If you're a fan of rap albums, you will know that the rapper often use the homes of their youth as subject matter for their albums. For many New York City based rappers, the homes were apartment buildings in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) system. These are often referred to as "the projects." Below are three of the most famous housing projects mentioned in three of the most iconic rap albums of all time.
The Wu Tang Clan is a collective of different rappers, many from Staten Island. The area in northern Staten Island is known as Stapleton and it is home to the islands NYCHA housing project. While some of the members of the Wu Tang Clan came from neighboring Brooklyn, many members of the group were from the Stapleton area, and others hung out there. In their second album, Wu Tang Forever, member RZA sings about "Stapleton been stamped a concentration camp". The group's lyrics are peppered with references to Staten Island and Stapleton, even though they are one of the most lyrically diverse and esoteric rap groups around, embracing Eastern culture, Kung Fu movies, and assorted topics normally outside the realm of mainstream rap.
Jay Z is famous for putting the Marcy Houses on the map in mainstream music. He constantly talks about his early life growing up there, selling drugs, and the day-to-day struggle. One of the best examples of showcasing the Marcy Houses was for his legendary video 99 Problems. The video, directed by Mark Romanek, was a artistic, black-and-white, hand-held trip through the projects. It showcased Jay Z, Rick Rubin, and indie-actor Vincent Gallo walking the viewer through the hallways, laundry rooms, side alleys, and other street scenes around the Bed-Stuy located Marcy Houses.
The only other rapper besides Jay Z who can lay claim to making a NYCHA project famous is Nas. His groundbreaking album Illmatic covered his upbringing and musical awakening in the Queensbridge housing project. The project is the largest one in New York. Nas wrote an album of songs describing the day-to-day violence and the struggle people had to survive and try and escape the environment. The songs were lyrically complex, and detailed the raging crack problem that was plaguing the city, and particularly the housing projects during the time in which Nas was growing up. Songs like "Trap Door" describe the dealers, lookout, and makeshift passageways that populated the Queensbridge Housing projects and the ways normal people had to try and navigate the danger.
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