On Wednesday, August 11th, top HOT97 deejay/radio personality Funkmaster Flex threw a concert in honor of his birthday. A “Who’s Who in Hip Hop” performed including Cam’ron, The L.O.X., M.O.P. and Ja Rule, each running through their underground and mainstream hits while transporting the audience further and further down memory lane. The night was a far cry from New York’s current club scene upscale Chelsea hotspots like Marquee and Pink Elephant where a chic dress code determine entry and Top 40 playlist (read: no underground Hip Hop) await for your listening pleasure.

During the night, frenzy erupted constantly. From the moment the deejay played the horns from M.O.P.’s stick-up kid anthem “Ante Up” to hearing the Godzilla intro to Pharoahe Monch’s 1999 classic “Simon Says,” it was as if the crowd was hearing these songs for the first time in years. Although “Ante Up” and “Simon Says” only have a one year gap between the years they debuted, both songs became mainstream success due to their immense popularity in the Tunnel, one of New York City’s most infamous Hip Hop nightclubs during the 1994-2001 New York Rap reign.

Since 2003, diehard “east coast hardcore Hip Hop” fans have lamented New York’s fall from grace as Rap’s ruling coast.  And while most Hip Hop heads are quick to lay blame on southern Rap’s seven year (and counting) reign as the reason New York can’t manage to get back on top, even fewer people can figure out what actually caused the east coast Rap slump. It’s hard to imagine that currently the only new “east coast” rapper with a serious buzz is Young Money Records’ Nicki Minaj, a witty Queens’ female emcee signed and endorsed by more southern rappers (Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane) than those from her own native Queens’ New York hood.

While one can never deny the legendary rappers (Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Big Pun, DMX, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep and others) and classic albums (Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic, Ready to Die, The Infamous and more) that were birthed during New York’s golden ’90s era, New York’s current Rap slump is alive and well.

But how did New York rappers fall from dominance? Some cite the east coast’s lack of unity while others blame Hip Hop’s cyclical nature. One thing can be agreed upon though: Hip Hop songs that dominated airplay in New York City were at one time directly connected to the city’s once-unmatched club scene, which has changed drastically from its ’90s heyday. Now-defunct hotspots like The Tunnel, Speed, Envy and even Diddy’s sexy lounge Justin’s helped catapult underground phenoms into bonafied Rap stars, all with the help of a little thing known as a “club banger.” Club bangers (songs popular in clubs) still exist so why can’t the east coast get any love?

And if New York still remains the “city that never sleeps” when it comes to nightlife, why is hardcore New York Hip Hop getting snoozed on? Did the demand for hardcore east coast Hip-Hop cease when the “Tunnel era” ended?

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

Owned by “King of New York Clubs” Peter Gatien, (who also owned several popular New York City clubs including The Palladium and Limelight), the Tunnel hosted a Hip Hop night every Sunday. A former warehouse that boasted multiple rooms and floors the Tunnel was a hotspot for buying and selling illegal drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine. Although the huge club was known more for its rave club scene and weekly parties catering to Techno-loving club kids, the Tunnel became the new “Studio 54” for the Hip Hop crowd during late 90s.

Located on 12th Avenue between 27th and 28th in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, the Tunnel attracted a predominantly street crowd from all five boroughs for Sunday’s Hip Hop night. Admission lines stretched for blocks every Sunday and, despite having no dress code, club bouncers were very selective about whom they let in. Hundreds could get turned away on any giving night while the club remained packed beyond capacity inside.

“The lines would be so long, you might not get in,” Javone, of Brownsville, Brooklyn reminisces. “I knew people who showed up every Sunday and never got in.”

“I saw hundreds of people waiting in below zero weather, right off the Westside Highway near the water, freezing, just to get inside the Tunnel. It was crazy,” says barber/stylist EZ, who frequented dance clubs like The Wetlands and Palladium before the Tunnel’s Hip Hop heyday began.

“Before the ’90s, Hip Hop scene, before the Tunnel, we gravitated toward the house (music) club scene ‘cause that’s where the women were. Women weren’t really hanging at the Hip Hop clubs in the early ’80s because there was too much violence,” EZ explains.

In the late ’90s, a Sunday night spent at the Tunnel was a coveted experience for any New York Hip Hop head. Immortalized in Hype Williams’ 1998 film Belly, the Tunnel’s carefree vibe coupled with easy access to celebs, sex and drug culture made any rap video fantasy pale in comparison to what you could experience at any other club on a Sunday night in New York City.

