NYC being the birthplace of rap has made it the eternal crown jewel of the genre for better or worse. Countless words have been spilled trying to figure out who the next King of New York will be, a question that seems to lose relevance with every passing year. The internet fractured the city into a dozen different equally thriving scenes, and it’d seem just unnecessary to waste ink determining if Pop Smoke, ABoogie, or MIKE had the ‘best’ year last year. The only two traits these three men really have in common are that they hail from one of the five boroughs and all have a sound that place them a good deal outside the camp of “traditional NYC rap” which is the only thing people who make those kinds of arguments seem to care about. Funnily enough right across the river in the sixth borough, Hudson County, New Jersey, there are a bevy of rappers and producers making high quality music that scratches that stylistic itch better than anyone in NYC right now.
Hudson County rapper Pootie linked with producer Tab Jones for their Wen Ballace EP that dropped last week. It’s not hard to imagine why four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, who spent the better part of the early aughts swatting every shot within ten feet of the paint into the bleachers, would be an inspiration for anyone who grew up in that era, but the name goes a level deeper than that. After a particularly productive day in the studio one of the homies accidentally knocked half the lights off while Pootie and Tab were getting their things together. The ruckus ended up shining a light perfectly on the Ben Wallace jersey Pootie has hanging in his studio, like the glow around Mary at Fatima. The first letters were flipped and the tape name was set in stone.
Pootie definitely works best when he has the chance to link with one producer for an extended time so they can produce a cohesive vision together. It worked to great effect on his last tape P. which was produced fully by Roper Williams, and Pootie’s chemistry with Tab is damn near as good as his with Roper. Tab sets the pace with smooth samples and clean drums that remind me of 9th Wonder, whose work with Little Brother was at its apex the same time Ben Wallace was locking down a ring for the Pistons. The beats on the tape are layered, complex, and interesting without being busy and are like freshly zamboni’d ice, tailor made for Pootie to glide on. Pootie’s rapping here is relentless, often just spitting bars right thru the track leaving the chorus at home, and the music is better for it. He has qualities of Mos Def and Ghostface in his delivery and without a doubt has something that’d satisfy the stingiest of NYC traditionalists. Pootie keeps his New Jersey roots to the bitter end however, naming the closing track after the legendary Clifton, NJ hotdog place Rutt’s Hut. That track Rutt’s is a definite highlight where Pootie starts off strong rapping about getting buns in his high energy cadence, later handing the baton off to NYC rapper Lungs whose smooth subdued Roc Marciano flow carries it home. Middle track Dr. Strange whose beat sounds like the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 menu music is another highlight. Pootie starts strong before hitting the hypnotic refrain “Style versatile Dr. Strange with my magic” letting Elizabeth, NJ rapper Brainorchestra take the reins. Brain drops bars, talking about how he’ll “step in, smelling like a pound of the glue. I get money and take a boat sail to Peru,” showing how deep Jersey’s pool of great rappers on the come up is.
Wen Ballace is a fantastic tape from a rapper continuing to sharpen his skills. Tab’s production is silky smooth and the two are a natural stylistic pair. Here’s to hoping that we can soon enough get a Washeed Rallace sequel tape to properly celebrate the only man in NBA history to wear Air Force 1’s.