Interview: The Realest Young MCs in New York According to Remy Banks

We first got a taste of what Queens emcee Remy Banks had in store with higher., his first solo project, at the album listening session held in New York’s Lower East Side. At an underground bar packed with not just fans but friends and family, Remy basked in the glory from behind the DJ booth, flashing a familiar smile.

While higher. tells one side of the story, we were able to speak to Remy to get a better understanding of the significance of the role that hip-hop has played in his life, what this album means to and for him, and who he thinks also adds to NYC‘s storied hip-hop legacy.

On higher.:
At first it was called “Higher Learning” and as we progressed I realized I was done learning. Not in total, but for this chapter I was done learning and kept it as higher. I was travelling a lot, and it’s kind of like a diary of what was happening during that time in my life. It sounds like New York.

I was born and raised in New York. I wouldn’t be nowhere without where I came from. It taught me how to move, how to watch people, how to read people, how to talk to people. I learned all of that from where I grew up.

On the culture, the background, the history of New York:
Queens is the melting pot. It’s the most diverse county in the galaxy. I have so many different friends with different ethnicities. I was raised differently than a lot of people. I had Asian friends, Middle Eastern friends. I would go to their houses and adjust to their parents’ rules. Some people don’t like shoes in their home, so shoes get left at the front door. Some people’s parents made sure we had dinner at 7 pm sharp. All the different stuff, the different tools that you learn growing up through your friends. And I have all these crazy friends. It teaches you how to respect people’s beliefs, faiths, everything.”

On New York hip-hop growing up:
When I grew up, Nas and Jay Z were getting their starts. They were very local. They were in the streets just like how we’re in the streets. You can catch us at Beloved, any random restaurant. That’s how it was back then. I could be anywhere and catch Nas walking down the street. I could be in Brooklyn with my stepfather and catch Jay Z driving past Tom Dick and Harry. We were watching these stars now on their comeup. It was so deep-rooted, it was so close. That’s why I feel like people bonded with music more: because it was in the streets. People were talking to each other instead of reading emails or a blog post.

On being connected via the Internet:
I went to London for the first time in 2011 just to go. The love off rip out there, just talking to people after you tell them you make music. They look you up and find you two days later and tell you they checked you out, and respect what you’re doing. It shows me that there’s more than what there is outside of New York, and it pushes me to get better and to cater to them as well.

On the five people who represent what New York hip-hop really is, according to a New Yorker:

Flatbush Zombies
Zombies are from Brooklyn They’re their own individuals, they like what they like. Where they’re from, a lot of the stuff that they’re into isn’t necessarily accepted, but they still continue to be them. They started putting that into their music. Their fanbase is insane. They have a cult following because they stayed true to who they were. Just because they like tie dye and spaced-out style, they get pigeonholed as repping white culture, but in reality they’re so Brooklyn. They don’t care.

Wiki is my favorite rapper rapping right now. He’s from the Upper West Side, and when you say that people automatically assume he has money. But he has been in the streets, in the art scene, the graffiti scene. Kids that grew up in Manhattan are completely different than kids that come from Queens. People look at Manhattan as New York City as a whole. It’s like growing up in the spotlight. Wiki growing up was like a lab rat, and he raps like that. His hustle, his come-up, he brings that aspect of New York into the modern day lens.

He’s one of the realest people in life. He brings that rawness, that grittiness, that lyricism and it’s so in your face that you can’t overlook it. He’s a bit older than me. It ties into the people in the generation that came before. He reminds me of a new Biggie—how Biggie’s wordplay was so real. He was so blunt, and that’s EXquire.

Twelvy embodies everything in the Bronx to me. Everything from Harlem up, every kid that I knew from up there from playing basketball, reminded me of Twelvy when I first met him. He has this cocky demeanor, but he’s still humble. He’s to himself, but he has his own movement, his own approach to everything. Twelvy spits that in his lyrics. Where he’s from, a lot of people don’t make it out and you can hear that in his music. I can’t wait for him to drop his project. The Bronx needs a voice right now, and that voice is Twelvy. 

Bamz is repping for Latino culture, for El Barrio, from the East Side of Harlem. He’s reminiscent of Terror Squad and what they believe in. Back then there was a lack of Hispanic MCs. When Pun came through, he was so nice that you couldn’t deny it. Bamz is the second coming of that. It’s so beautiful. I’m black and Puerto Rican myself. To see someone who is so strong and so passionate about his culture, that’s special. Everybody wants to be something they’re not, but these New York guys are real. We’re different, but we’re still authentic to the core.

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