“Once you were inside, it was a no-holds barred environment,” Javone explains. “The co-ed bathrooms were one of the illest things I’d ever seen in a club. Imagine using the bathroom and a girl is in the stall next to you using the toilet…People were definitely having sex in the Tunnel.”

While sexual tension was at an all-time high inside the Tunnel, so were robberies, violence and drugs. BET producer/videographer Choke No Joke recalls how violence among patrons and with police was the norm at the club.

“It wasn’t unusual for me to see someone laid out on 11th Avenue after a night of partying. Whether they had gotten beat unconscious or shot, there would be guys laid out in the street after the night was over,” Choke explains.  Despite the threat of constant violence, Choke often went into the crowd and filmed the Tunnel partygoers as well as the performances for the NYC public-access show StreetFunk TV.

“On a typical night, there were alot of drugs, tons of alcohol. You had real gangster-types and stick-up kids on any given night in there,” Choke explains.

“You definitely wanted to come and stay with a group in the Tunnel. Anything, rape, robbery, fights could go on and anybody was a target,” explains Javone. “Even rappers were getting robbed because most party-goers came to rob somebody.”

And while security ran a tight ship to supposedly keep violence out, violence by security against club-goers wasn’t unusual.

“Tunnel security was the first security I’d ever witnessed that was a professional combination of street toughness and the skill of professional law enforcement,” EZ states.

He continues, “Security was strict with most normal club-goers but they [security] made reservations for street dudes. However, when you got out of line, they [security] could get very violent and had no restraint. You could lose a damn eye in the Tunnel.”

Despite the club’s ongoing violence and constant drug raids by NYPD, Sunday nights at the Tunnel became the epicenter for some of New York’s greatest rappers and their biggest hits. Every Sunday, the legendary DJ Big Kap and HOT 97’s own Funkmaster Flex (along with young deejay Cipha Sounds, now a nationally known deejay/radio personality on Sirius and HOT 97) spun the latest in underground Hip Hop street records, making the Tunnel a breaking ground for some of the late ’90s most successful rap songs and a platform for New York’s underground rappers to enter the mainstream. Creating a “Tunnel Banger” was no easy feat, as Tunnel deejays and its crowd were brutally honest and sometimes violent in their approval or disapproval of your music. Many rappers considered it a badge of honor to have the Tunnel stamp of approval on a record. At the time, most New York rappers valued the club’s support more than popular radio airplay.

N.O.R.E. of Capone-N-Noreaga recalls his memories fondly. “I remember a lot of times I used to make records and bring ‘em [first] to Big Kap, to [Funkmaster] Flex, to Cipha [Sounds]…And if it worked in The Tunnel, then the reaction was, ‘Okay, now let’s take it radio.’”

Havoc of Mobb Deep echoes a similar sentiment. “Nothing felt better than being in the Tunnel hearing your own record making people go crazy! No drink, no drug can give you that high,” Havoc reminisces. “At one point, the main reason I started going there was to see the reaction to other people’s records, plus my own.”

“The first golden era is of course the ’80s. The second golden era was with the Tunnel. With the Tunnel you had M.O.P rocking, Mobb Deep, Foxy Brown and of course [Notorious B.I.G.],” reminisces EZ. “These were artists that, at the time, were on fire.” (Hear Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments” )

And the Tunnel didn’t only cater to “East Coast crime Rap.” On a Sunday night, it wasn’t unusual for “Come Clean” by Jeru Da Damaja, Master P’s “’Bout It, Bout It” and “Only When I’m Drunk” by Tha Alkaholiks to all be played consecutively because the people, not the radio, dictated what was hot.

“It was definitely diverse. You had your backpacker crowd, your Top 40 crowd, your hood crowd. It was no telling who you might meet in the Tunnel,” Havoc explains.

Rap artists belonging to different genres of Rap co-existed peacefully among the playlist and so did the patrons who enjoyed these songs. This balance was one of the most distinguishing qualities that separated the Tunnel from other local Hip Hop clubs, making it a rare experience that patrons would brave its violent, unpredictable environment just to be a part of.  This same balance is one that many of today’s fans would agree is lacking throughout rap music, not only within New York City.

