The Ten Freestyle Rap Commandments

Eddie Soto
MC Elijah Black Freestyling at Legendary Cyphers
New York's hip-hop scene had plenty of surprises in 2014, the most unexpected was probably the return of freestyling. What was once considered a niche pastime or endangered art form has found new life through fans rediscovering the joys of both extemporaneous wordsmiths creating new works in front of their eyes, as well as established MCs rekindling their love of freestyling itself.

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The Real Story About Why Non-Phixion Broke Up, and Why They Reunited

DJ Eclipse
Non-Phixion in 2014
The night before Halloween, commonly referred to as Devil's Night, is known as an evening of mischief and tricks. But it was no trick at Best Buy Theater when a wholly unsuspecting New York hip-hop audience, there to see Cypress Hill, caught the most unlikely reunion in rap history.

It's official. Non-Phixion have reunited.

See also: Non Phixion: Diggin' in the Vault With the Underground Rap Heroes

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Was Chief Keef Too Gangster for Interscope?

Courtesy of Glory Boyz Entertainment
Chief Keef
America in the 21st century is one of the most economically polarized and heavily armed societies in history. As the top rises, it becomes harder to see the ground through the clouds.

Disconnected, nihilistic subcultures have developed in areas abandoned and forgotten by mainstream society. Such aberrant cultures used to exist only in isolated wildernesses: mountain men in north Georgia, the uncontacted tribes of Brazil.

But today, with the prevalence of guns and drugs, cities are wildernesses, too.

"These guys are from an entirely different world," says Peeda Pan, manager of the notorious Chief Keef (a/k/a Sosa a/k/a Keith Cozart), the most gangster gangsta rapper since the 1990s. At only 19, he's already been to jail twice and rehab twice, in part due to his penchant for Instagramming photos of himself posing with guns.

When a rival was murdered, Keef tweeted, "LMAO," prompting an uproar among more mainstream rappers like Lupe Fiasco, who threatened to retire because of it. Fiasco said, "Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but just the culture he represents."

See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time

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Revisiting Method Man and Redman's Failed Fox Sitcom, Method & Red

Method Man and Redman in Method & Red

While Method Man and Redman have consistently put on an acclaimed live hip-hop show for close to two decades, not everything they've done together has been as successful. This year marks a decade since their short-lived Fox sitcom, Method & Red.

Let's revisit the series.

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The Wu-Tang Clan Doesn't Care How MF'ers Feel Anymore

Photo by DeAnn Prinz
Masta Killa, guiding us around Wu-Tang's studio
Outside the 10th-floor window of Quad Studios in Midtown Manhattan, the neon and LEDs of M&M's World caught the eye as a brand-new Wu-Tang Clan album blasted through a tiny soundproof room packed with a who's-who of music writers, producers, and a chosen few rap fans.

"The second song was called 'Felt' because we don't give a fuck how motherfuckers feel anymore," Wu-Tang impresario the RZA said, about a quarter of a way through a listening party for A Better Tomorrow, the new album he produced for the seminal rap crew. That must be a good feeling, especially as you couldn't hear a fucking thing over the general din of internet friends catching up IRL. But that didn't matter to the RZA, who spoke to us over a mic from behind glass in the soundbooth. He heard only what he wanted to.

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The Story Behind Def Jam's Worst-Selling, and Most Misunderstood, Album Ever

Def Jam Records
Flatlinerz...Def Jam's Darkest Secret
Storied hip-hop label Def Jam Records has spent the month of October celebrating its 30th anniversary. While there's been much cheer for all the label's iconic and groundbreaking releases, one album's received nothing but scorn and ridicule ever since it hit store shelves two decades ago. Often the go-to punching bag for Def Jam flops, even with its 20th anniversary passing by, nobody is willing to give it and its legacy the time of day.

This is the story of Flatlinerz' USA (Under Satan's Authority).

See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time

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A History of Rappers Who Tried (and Failed) to Bring New York Back

Photo by Phillip Toledano
A$AP Rocky
Sometimes New Yorkers can come off a little self-conscious. We've got the stars, the scenes, and the go-to dreams of practically every American teenager in the world. But when it comes to hip-hop, it seems we really have a difficult time dealing with waning omnipresence and the steadily increasing mainstream attention paid to those non-Most Important Place in the Universe locales. Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, even the resurgence of Los Angeles -- it terrifies us, which is why we've seen an endless string of anonymous New York MCs held up as that foregone arbiter destined to "Bring New York Back."

That's the slogan. "Bring New York Back." It always struck us as strange, because it's not like the city hasn't produced interesting rap music over the last 10 years; all the same, it harkens to an era when New York hip-hop was the only hip-hop that mattered. You know, that same era when groups like OutKast and Goodie Mob were getting buried.

So with that in mind, we're going to chronologically track the people who were supposed to bring New York back. Maybe we'll learn something about unrealistic expectations in an increasingly diverse world.

See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time

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What Happens When Hip-Hop Semi-Stars Burn Out?

Paul Iannacchino Jr.
Adult Rappers director Paul Iannacchino Jr. speaks to J-Zone
With hip-hop being identified for over 40 years as a youth culture, it begs the question: Do rappers grow up? Do they grow old? Does being an MC have an age limit, or does making a career rocking the mic entail no limits? Director Paul Iannacchino Jr. explores this question through his debut documentary, Adult Rappers. Iannacchino has a bit of an inside knowledge on the subject -- longtime underground hip-hop fans may remember him as DJ/producer DJ paWl, one-third of Hangar 18 and the producer behind Mr. Lif's "Front On This" as well as tracks from Aesop Rock and Sadat X. We spoke to the director about the transition from the turntables to the director's chair and what makes an "Adult Rapper."

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XXL: In Loving Memory

XXL's "Greatest Day in Hip-Hop History" cover
Newsstands nationwide got a little less cool on Monday when news emerged that magazine XXL will be no more. The New York Post broke the story that Harris Publications, which has carried the hip-hop magazine for the entirety of its 17-year existence, sold all of XXL to Townsquare Media, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based media company that also acquired XXL spinoff King and Antenna in the purchase. As a result, XXL's print run has come to an immediate, abrupt end, with the current issues on newsstands being the final release.

See also: The 2014 XXL Freshmen: A Statistical Analysis

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Legendary Cyphers Bring Hip-Hop Back to Union Square Park

Eddie Soto
MC Elijah Black Freestyling at Legendary Cyphers
"Hip-hop was set out in the dark/ They used to do it out in the park" begins MC Shan's classic rap track "The Bridge." But while the almost 30-year-old track refers to rap's park days in the past tense, hip-hop in the park is more alive than ever thanks to Legendary Cyphers.

Started in August, 2013, Legendary Cyphers has quickly become one of New York's most beloved hip-hop institutions. Every Friday from 8 p.m. - Midnight, Union Square park comes alive with beats and rhymes as rappers take turns exchanging lyrics back-and-forth. With crowds typically reaching numbers in the hundreds, the free weekly all-ages event has drawn a mix of rap scene regulars as well as curious visitors who want to see what all the hip-hop hubbub is about.

We spoke to two of Legendary Cyphers co-founders, rapper/host Majesty and videographer Dayv "Mental" Cino about how Legendary Cyphers came to be.

See also: The 10 Best Male Rappers of All Time

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