Driving back across the I95 towards the GW Bridge after a short trip to Philly last night and getting eager to get home, I switched from my own playlist over to Funk Flex’s radio show on Hot 97 just to hear Flex going absolutely bezerk (in typical Funkmaster Flex fashion) over this new cut ‘Up in Harlem’ by Miss Hustle featuring Vado and Neek Bucks. “This what my city sound like!” “This what Harlem sound like!” screamed Flex over and over again. I started getting equally hyped and driving faster, becuase playing Flex at max volume after you’ve been driving for a few hours, as he starts going wild, tends to do that to you. At first I thought he was just playing the ‘Up in Harlem’ sound bite from XYZ or I was hoping Jim Jones’ and Max B’s ‘Up in Harlem’ from Jim Jones’ ‘American Gangster’ mixtape from about 10 years ago but I thought this would be unlikely just given how old and obscure the track was. Awesome, but unlikely. To my pleasant surprise, it was a brand new song using the same sample, by a female artist I had never heard before called Ms. Hustle, featuring Vado and Neek Bucks, and they actually killed it.
The sample is from a 1977 hit called ‘Native New Yorker’ by the soul/disco/dance band Oddyssey. Jim Jones and Max B first used it for their own ‘Up in Harlem’ about ten years ago on a track that is one of my favorite Jim Jones songs of all time (if not THE favorite) and may get its own post in the next couple of days, with shimmering production and a great verse by Max B (obviously before their falling out).
But the three artists on this track definitely make it their own and make it a memorable and welcome addition to the Harlem iconography in its own right. Vado pays homage to Harlem and NYC legends like Big L, McGruff, Ma$e and of course Killa Cam in his verse and I love his line ‘Ski rack on the Range, the inside champagne”, and raps the chorus “Where A and Rich got rich at, blocks and strip packs to get crack, grams sold we did that, parades we went strapped… the known mecca forever proud, where you won’t see Kevin Liles but Kevin Chiles, where you was blessed to meet Big L, party with Hud 6, Von Zip”. The ‘parades we went strapped’ line goes perfectly with the sample for the chorus and perfectly captures the rags to riches, 90s-nostalgic uptown vibe of the song. The chorus is rich with references and tributes, to deceased Harlem rappers Big L and Huddy 6 who tragically died before their time, to larger than life neighborhood legend Eric Von Zip, and implying that you’re more likely to see former drug lord Kevin Chiles around than record executive Kevin Liles.
Ms. Hustle keeps it real with a gritty and hard-nosed verse that also captures the vibe of the neighborhood rapping ‘Right up the block from the A Train, outside the Chinese store, go f*ck with Mai Ling, we sell that China White I call it Beijing,’ and ‘Can’t forget the homies up in Polo… all my niggas real they still say ‘no homo’, we shop uptown and get garments from Soho’.
Neek Bucks comes out swinging for his verse rapping ‘All these diamonds can’t see the time tick, laces off the Louie’s ’cause Harlem niggas don’t tie sh*t, ‘jects baby I was born broke Ima die rich, Cuban off of the Coogi I feel like Biggie in nine six.’ Later in the verse, I can’t quite tell what he’s rhyming it with but I also like when he says ‘Get a deal, bail out all my niggas when the advance comes, every time they said I was broke I put a band up, I’m just trying to make a million off a Samsung’.
All in all, this collaboration was a great way to bring new life to a classic beat/sample, pay homage to a ton of colorful and larger than life figures in Harlem and NYC history, and showcased the skills of three newer artists from the area. It was a really fun song that gets you hyped up feel good to be in NYC, especially with Funk Flex playing the best parts over and over again and yelling about them in typical Flex fashion, and I hope that it stays in the rotation on New York radio like it deserves to!