Tri-state rappers weren’t the only ones who benefitted from exposure at the famed Tunnel Club. The nationwide popularity of New Orleans rapper Juvenile’s debut single “Ha” spread to the Big Apple, prompting him and his Cash Money Millionaires (Hot Boys and Big Tymers) crew to appear at the club over the years. Well-known artists such as Chicago’s Da Brat, Miami’s Trina and even Los Angeles legends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg all went on to perform their hits at the Tunnel as well.

“At the time, the Tunnel was the number one club in the world, not only New York,” N.O.R.E. explains. “[With that said], whatever worked in the Tunnel had to work in radio.”

The Tunnel soon became a rite of passage in Hip Hop for any rap artist (regardless of what region they were from) who wanted more street credibility, nationwide exposure and more respect from the east coast, where most of the top U.S. urban media outlets (TV, radio, magazines) and corporate record labels were located. At a time when “getting signed” to a label was still necessary for music distribution and ultimately, success, it was more important than ever to obtain a loyal New York fan-base. Impressing the Tunnel crowd onstage live guaranteed sustaining that fan base and solidifying your position in Hip Hop.

N.O.R.E. expounds further on the hard-to-please Tunnel crowd by explaining that “they didn’t accept just anything.”

“They wanted you to be real onstage. But that’s the music that was being made at that time,” Noreaga recalls.

Choke, who worked with the ’90s public access show StreetFunk TV at the time, recalls shooting the legendary live performances by the likes of Diddy, Hot Boys and Wu-Tang Clan, many of which can now be viewed online at StreetFunk TV’s MySpace page and YouTube Channel.

“I can remember [Funkmaster] Flex getting annoyed by us when we came around with the cameras. He’d be like, ‘Aww, here they go filming! Why y’all filming all the time?’ We (StreetFunk TV) knew the Tunnel era was special. Today you see people watching the videos, asking for footage all the time because they want to relive that moment in time. You will never see performances like the ones at the Tunnel again.”

“To me, the most memorable performance was DMX”, states Javone, who was at the Tunnel during the night that the video for 1997’s break-out hit “Get at Me Dog” was filmed. “DMX really defined that whole ‘Tunnel era’ with ‘Get at Me Dog’.”

That ‘Tunnel era’ was a defining moment in Hip Hop for both fans and rappers. Legendary performances from Jay-Z, Nas and even appearances by R&B stars like Mary J. Blige and the late Aaliyah (hear her and Nas’ “You Won’t See Me Tonight” ) kept crowds of 2,000-plus coming back every week for more.

Courtesy of the Tunnel, now street records and rappers only heard on New York neighborhood mixtapes finally had a mainstream platform. Now, burgeoning emcees of the late ’90s “Jiggy Era” whose names weren’t as universal as Nas, Biggie or Jay-Z had a shot at being seen and heard on BET, MTV and for some, Top 40 radio. Underground songs you’d normally never here as radio singles like The L.O.X.’s “Wild Out” (2001) or Mobb Deep’s 1995 single “Give Up The Goods” became go-to bangers. These songs remain modern-day classics to so many fans that former Tunnel deejay Cipha Sounds paid homage to the club with his comprehensive list of “Top 75 Tunnel Bangerz” for Complex.com back in August 2010.

These “Tunnel Bangerz” would eventually gain commercial radio and TV airplay, meaning fans would no longer have to wait until Sunday night to hear the likes of Big Pun, Mase or Cam’ron.

But was this a good thing? Nevertheless, it was now official that a new era in New York Hip Hop had begun.

CHANGES

It was without a doubt that popularity at the Tunnel could catapult an underground emcee to a mainstream success, just ask Mobb Deep, Ja Rule, DMX, and The L.O.X. And although there were other city clubs that also catered to urban music and its demographic, such as Bentley’s and the 107.5FM-endorsed Shadow Nightclub, none of these catered to underground Hip Hop as accurately as the Tunnel did.

But Sunday nights at the Tunnel would not last for much longer. Constant violence and drug raids, both of which were occurring on weeknights as well as Sunday, resulted in the Tunnel club being padlocked in 1999 under New York City’s nuisance abatement laws. That same year, Peter Gatien and his wife pled guilty to tax evasion charges. In 2001, the Tunnel closed permanently and was sold at an auction in New York City bankruptcy court.

During and after the Tunnel’s heyday other clubs and lounges with a similar musical vibe as the Tunnel emerged in Manhattan. The Tunnel’s Hip Hop-loving crowd found a new home at nightspots like NV and Speed, the latter being similar to the Tunnel in terms of its large size and having no dress code requirement for entry.

