New York’s third largest city, Rochester may be synonymous to some with lilacs and homicide. Buried beneath the snow and overcast skies, however, the Flower City has a blooming Hip-Hop scene. Aside from pretty plants and violent crime, another chief Rochester export is the garbage plate. Invented at Nick Tahoe’s, the garbage plate is a tasty train wreck. Ugly as sin, customers pick and choose items off of the menu to customize their plate. The base layer consist of two options; the usual suspects are macaroni salad, home fries, french fries, or baked beans. This is topped by a meat, such as hamburger or Italian sausage, than smothered with mustard and onions, ketchup or the signature meat hot sauce. (My personal plate is a bastardization of sorts, eschewing the popular mac salad for a home fries/ french fries collaboration, topped with hamburger and slathered in hot sauce.) While unique to each person, the garbage plate is universal in the 585 and the perfect vehicle for us to explore the local scene.
A good garbage plate starts with a strong base layer, and the hip-hop equivalent is Emilio Rojas’ “585 (Roc Y’all) Remix.” Featuring most of the city’s biggest names, the track is a good primer for new listeners. Everything from the smooth Rojas to the wordy Hassaan Mackey to the more traditional flows of Black Sinatra and L.I. are represented. Driven by a rollicking guitar line, Rojas drops numerous references to the city and calls out some of the rougher streets. The music video was shot in town, and gives a snapshot of what Rochester looks like.
French fries are delicious yet plain, a prime example of comfort food. To that end, some of the Roc’s more mainstream sounding artists will take the fries’ place in our plate. “The Damage is Done”, featuring Black Sinatra, Mozes, L.I. and Nikal Fieldz is a straight forward track powered by its sampled hook. While the lyrical content will not light the world on fire, all four emcees posses strong flows. Since one can never have enough french fries, L.I.’s “Cook” can round out our second side. A hammering beat and infectious piano lick make this song an above average street cut.
While fries and mac salad are nice, we need something a little more heavy to provide the meat. Hassaan Mackey is the first rapper to look to when someone wants to explore the Flower City’s lyrical side. Mackey’s 2007 release, Soul For Sale, is a gritty, soulful album as hard as it is hopeful. With a distinctive snaking voice, Mackey slithers through the dense beats spitting lines that paint a detailed portrait of a difficult life. “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is an excellent cut, with “The Jungle” (not part of Soul) being another fine choice.
Emilio Rojas joins Mackey as the main course. A polished rapper with top 40 flow and a clean sound, Rojas may be the Roc’s best bet for the mainstream. “That Time” is pure Hip-Hop, a straight forward record packed with style. And no plate would be complete without a mention of SunN.Y., an “almost there” story when he first surfaced on BET. SunN.Y. has a flow reminiscent of Jay-Z that plays well over the sparse “Soul of a Hustler.” Starting subdued, SunN.Y. pours more emotion through the mic with every verse until his voice almost breaks.
Topping off our garbage plate is my favorite ingredient: the hot sauce. Rochester hot sauce is a dark meat sauce with a pleasant kick. The hottest song to come out of the city so far is Ric Rude’s “Native of the City.” A fire beat is played on perfectly by Rude’s fantastic flow. His deft rhymes can hang with anyone, and “Native of the City” is as good a Hip-Hop track as has been released anywhere, any time. This song is the peak of the scene, and a fantastic taste of what Rochester is all about.
The true beauty of the garbage plate is in its customization. With this list of ingredients, mix and match your own mic slayers and find a combination that works for you. There is a wealth of talent and style waiting for you just Upstate.
Main image by David Hunt
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