daddy’s dancing proclivities, or simply a lighthearted reference to the Harlem native, regardless, 50 cent wants to let everyone know New York is his city. Though nearly all the big names in rap music hail from New York, 50 cent unabashedly takes ownership not just of us his own neighborhood of South Jamaica, but the city as a whole.—Elisabeth Brier

34. “Dwellin in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled / Or caught by the devil’s lasso, shit is a hassle”

Song: “The World Is Yours”
Artist: Nas
Nas is someone who is going to come up a lot on this list; he’s one of New York’s favorite sons. The whole jazzy feel of “The World Is Yours” brings rushes of what that Golden Era was all about. Rough rhymes about the gritty life of Gotham slip slide and ease off of Esco’s dome to lush production. It’s the standard for what east coast hip-hop can be.—Michael Depland

33. “I’m living in a city known as New York State / Sucker MCs gotta wait while I translate”

Song: “Criminal Minded”
Artist: Boogie Down Productions
One of the great things about New York being the birthplace of hip-hop is that there are so many different styles within the city itself. You can likely guess where a rapper is from based on his or her approach. KRS One, proudly from the Bronx, was one of the finest that any of the five boroughs had to offer. The way that he rhymed in Boogie Down Productions ushered the transition from rapping about how great you were to actually telling stories; his verses felt like chapters in a story rather than just back to back lines that correlate. When he says they need to translate, he meant it; they had to rewind decode his rhymes. And that was because he was from the lyrical capital of rap at the time.—Michael Depland

32. “Welcome to the melting pot, corners where we sellin’ rock. Afrika Bambaataa shit, home of the hip hop”

Song: “Empire State of Mind”
Artist: Jay-Z
I mean for a second I thought he was talking about growing up in sunny Portland, Maine like I did, but I don’t think he is. Different rocks are involved. Regardless, good rap lyrics paint a picture and I love the vividness of the picture created in this line by Hov.—Ryan O’Connell

31. Brownstones, water towers, trees, skyscrapers / Writers, prize fighters and Wall Street traders / We come together on the subway cars / Diversity unified, whoever you are”

Song: “An Open Letter To NYC”
Artist: Beastie Boys
As someone who is visiting NYC this week, this line couldn’t be ringing more true. It’s a city of millions of people from all over, everyone is in a rush, it’s loud, and it’s great. There’s no place else quite like New York, especially when you’re crammed onto a subway car with a bunch of strangers.—James Sullivan

30. “I’m from Queens, man / Ain’t shit to do but cook / I’m watchin’ Tony Bourdain / Plus I copped his book / Plus I copped his look / That means T-shirts and jeans / Catch me in my borough chasin’ breezers with cream”


Song: “El Shaneesh”
Artist: Das Racist
Das Racist were everything that New York likes to see in itself: cultured, sarcastic and whip-smart amalgams of the best that everywhere else has to offer. A first-gen American coopting an opening line from Virginia Beach’s finest and twisting it into a joke about getting drunk and watching food shows all while repping his neighborhood? I don’t think the tourism board could do it any better.—Alex Galbraith

29. “Hit Canal Street, vintage gold medallion / Smokin’ blunts in front of public housin’

Song: “Canal St.”
Artist: A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky is one of the unique few who have lived through both sides of the economic spectrum in New York. Canal Street, which runs across Manhattan Island atop the financial district, is home to both luxury jewelry makers and their bootleg counterparts — a vivid metaphor of the contrasting lifestyles within the city. Now a successful rapper in the highest tier of Manhattan’s celeb society, Rocky visits Canal Street to flex his wealth, not sell drugs.—Ryan Alfieri

28. “All I do is separate the game from the truth / Big bang boots from the Bronx to Bolivia / Gettin Physical like Olivia Newt”

Song: “Want That Old Thing Back”
Artist: Biggie
It’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off a reference to an Olivia Newton-John song, boots, and authenticity in the space of three lines. Biggie was Brooklyn at its finest — concise, wildly diverse and vibrant the whole way through. —Caitlin White

27. “Tell me if it matters that I sing it wrong / Another DJ yells “Lick the balls” / Another Brooklyn kite delivered in his crooked paws / I’d sooner wash my dick in acid than ask what you think”