“Speed was like the closest thing to the Tunnel in New York at the time. You heard the same hardcore records and had the same crowd but you could tell that clubs were changing,” Javone explains.

After the 2001 demise of the Tunnel, New York City urban nightlife changed. From the dress code to the club atmosphere, urban nightlife began to reflect a more polished “look” which complemented the aspirational and sometimes materialistic message of the era’s hit Rap songs. Street records were still relevant but had now become intertwined and somewhat overshadowed by this new “sophisticated mafioso” image portrayed by the popular rappers of that time. But even in classier, smaller clubs like Cheetah, where entry required button-up shirts and denied sneakers, Timb boots and hoodies, New York City hardcore Hip Hop was still welcome, at least for a short stay.

“Hip-Hop has always been about braggadocio, but what artists bragged about began changing. Hip Hop was being introduced to a different level of worldliness that it have never been exposed to before,” EZ states.

That worldliness was exemplified through Times Square billboards featuring fresh-faced Def Jam rapper Foxy Brown endorsing Calvin Klein jeans, Harlem pretty-boy rapper Mase (alongside Bad Boy’s L.O.X.) rhyming out of private helicopters with superstar Mariah Carey and Nas talking about street dreams rocking a pink three-piece suit paying homage to Martin Scorscese’s film Casino. These moments took place during 1996 and beyond, when Foxy, Nas and Mase all had chart-topping music (hear Foxy and Jay’s “I’ll Be” ) and were in heavy rotation on both BET and MTV networks. Many other artists who’d paid dues at the Tunnel, which was still open until 2001, could boast similar success as well. It was an exciting time for Hip Hop, where the hardcore sound was experiencing immense mainstream success without being watered down and artists were profiting more than ever. Although many Hip Hop purists complained that popular artists of this late ’90s era focused too much on materialistic and violent subject matter, no one could deny the quality of music and rhymes being made during this time and the balance in Hip Hop that was present.

If you didn’t enjoy the designer fashion-laced raps of Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim, you had the intense, witty lyricism of femcees like Philadelphia’s own Bahamadia and Lauryn Hill. Didn’t like the glossy, champagne raps of Bad Boy’s Mase? Then you could always pump the grittier Brooklyn sounds of Black Moon and its ever-talented Boot Camp Clik crew. The choice was yours; you could get with this or you could get with that. And don’t forget ’80s rap pioneers like Kool G Rap and LL Cool J (his “Doin’ It” single was a Tunnel staple and #9 on the Billboard 100), who remained relevant due to their musical collaborations with the new school rappers of this ’90s “golden era.”

The time was reminiscent of the ’80s golden era, except rappers were now controlling corporate boardrooms as well as the music charts, evidenced by the likes of new moguls such as Roc-A-Fella Records’ Damon Dash, No Limit Records’ Master P and Cash Money Millionaires’ Ronald “Slim” Williams and his brother Brian “Baby” Williams a/k/a Birdman.

At the forefront of this “jiggy” era was the ubiquitous mogul Diddy, b/k/a “Puff Daddy” at the time, and his Bad Boy Records stable of artists. With no shortage of talent on deck, Bad Boy Records became synonymous with creating infectious rap and R&B dance hits that were club staples. Songs like “All About the Benjamins” (featuring a pre-D-Block L.O.X) and both Biggie’s “Hypnotize” and “One More Chance/Stay With Me” became huge in the Tunnel while enjoying mainstream success in the form of a Grammy nomination (“Hypnotize”)and RIAA platinum certification (“One More Chance/Stay With Me”).

Though to some Bad Boy Records’ claim to fame was being the home to slain Brooklyn Rap great the Notorious B.I.G (who we tragically lost in 1997), Bad Boy’s sound had now become the (un)-official counterpart to the post-Tunnel era club scene, which the label embraced. Bad Boy artists like Black Rob, Mase, Shyne and even Diddy followed in the footsteps of B.I.G. and continued to perform at the Tunnel until it closed, while enjoying mainstream TV and radio airplay. Along with the success of Bad Boy as a musical empire, Diddy epitomized the “celebrity music mogul” of the ’90s with his profitable business ventures (the Sean John clothing line and Justin’s restaurants), a 1998 cover story in Essence magazine as well as a high-profile personal life that included private jets to tropical locales-with then-girlfriend, actress Jennifer Lopez. Hip Hop music magnates like Jay-Z, Dame Dash and Jermaine Dupri also boasted similar lifestyles, and just like Puff Daddy, had all garnered a street following at the Tunnel earlier in their careers.

