“Brooklyn’s Finest” by Jay-Z (feat. The Notorious B.I.G., 1996)

I was born and raised (mostly) in Brooklyn and yes, I wear that shit like a badge of honor. I’m one of those guys. After a 21 year detour in which I lived on the Lower East Side, the Bronx (twice), Queens, Harlem, Jersey City and Boston, I’m back in Brooklyn. The borough is significantly different in 2018 than it was in 1994, but that pride (in a general sense and specific to me) has not gone away.

Brooklyn emcees have a very specific swagger, a very specific vocabulary, even. There’s something that separates dudes like Biggie, Jay, Kane, Talib Kweli and others from the remainder of the rap pack. It’s not really quantifiable, but it’s there. “Brooklyn’s Finest”, specifically, pairs the ascendant Jay-Z with an on-top-of-his-game B.I.G.. They’re basically playing a rapping version of “hot potato”; finishing each others lines, adding in asides, and cracking wise. Mired at the time in beef with 2Pac, B.I.G. even finds time to drop a (slightly tasteless but still hilarious) joke about that, referencing his pregnant wife and the rumors of an affair with his rival with the line “if Fay has twins, she’ll probably have two ‘Pacs/Get it…Tu…pac’s…”.

All of Jay & B.I.G.’s (regretfully few) collaborations are worth checking out, but “Brooklyn’s Finest” crackles with the most energy. Jay-perhaps understanding of what a co-sign from the most popular rapper in New York would do to his profile- wisely plays the back-up role. Although he’s five years B.I.G.’s senior, the younger emcee was the vet when it came to industry success. Hearing this song makes me wonder what the two could’ve done had B.I.G. lived and they’d continued collaborating…maybe we’d have had an iteration “Watch The Throne” ten years before it actually happened.

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