Song: “Drones Over Bklyn”
Artist: El-P
I can’t really think of a more New York specific fuck you phrase than “I’d sooner wash my dick in acid.” Even those of us not currently in possession of said genitalia can only guffaw at the acerbic specificity of El-P at one of his finest middle finger MC moments. Oh, and he was ahead of the curve on this drone sh*t too, wasn’t he?—Caitlin White

26. “Last day on earth I tell my momma don’t cry/ I’ll see my daddy in paradise / Where the blind can see, the mute can talk, the crippled can walk /but for now Heaven’s in New York / Heavens in New York /First thing I’d do is go back in time take the twin towers, put it back in the skyline / Tell my girl two wrongs still don’t make a right”

Song: “Heaven’s In New York”
Artist: Wyclef Jean
On his 2007 album, Carnival Vol. 2: Memoirs of an Immigrant, Haitian-born Wyclef Jean profoundly and poetically addresses his immigrant experience, problems in his home country and what it’s like to be uprooted and join American life. In this Caribbean-infused track, he melodically speaks of peace, missing his family and embracing life to the fullest — even though New York’s not perfect, he’s determined to make it his own piece of paradise on earth.—Sarah Ravits

25. “I said Manhattan keep on making it, Brooklyn keep on taking it / So relax we’re taking it back, Red Hook where we’re living at (Honorable mention from the same song: Brooklyn, New York City, where they paint murals of Biggie)

Song: “Definition
Artist: Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli)
In my mind this is the quintessential New York rap song. Two of the city’s most successful, influential and introspective sons together at last to describe Brooklyn on their own terms. When I moved to New York, I moved straight to Red Hook, so that line always had personal significance to me that made it more meaningful to lip sync along to on those 2 AM walks home from the Smith and 9th stop.—Caitlin White

24. It’s New Jersey got hella bricks / It’s Queens, Brooklyn and yeah they’re wildin’ / The Bronx Harlem and Staten Island”

Song: “Beez In The Trap”
Artist: Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj is one of the greatest rappers alive, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t remember her roots. On one of her best-known songs to do date Minaj takes plenty of time to purr about her favorite New York boroughs. But even after that sweetness the sting is still lurking — I’m sh*ttin’ on your whole life she raps shortly after.—Caitlin White

23. Uh, one-two one-two guess who back again / Uh, Harlem in this-what? Yeezy let Manhattan in

Song: “Higher”
Artist: The Dream featuring Pusha T, Ma$e
Yes, I’m aware that no one ever listened to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer obsessively except me — well, and maybe Travis Scott given how his new album sounds — but since I have let me be the one to point out one of the best lines about New York on the tape. Sure, Ma$e might not be doing much work anymore, actually his verse kind of references that, but the Harlem rapper showed up on the G.O.O.D. music compilation briefly to deliver four simple words that tie Kanye and New York together forever: “Yeezy let Manhattan in.” Every time I hear that line I imagine the smirk it brought to Ye’s face when he heard it. He might be Chi-town till he does, but Kanye knows the importance of New York, and the importance of giving its idols the chance to shine late in their careers.—Caitlin White

22. “It’s crazy Joe Gallows, neighbors of Castellano / You won’t make it past the Verrazano / You move a key like a grand piano / ‘Cause we them Red Hook Black Sopranos”

Song: “Welcome To Red Hook”
Artist: T.H.U.G. Angelz
Red Hook doesn’t get enough credit in any world. Not in the rap world, not as one of the finest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and not as home to some of the most massive housing projects in the borough either. So Hell Razah and Shabazz made an anthem and an albm of the same name “Welcome To Red Hook Houses” that would sear the neighborhood in your mind forever: “GG last stop / N*gga welcome to hell.” Later, they shout out the closest subway stop — which is about a mile away from Red Hook proper — “F train Smith and 9th get off / Last cart,” and decry the rising rents (Let’s not even talk about where they’re at eight years later.) The best line, though, is Hell Razah’s smug prediction that shouts out the nearby bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island — “You Won’t make it past the Verrazano.”—Caitlin White

