Bryant Dope may have roamed into the realm of unfortunate album titles with New New York. Intended to position the 20-year-old Queens kid as part of an invigorated wave of N.Y. spitters who are defining the resurrected edge of the city's rap scene by giving hearty nods back to their predecessors (especially those who forged a sound in the earlier chunk of the '90s), the mixtape unfortunately ends up mired in a middle ground of uncertain direction. It's neither an addictive reinvention of New York rap nor a satisfyingly nostalgic ode to the past.
Proceedings kick off positively, with the lilting opener “NNY” presenting Bryant as an artist capable of infusing his rapperly confidence with a humble tint. “The city a poem, every borough a verse/ Every street is a line, that's where my flow was birthed,” he offers up, before adding “I spew haikus at high-noon/ About who's reaping they city like I do?” The kid sounds nice. But as the mixtape unfolds, Bryant Dope fails to put himself forward as the answer to his own (intendedly rhetorical) question.
Instead of taking the listener on a hyper-local trip through his world, Bryant instead too often plumps for the less evocative tactic of tapping into broad and often cliched song set-ups. New New York becomes less a personal home-town homage as a distant regurgitation of heard-it-all-before templates. It's passive when it should engage the listener. “Appeal Of The Underworld” is the first real clanger: It comes across like a kid rapping about the city's criminal underbelly after gleaning the knowledge from distractedly watching a bunch of rap videos on YouTube. The rhymes are rudimentary and devoid of swank and swagger: “I knew this chick whose mans had a fetish for bricks/ He would stay low-key, she would bag up the shit/ Move work cross town and kept a stash in the whip, right under the seat,” he raps, letting you know we're not in Purple Tape territory here.
The project works best when it more directly leans back into the '90s. “Champion Sound” teases a vocal grab from Smiff-N-Wessun and tacks it on to a suitably broody beat, while “Generation Y” mines from the same Galt MacDermot sample that opened Busta Rhymes's “Woo-Hah! Got You All In Check” and “Come Kick It” has the sort of dusty sing-song appeal that the wider Boot Camp Clik once used as a calling card. In this zone, Bryant Dope works. But the vibe is destroyed when, say, he then throws in a track like “Blunts,” which is the sort of uninspiring weed-ode that caused listeners to start migrating away from the '90s New York sound in the first place.
New New York is only 12 tracks long, but even over this sensibly short time-span Bryant Dope fails to imbue the project with a defining charm. It's not as obviously retro-looking as some of the Beast Coast collective's work, but neither does it brim with the youthful energy of Harlem's rapping fashion-fanatics. Instead, New New York sounds like an album that could have come out at any time during the last decade or so — and not in the timeless way.