Gentrification and Rap Within the L.E.S.
It’s around 1:30 pm on a Tuesday and I’m on a Skype call with 19-year-old New York City rapper Slicky Boy TF. The reception is horrible. They’re doing construction upstairs, in the house he and his moms are about to get kicked out of.
“I mean, bro, they gentrified my neighborhood, it’s not special anymore,” he says. “That’s what my next song’s going to be about.”
With three SoundCloud songs to his name, Slicky Boy is a half-Ecuadorian, half-Puerto Rican 100-percent New Yorker who loves his neighborhood on 7th Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue like it was his own flesh and blood.
Coming from a broken home, he found a sense of community in the local skatepark, Tompkins Square Park, and as a young homie spent every waking hour there hanging out and ripping around like a character out of Kids.
“I know Kids. That’s my life right there. I relate to that movie so much.”
Tompkins Square Park is where he earned his nickname, “Slicky Boy TF,” after some bloggers from New York skating website Quartersnacks made fun of him. “They would put me next to a bum and be like, ‘Yo, you gonna be like this dude when you get older.’ I felt like I had to prove something to them, and a lot of people,” he says. “A lot of people got the wrong idea of me,” says Slicky. “I dropped out of high school [New Design]. I don’t like school. That’s why people judge me a lot.”
Although skateboarding occupied most of his time before a knee injury took him out, Slicky says he spit his first rap at a show-and-tell event at a local coffee shop when he was just eight years old.
“I was rapping about math,” says Slicky. “And the hook was like, ‘I love mathematic ...mathematics. It made me feel great, man, it made me feel important.” After he left Earth School on E. 6th Street and Avenue B, where he first connected with producer ManDaughter, Slicky became more and more detached from what was going on at his high school. He copped a USB mic and spent countless hours refining his craft on GarageBand until he was satisfied with how he sounded. He started hanging out with other Tompkins regulars, including a lot of time around another local rapper, Wavy Oceans, whom Slicky credits as his earliest influence, and fellow artist Black Dave, as well as friends Shawn Powers and Eli Reed. Black Dave, having just blown up in the city “out of nowhere”, inspired Slicky to go harder, which he did.
Slicky was sitting in the lunch room one day, as he puts it, feeling “over school and everything,” when he put pen to pad and wrote what we now know as “Within the L.E.S.”, a song that celebrates New York City, in particular the Lower East Side, for everything that it is, good and bad, over a soulful beat by ManDaughter. “Think about it,” says Slicky. “If you write about it the negative turns into positive, boom... I’ve learned how to use my surroundings as a tool to get where I need to be. So everybody that betrayed me, everybody who disrespect me, I thank them.”
He’s now moved into a quieter location in the house about to be vacated. Slicky admits to me he hasn’t been writing much lately because he needs to make money. He’s broke, and last week he got hired and fired from a job as a delivery boy. He hacks into the laptop’s built-in mic, and agrees when I say there’s so many talented people out there.
“What’s going to differentiate you?” I ask. He pauses, thinking about it. “That’s a hard question,” he says. “My attitude. If I want something I won’t stop until I get it. I got that hustler’s ambition.” He compares it to skateboarding: “You can do a heelflip and back heelflip the whole time and look good and people will be like, ‘Man, that’s a sick trick,’ but you do it over and over people are going to get tired of it and you’re going to need new tricks.”