21. “Bed-Stuy fly, Bushwick sick / East New York walk the Brownsville grill, ill / You see, I got a Fort Greene lean / Clinton Hill chill, Red Hook look, man / Ain’t no shook hands in Brooklyn”

Song: “Brooklyn”
Artist: Fabolous
Impossible to make a list about New York rap without this song. An infectious beat, sick organ sample and guests like Jay Z and Uncle Murda cement it’s place as one of Brooklyn’s best anthems, especially when he starts going through the litany of neighborhoods and their corresponding descriptions. Judging people based off where they live in the city? That’s the Brooklyn way.—Caitlin White

20. “I made it so, you could say Marcy and it was all good / I ain’t no crossover I brought the suburbs to the hood”

Song: “Come And Get Me”
Artist: Jay Z
Jay Z was one of the first New York rappers to become a household name, a sanitized rap superstar that made his past seem like an obstacle to be overcome on the way to mogul. The old pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythology is alive and well in Jay Z’s world, and well, maybe the suburbs needed to hear some of these stories. One thing is for sure, all of New York feels like they can lay claim to Jay Z’s legacy — not just Marcy and Bedstuy — and that’s quite feat for a city that’s fiercely loyal to their own microcosms. —Caitlin White

19. “Since New York plates was ghetto yellow with broke blue writing”

Song: “Raid”
Artist: Madvillain
MF DOOM, one half of the Madvillain collaboration, has a way with words. He doesn’t just say he’s been around for a long time. He instead makes reference to a particularly ugly New York license plate that was made from 1973 until 1986. That’s why he’s the best.—Chris Morgan

18. “Transition to a Lamborghini from a Mustang / Drugs slang in the drug game with the hustling / (I know one thing) Anything is better than that 1 Train”

Song: “1Train”
Artist A$AP Rocky
Though this song is better known as possibly the greatest posse cut in a decade, the New York glow up angle is prominent in A$AP’s kickoff verse. He’s talking about upgrading to a better car — a luxury model at that — but still remembers his early subway struggles, too. And hell, he isn’t wrong about the 1 either — the whole red line in fact. I definitely won’t miss that tarin, even if I’m just trading out for a new city instead of a fancy Lamborghini.—Caitlin White

17. “It was the floss thang, for them niggas to thug walk thang / And for the chips, Reebokses and New York thang”

Song: “No One’s
Artist: Foxy Brown
We’d be remiss not to make sure Foxy Brown was included as one of the voices telling New York’s story in rap lyrics. On this smooth and sleek love song she shouts out her hometown, and lists the things that make her desirable, but maybe the best thing about this line is way she pronounces the plural of Reeboks. She probably has lyrics that address New York itself more directly, but this one feels and sounds the most New York. Foxy forever.—Caitlin White

16. “Everywhere I go, every nation know / I’m a New York dude that’s not New York rude / All over the world I eat New York food / Ha, I’m at home anywhere, any place / Right now somebody from New York in this place / Yeah, no matter where I be / I’ll always be N-Y-C”

Song: “New York”
Artist: KRS-One
One of New York’s most legendary early rappers wrote an ode to his home that more than adequately reflects the pride that locals have in their city’s diversity and ability to connect people across extremely disparate backgrounds. Later on in the track KRS-One gets into the problems that plague his city, and the world at large — “racism, sexism, crime / you all know” — but for now he’s celebrating the good things about the city he calls home. And the prevalence of practically every kind of food in the world is definitely one of them, good call.—Caitlin White

15. “To all my homies wildin’ out in the Brooklyn Zoo / Harlem to LES, the Bronx, Staten Island too / Rep your hood, rep your block, rep your whole crew / While I focus on my paper and do what I do / Cruise through your city, hoodie up over the Yankee blue”

Song: “Rem.”
Artist: Remy Banks
Reeling out a litany that hits all of New York’s boroughs is a long tradition, and Remy Banks is a rapper who cares about tradition. Building off the template, the Queens native shouts out his home at the top of the track and gives plenty of shine to the rest of the city later on. Speaking of tradition, for most oldheads that Brooklyn Zoo line probably brings ODB and the Brooklyn Zu to mind, but I like to interpret it more literally, and anytime I’d go past the zoo, smile as this line rang in my mind. I’m cruising through a different city now, but love song dedicated to New York stays on my playlist.—Caitlin White

