The place where we dwell: Top ’90s hip-hop songs about Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn has always been a fixture of hip-hop lyrics — from 1984’s “Do Or Die Bed Stuy” by Divine Sounds to 2009’s “Coney Island” by Marco Polo and Torae. With the “’90s Hip Hop and R&B Sing-Along” taking place at Park Slope’s Union Hall on March 28, we have picked out some of our favorite borough-centric tracks from the decade.

Jay-Z — “Where I’m From

Jay-Z lives in a multi-million-dollar apartment in Manhattan these days, but this 1997 track paid tribute to his childhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Marcy Houses. The lyrics cover drugs, violence, and prostitution, anchored by the hook, “Cough up a lung, where I’m from, Marcy son, ain’t nothing nice. Mentally been many places but I’m Brooklyn’s own.”

Ol’ Dirty Bastard — “Brooklyn Zoo

The late Ol’ Dirty Bastard was a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, growing up in Brooklyn with his cousins and fellow hip-hop crew members RZA and GZA. This song appeared on ODB’s first solo album in 1995. The track is mostly a tirade against an unnamed nemesis, but the chorus at the end of the song shows some love for his home borough — “Shame on you when you step through to, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Brooklyn Zoo!”

Mos Def — “Brooklyn

This native son performed in the group Black Star with Talib Kweli in the ’90s, but released this gem of a track on his first solo album in 1999. The song is a long love-letter to the borough that bred him, and include references to its Dutch roots, Fulton Mall, and many neighborhoods.

Notorious BIG — “Unbelievable

One of the kings of ’90s hip-hop, Notorious BIG naturally hails from Kings County. His 1994 album “Ready to Die” helped launch a coastal rap war, and includes many autobiographical songs about BIG’s upbringing. “Unbelievable” starts out with this — “Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the livest one. Representing BK to the fullest.”

Beastie Boys — “Hello Brooklyn

Okay, this song technically misses the ’90s mark — it came out in 1989. But we had to include a song from the Beasties following the 1980s borough anthem “No Sleep till Brooklyn.” “Hello Brooklyn” starts off with a reference to the Leonard Bernstein song “New York, New York” — “New York New York it’s a hell of a town. The Bronx is up and I’m Brooklyn down.” It ends with a nod to Johnny Cash — “I ride around town cause my ride is fly. I shot a man in Brooklyn just to watch him die.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

the boho from the school that's old says:
... all I touch turn to gold.
March 26, 2014, 12:52 am
diehipster from Camel Clutchin' Colbys says:
Hey Matthew Perlman you 90's R&B Hip hop expert you: I'm assuming you'll be at this “’90s Hip Hop and R&B Sing-Along taking place at Park Slope’s Union Hall on March 28"

Please, I beg you to shoot video of this hilarious event for the BP and post it here. I can't wait to see some red bearded, chunky glasses wearing Mason who just drove in from Utah in a U-Haul and moved into a brownstone his Daddy bought him with his Whole Foods cheerleading wife Prudence singing along to the one Biggie song they sort of know; constantly turning around and scanning the room to keep a count of how many black people entered for safety reasons.
March 26, 2014, 6:47 am
DJ Les-Boogie from Fort Greene on the scene says:
"Brooklyn Kids" Jemini the Gifted One
"The Place Where We Dwell" Gang Starr
March 26, 2014, 8:10 am
Oh Please says:
Diehipster likes to paint hipsters as closet racists but lives in south Brooklyn where there are no black people. That demographic border speaks for itself in terms of who the real racists are here. In general transplants make easy targets for muggers (most of whom are in fact black or hispanic according to CompStat) precisely because they aren't racist, or at least make a point of pretending not to be. Anyone who lives here for a while though ultimately figures out - as Chris Rock puts it - the difference between black people and Ns, and that a person who dresses and acts like a thug is sometimes a actual thug to be avoided. On that note, Biggie was a fake thug who actually grew up fairly comfortably and invented a ghetto victim persona to further his rap career.
March 26, 2014, 8:22 am
diehipster from Slappin' Soyboys says:
Oh please:

I seriously want to thank you for validating what I've said countless times here: that you recently arrived yup commentors have never set foot below Prospect park but have so much to say about South Brooklyn. YOU are the ignorant, smug, misinformed, racists. No black people in southern Brooklyn????? Ahahahahahahahah

Once again, I thank you for helping me.
March 26, 2014, 9:33 am
NYPD from NY says:
March 26, 2014, 10:08 am
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
Thirty years of Bohemian settlement in the Afro-Latin heartlands of real Brooklyn, and who's this cracker from Howard Beach? From the school that's OLD ... sugn ... all we touch turn to gold. Our forerunners in Williamsburg were themselves black - "Black Soho" they called it - the Afro-Bohemian painters and musicians of our own Zion. And Fort Greene, seat of the African intelligentsia in the 80s. The Chooch attended parties in a townhouse in Bed-Stuy that had enough Jean-Michel Basquuats in it to buy that townhouse a hundred times over at TODAY's prices. And it's true, of Bensonhurst and the great melatonin-deprived hinterlands of Brooklyn, we had no clue.
March 26, 2014, 10:13 am
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
I confess I've only been to Bensonhurst once in my life. It was so white the Chooch had to wear shades.
March 26, 2014, 10:26 am
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
The whole line of shyte about the harmony of black and white native Brooklyn is poppycock picked up second-hand on ebay in a hurry. It was the Bohemian invasion that hastened politically correct palaver in white Brooklyn. You get mooks in Canarsie today talking about how much they love their Hindu neighbors who moved in five years ago, and you can cut the hypocrisy with a knife it's so thick.
March 26, 2014, 10:42 am
Northside Ned from Greenpoin t says:
Are there even any notable rappers from South Brooklyn? I can't think of anyone south of Flatbush.
March 26, 2014, 10:51 am
The Chooch from the Skool that's old says:
It's not real Brooklyn down there, they don't run hard.
March 26, 2014, 11:50 am
JAZ from Hunting Redbeards says:
Chooch, your knowledge of Bensonhurst is quite impressive!
March 26, 2014, 12:20 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
Bensonhurst, where's that, Staten Island?
March 26, 2014, 2:56 pm
Francine Haydn from Canarsie says:

No Smif N Wessun? Heltah Skeltah or Sean Price? M.O.P.? Black Moon? Masta Ace? Jeru the Damaja (for starters)?

Joell Ortiz?

I appreciate your effort here, which implicitly-- and thankfully-- refutes the long-time cultural blinders (i.e. largely ignoring 350 years of Kings County black culture) of Brooklyn Paper but there's a deep, rich vein out there...

Hell, you can even add another white boy, El-P--
March 27, 2014, 1:19 am

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