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

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

Young Hov: Jay-Z has written many songs name-checking his home borough.
Associated Press / Kevork Djansezian

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 mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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