14. “In the PJs my blend tapes plays bullets are strays / Young b*tches is grazed, each block is like a maze”

Song:“N.Y. State of Mind”
Artist: Nas
Anyone who’s ever lived in New York City can attest to the fact that it is a maze. Nas was speaking more about his own Queensbridge Houses but the sentiment translates to the entire city.—Marcus Shorter

13. “Got two shows tonight that’s Brooklyn and Dallas / Then a private party at the Buckingham palace”

Song: “I’m The Best”
Artist: Nicki Minaj
What’s a better flex than a three stop night that includes a literal castle? What’s more New York than traveling multiple time zones for work? Love Nicki, love her grind, love the way she flexes her grind. She’s a bossed up New York b*tch and no matter where she is, she never forgets it.—Caitlin White

12. “The Zanotti bandit / Layin’ in the cut like a bandage / Come through Fulton St. in a Vanquish / Doin’ dem damage / And if you don’t understand it / Then lemme give it to you in Spanish”

Song: “Lighters Up”
Artist: Lil Kim
Lil Kim is a legend straight up, and here she gets off a tongue-in-cheek joke by asserting that if her initial pass didn’t translate, she’ll deliver it again in another language. The way she centers minorities and calls out streets by name couldn’t be more New York.—Caitlin White

11. “And if you really think about it you know what it means / To be a female rapper from the heart of Queens / And see others dream about being supreme / But once on the scene we start killing kings”

Song: “I Desire”
Artist: Salt N Pepa
When Nicki rapped “you may be the king but watch the queen conquer” on her now infamous “Monster” verse, she was drawing on more than just a royalty pun. Not only was the line something of a fealty pledge to this king-killin line by her predecessors, it was also a callback to the borough that all of these women called home. Seriously though, is there something in the water up there? Whatever it is, we’re lucky that Queens raised up so many incredible female rappers whose lineage helped define New York’s sound.—Caitlin White

10. “Niggas wasted and painted and seen on the mural / (That’s Harlem) In this apple of mine is rhyme / Clap up your shines, pop shots that will crack up your minds / And cop rocks and cook that crack up to dimes / New York City, the capital of crime”

Song: “Built This City”
Artist: The Diplomats
Even if the nation at large is once again passing through a crisis concerning the existence of corrupt and racist cops, hip-hop has been on that tip for a minute. Only Cam and his crew could take the vapid, mindless sample of Jefferson Starship and use it to cut the heaviness of a song that confronts the toxic underbelly of New York head on. Maybe when it’s all said and done there’s still room to stuff some rap down into those cracks.—Caitlin White

9. “I always told the brothers, if I got a contract / When the money started flowin’, I’d be back / To do a jam, against all odds / Introducing rapper 1 from Farmers Boulevard”

Song: “Farmers Blvd.”
Artist: LL Cool J
There must be a certain strain of arrogant young kid who dreams of success mostly just so they can rub it in the face of those who they grew up with. No shots — I fall into this category beyond a shadow of a doubt. But whenever I listen to Mama Said Knock You Out and “Farmers Blvd. (Our Anthem)” comes on, I’m struck by the way LL Cool J wanted something different: He wanted to head back home so he could help out, make an anthem for his old stomping grounds. It may not be as popular or well-known as the album’s title track, but this desire to bring his old hood up always felt like a very New York urge to me. Given LL Cool J’s a towering figure in the ’80s and ’90s rap scene of the city, it’s fitting that he be slotted in this list via a hometown jam. —Caitlin White

8. “In the hood then the ladies saying “50 you hot” / They like me, I want them to love me like they love ‘Pac / But holla in New York them niggas’ll tell ya I’m loco / And the plan is to put the rap game in a choke hold”

Song: “In Da Club”
Artist: 50 Cent
I remember listening to this song at middle school dances in a perpetual state of awe. I couldn’t figure out how to find it again once I left the darkened cafeteria (I was still pre-Napster), but it wasn’t until much, much later when I’d actually moved to New York as an adult that I listened to Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ all the way through. This tiny historical reference always gives me a twinge, that 50 Cent wished he was beloved like Tupac, but knew his reputation for being crazy preceded him. For a while, he did have New York in a choke hold, so it’s worth including this brief mention in homage to his larger influence on the city.—Caitlin White