Now, as Hip Hop became more accepted by the mainstream via TV and radio airplay, the media gained more control over dictating what songs were hot. As a result, music videos became glossier and star-studded, filled with celebrity cameo appearances, big-budget wardrobes, unique props and special effects. Nightclubs were now replaced by video countdown shows, like MTV’s Total Request Live (which aired in 1998) and BET’s 106 & Park (began airing in 2000) for artists to premiere their new songs in the form of music videos.

Rappers, underground and mainstream, were still making dope street records, performing in clubs and New York City’s nightlife scene was at its peak. With all of the profits being made from record sales, promotional appearances and various endorsements, rappers were all over New York City’s nightlife scene from 1996-2003, spending and spreading their newfound wealth and status as top-selling artists and next-generation music biz tycoons.

Although the Tunnel club remained open during this “golden age”, the days of nightclubs being the sole breaking ground for new Rap music were now over. Radio and TV airplay now dictated what songs were pre-determined “hot,” leading many to believe that resurrecting the “pay-for-play” payola practices that existed in popular music as early as the 1940s had come full circle.

“Palms get greased and that does make it harder. But [payola] was here before we were here and we still broke through so you can’t totally blame that,” Havoc explains. “[Payola is] here to stay but good music will always cut through the red tape.”

With the “music business” mindset, instead of the streets, infiltrating and at times, fueling the creative process for making Hip Hop music, artists began to care more about money and record sales than creativity, talent and content. Even the process of making an album shifted.

“During and before the ‘Tunnel era’, the idea when you made an album was to have different creative concepts and draw us into your world,” recounts EZ.

“There were rules to making music in the 80s and even the early ’90s era,” he continues. There was integrity and this affected an artist’s approach to making music.”

After the both artists and label executives witnessed the instant, massive success of The Notorious B.I.G’s posthumous 1997 album, Life After Death and Tupac Shakur’s 1996 release, All Eyez on Me (both of which are double discs), droves of new rappers from coast to coast abandoned their own style to imitate what they believed was the “formula” for making a “hit” album. That album formula consisted of including several songs that would cater women and mainstream America in the form of a “club” song and/or “radio-friendly” song and a designated number of songs that catered to an artist’s core Hip Hop fanbase.

Whether intentional or not, the “formula” worked, resulting in consecutive hit singles and chart-topping record sales for rappers that followed 2Pac and B.I.G. Now record sales and Top 40 charts replaced lyrical and musical talent as the measuring standards to determine who deserved to be crowned “the best” in the Rap game.

As an indirect result of the Tunnel nightclub scene, east coast Rap exploded and its influence saturated the entire music industry. New York was experiencing its second and final “golden era”, except this time around rappers had graduated from public housing park jams to 106 & Park. And as Middle America accepted the likes of Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim and Puff Daddy into their homes, a demand for a different sound was growing while another was slowly losing ground.

ALL FALLS DOWN

The “Tunnel era” lasted from 1994-2001. While most were sad to witness the end of an era, many understood why its demise was inevitable.

“People got tired of the violence. If you gotta fight, fight, but respect this as our sanctuary. This was all we had,” says Havoc.

In attempts to keep the violence associated with hardcore Hip Hop out, New York’s club landscape became completely more upscale than ever. Entry now required a dress code as well as ordering “bottle service” (bottles of liquor at exorbitant prices in exchange for guaranteed entry).

The Tunnel nightclub had become only a memory. In New York City, small nightclubs with business casual dress codes had become the norm for urban music industry events and parties. Despite smaller venues, violence and drugs were still part of the club scene, but on a much smaller scale compared to the days of the Tunnel.

By the year 2001, New York City had endured a fatal terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, ended a deadly Rap coastal war and watched a feud between two of its greatest living legends, Jay-Z and Nas, culminate since its subliminal start on wax in 1996. Combine that with the mournful deaths of 2Pac and Biggie, declining record sales plus illegal music downloading and to say the least, Hip Hop had experienced a tumultuous seven years by the end of the ’90s “Golden Era”.

Accusations of payola against radio stations and record labels were federally investigated while beef within Rap circles everywhere escalated to an all-time high. And the New York rappers that were still alive were all too busy fighting for a title (“King of New York”), that some say no longer existed.

