Gang Starr, by Chi Modu

New York City

Most would say “…visiting is more than enough, but living wouldn’t be the vibe,” or something to that effect. It takes a certain type of person to extract the city’s beauty. New York City is authentic, for better or for worse. Dirty, rough around the edges, and seemingly stuck in a time capsule at times. 

The true beauty doesn’t exist in the large skyscrapers which make the Manhattan skyline we all have seen on postcards shot from Weehawken across the river, nor countless tourist traps. It exists within the personality of the city—an unfiltered personality, fueled by cultural diversity seen nowhere else.

Look Around; Enjoy It

Juxtaposition feeds identity.

It’s hard to explain, but there’s something moving about seeing such a high level of human luxury coexist with life on the margins. Whether it’s moving in a good or bad way, that’s dependent on the person.

Embedded within the city’s fabric are such threads of global influence and inspiration, creating quite literally a melting pot of both creativity and inspiration. 

Extrapolation of this unique beauty, which comes in multiple layers, isn’t something that has to be forced, nor should it feel so. It’s a journey for those wanting to explore what makes the city special in its own right. The good, bad, and ugly.

Hip-Hop Like Nowhere Else

It’s a culture and lifestyle which spans globally with ease, penetrating even the most remote nooks and crannies of the world. Hip-hop has managed to stick around and dominate any other genre of music, despite naysayers doubting its potential in its infancy. 

New York City is hip-hop’s mother. Although it can be argued that true roots of hip-hop originated in Trenchtown, Jamaica, then migrated into the United States through immigrants, the widely-accepted view is that Bronx is the birthplace.

The city’s documentation of hip-hop, peaking in the 90’s courtesy of Chi Modu, plays a large part in the culture’s authenticity and strength. It’s a very important and far-reaching part of black culture in New York City, and on a larger scale, within United States. Art that withstood the test of time, and possesses messages as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. Uncensored.

Many hip-hop fans were too young to remember anything from hip-hop in NYC during the 90’s. One conduit that can provide ample amounts of information and knowledge is photography; a lens into a time gone by. Both invaluable and influential. Collectively, an artifact of time.

Imagery provoked thought and caused people to question the “how” and “why” of society at that time; arguably the most powerful commentary, albeit silent, of culture in that era. The pictures were able to show happening live and direct; words sometimes came up short, only able to convey descriptions of those happenings. It was something you had to see. The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” cliché was very much true, all too often.

I met up with Chi while in the city. The OG.

What I captured was real. 

His work showed how life operated in the gutter, on the margins of the city, within this burgeoning phenomenon that was called “hip-hop”; genuine snapshots of life in a realm unbeknownst to most. There was no PR agents to call back then for photo shoots; it was 100% through friends, family, or affiliates. A different breed of exploration and diving into hip-hop.

Vibes run throughout the city everywhere you go; from the bodegas on street corners, to people carrying boomboxes in the park or blasting systems in parked vendor trucks, it’s palpable like nowhere else on earth. Deep-seated within the city’s personality over three decades, it pulsates constantly through the streets.

This was a nice change; in Seoul, there’s a love for hip-hop but it feels masked. Being a country that’s extremely homogeneous, it often feels like takes and opinions on hip-hop are second-hand or copypasted. 

Actually walking down the streets and walking by the locations mentioned in some of the most popular hip-hop songs of all-time is a cool experience. You don’t feel any sort of rush or goosebumps when doing so, but to entertain the thought of someone two decades removed standing in the same tracks at one point is cool.

Tips For Travelers

I feel like the guides posted online about tourism in NYC are just cookie cutter type pieces that don’t really offer any value. Here are some to-the-point tips that would’ve helped me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concrete Jungle

It takes a different kind of soul to see the beauty in all of that dirty concrete.

Those towering skyscrapers that light up like light bulbs at night against the pitch black sky. The strange characters you pass by on the street, be street performers, beggars, or anything in between.

The metro stations that look like they were originally built as catacombs, the buses that look like they’re straight out of the 70’s, the swipe-not-scan system Metro Card still employs.

That smell, which most say is piss, of the sewage seeping out from the manhole covers, steaming next to crosswalks that lead into construction-laden sidewalks; construction to make the skyline higher each and every year.

People bickering at each other over non-issues.

Sirens acting as the city’s soundtrack.

No filter; shameless.

That’s New York City.

New York City