7. New York New York big city of dreams / But everything in New York ain’t always what it seem / You might get fooled if you come from out of town / But I’m down by law and I know my way around

Song: “New York New York”
Artist: Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five
Of course, this hook gets jacked by Tha Dogg Pound for their own tribute/diss song (jury’s still out) about the city, but that only makes the original even more resonate for tried and true New Yorkers. The line gets at the glitter and grit of the city before issuing a warning to newcomers and repping locals, AKA a perfect New York line.—Caitlin White

6. “Back in the days, they was sleeping on us / Brooklyn keep on taking it / Manhattan keep on making it / Trying to leave Queens out / But we was pulling them Beems out, them M3’s out / Pumping bringing them D’s out”

Song: “A Queens Story”
Artist: Nas
Healthy (or not so healthy) competition has always characterized the dialogue between rap stars from each borough, and on his 2012 comeback album of sorts Life Is Good (which I maintain holds up and is very underrated), Nas runs back through the trouble he had putting Queens on the map. Considering how many appearances he made on this list though, I’d say he succeeded in doing just that. The underdog narrative is always one that resonates with me, even if I never called Queens home myself.—Caitlin White

5. “Wherever I go my crew is true to swarm / got stripes in New York like Yankee uniforms”

Song: “C.R.E.A.M. Freestyle”
Artist: Notorious B.I.G.
Confession time: I couldn’t give a damn about New York City. No city on Earth doesn’t want you there more and, given that, it’s sense of its own importance grates more than any other place in the U.S. That’s doubly true for New Yawk rap (which I’ve taken on before). That being said, it did give us the greatest rapper to ever live and this line from his “C.R.E.A.M. Freestyle” makes a complex metaphor about his hometown and his status within it seem absolutely effortless.—Alex Galbraith

4. “I made the Yankee hat more famous then a Yankee can, you should know I bleed blue, but I ain’t a Crip though”

Song: “Empire State Of Mind”
Artist: Jay Z
A few other songs fall into the same category, but we should probably just make this entire song an entry here. “Empire State Of Mind” is Shawn Carter’s ode to the city that made him, and a boast rap about his own impact on the Big Apple. It’s also rallying cry for anyone who has found themselves by moving there, or you know, diehard Yankee fans worldwide.—Caitlin White

3. “I grew up on the crime side, The New York Times side / Staying alive was no jive”

Song: “C.R.E.A.M.”
Artist: Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan is the reason why I fell in love with rap music because 36 Chambers was so gritty and described a life I’d never live. With their cinematic Kung Fu samples and Mafia references, it was like listening to a movie. When I moved to New York for college, these lines by Raekwon took on new meaning. Obviously, I wasn’t hustling on Staten Island, but the city will chew you up and spit you out regardless of your walk of life.—Eddie Fu

2. ” I remember when we used to sit in the government yard in Brooklyn / Observing the crookedness as it mingled with the good people we meet”

Song: “No Woman, No Cry”
Artist: The Fugees
It feels superfluous to add anything at all to this opening line, because it seems to sum up the confusing, tangled corruption and brilliance of New York City without any further explanation. No other city on earth seemed to house the same depth of utter, shining goodness right alongside corruption so rancid it can only be described in moral terms as evil. The Fugees called it like they saw it, unabashedly challenging the government over a sweet melody and moving past the initial observation to turn the back end of this song into a refrain — everything is gonna be all right. Despite what we’ve seen, I choose to believe them.—Caitlin White

1. “And I’m far from cheap, I smoke skunk with my peeps all day / Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way”

Song: “Juicy”
Artist: Notorious B.I.G.
When you think of New York rhymers, you think of Biggie. He’s the ultimate ambassador to Brooklyn. And “Juicy,” by extension, is the welcome mat to the New York life and style. Unlike other more put upon anthems for the Big Apple *coughs “Empire State Of Mind” coughs*, “Juicy” has always and will always represent the true spirit and hustle of NYC. That you can come from nothing and make it big without forgetting who you are or where you’re from.—Michael Depland

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