As the lack of unity prevailed among New York rappers and new styles of rap emerged from the south, midwest and Gulf coasts, New York and east coast Hip Hop fell into the early stages of its slump around 2003. Exactly how this slump occurred and if it still exists today is an oft-debated topic in the Hip Hop community since it began, but logical explanations and realistic solutions are few and far in between the opinions that abound.

Aggressive supporters of New York and the overall east coast believe a Rap slump does exist and most tend to blame it on southern Rap’s popularity surge around 2003. For years, fans and media have criticized the south for “dumbing down” traditional east coast Hip Hop with catchy dance tunes that emerged from southern Rap music sub-categories such as “Crunk”, “Snap” and in recent years, the Auto-Tune trend.

Others cite New York City rappers’ lack of unity and refusal to work with each other as the main reason why the demand for New York hardcore Rap continues to decline. Rumored promises of a joint album from the likes of Nas and AZ and a Fugees’ reunion album have gone from being actual possibilities to just wishful thinking left fans and the media alike. And judging by the vast career success Queens’ rapper 50 Cent has had using beef (real or imagined) as a marketing tool, why would anyone want to unite? In today’s rap world, unity doesn’t necessarily sell units.

“Yes, there is an New York City Rap slump,” declares Choke No Joke. “There’s no unity. [New York rappers are] fighting for a crown no one deserves.”

Depending on whom you ask, some would say the battle for the “King of New York” ended with the 1997 death of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and that the argument of who is New York reigning Rap king hasn’t kept Rap in a slump. Some argue that hardcore New York Hip Hop does still exist, just not within the mainstream, due to commercial Hip Hop’s domination of pop culture media outlets and nightclubs.

“The industry is changing the mechanism for distribution. There has to be some kind of evolution to go along with that. And if street life is a major part of your style while street life is still relevant in America, it’s not paramount anymore. Because now people see there are other options. That’s what affected the demise of the ‘street records’ – there’s a lot more sophistication and aspirations going on from the listener as well as the artist’s perspective,” explains EZ.

Some people also agree that “street rap” is not as relevant as it used to be, since ’90s “Golden Era” Rap fans have matured. Even some rappers agree that since the demand for street Rap has decreased, so have the outlets.

“When the Tunnel closed, it affected the inspiration to create because there was no longer a mainstream outlet for those records,” remembers Havoc.

“We don’t have the Latin Quarters, or Speed, or the Tunnel anymore so we’re forced to make certain records (to be commercially recognized),” N.O.R.E. explains. “But I still have that ‘Tunnel vision’…When I make records I still visualize and say ‘this shit woulda worked in the Tunnel’, especially when I make a club joint. I got a record out now, ‘Nutcracker’ that would be a Tunnel banger.”

“What traditional street dudes are doing now is they’re merging both lifestyles, which makes a difference. The Tunnel era and the ’80s were both about breaking real street records and that’s the big difference between music then and music now,” states EZ.

Regardless of the cause of the slump, the Hip Hop community can all agree that east coast Hip Hop is a far cry from its heyday at the Tunnel nightclub.  And while they haven’t been Rap’s dominating force for the past decade, New York rappers are still carrying and passing the torch. This is evident in the resurgence of sequels to classic 90s albums such as Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, Capone-N-Noreaga’s War Report 2 and AZ’s Doe or Doe: 15th Anniversary Edition, which hits stores this November.

Some critics don’t blame the south, lagging record sales or even New York rappers for the region’s seven-year downturn. They say that after a near 25-year reign as Rap’s sole influencer it’s only natural for New York to be on the decline.

“I don’t think New York is necessarily down, we just weren’t as stable as we thought. We bouncin’ back, though,” says N.O.R.E.

But with today’s popular music sounding more “Hip-Pop” than Hip Hop, should the hardcore New York Rap artist call it quits? Havoc of Mobb Deep disagrees.

“If you can make your name bigger than your music then you’ve accomplished something. Once you have carved your name, no one can ever deny that,” he asserts.

And will there ever be light at the end of the Tunnel for New York Hip Hop?

“Always,” Havoc answers without any hesitation.

“We have to believe in that. If I start believing anything else, then that will become my reality.”

Danielle Stolich is a Pittsburgh-born, New York-based freelancer whose work has been published in The Source magazine and AllHipHop.com. Currently Danielle is putting the final touches on her own graphic novel and blogging at www.outoftowngirl.com.

The Tunnel Documentary (Trailer) – Produced and Directed by Choke No Joke