Certain Songs #881: Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – “The Streets of New York”

Album: Wanted: Dead or Alive
Year: 1990

I’m like, 98.3% sure that I first came across this one on MTV, maybe on Yo! MTV Raps, which I wasn’t a regular watcher of, but would definitely check out occasionally, or watch for awhile if I landed on it during my incessant channel surfing.

In any event, I remember being instantly struck by the laid-back keyboard driven groove of Kool G Rap’s & DJ Polo’s “The Streets of New York.”

With a cool-sounding clavinet (I think) sample from the Fatback Band’s “Gotta Learn How to Dance,” and an jazzy piano & sax floating throughout, “Streets of New York” could almost be considered as a progress report on the conditions first reported by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message

And things hadn’t gotten any better:

In the streets of New York
Dope fiends are leaning for morphine
The TV screen followed the homicide scenes
You live here, you’re taking a chance
So look and I take one glance
There’s a man inside an ambulance
Crowds are getting louder; I wonder how the
People want to go fight for the white powder
People hanging in spots
They waited until the blocks got hot
And got raided by the cops
I’ll explain the man sleeping in the rain
His whole life remains inside a bottle of Night Train

There was an tension between the slinkiness of the music — which took the time out for a long sax solo in the end — and the urgency of Kool G’s lyrics and flow that made “The Streets of New York” sound unlike anything else I was hearing in 1990.

In any event, I ended up buying Wanted: Dead or Alive simply on the strength of that video, but there wasn’t really anything else on the album that jumped out at me in quite the same way.

Official video for “The Streets of New York”

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