Gen F: YL and Starker are self-styling a New York rap revival

Gen F: YL and Starker are self-styling a New York rap revival
The duo behind the indie hip-hop label RRR Music Group blend traditional N.Y.C. with contemporary city life.

The FADER’s longstanding GEN F series profiles the emerging artists you need to know right now.

Starker sends me a warning via Instagram DM shortly before we link at YL’s apartment in Chelsea: the stormy weather in Manhattan has forced Starker to wear a much calmer fit than usual to our interview. A flood watch warning is ongoing across New York City; it’s raining so badly that a short five-block walk up to YL’s crib from the 14th St. subway station would soak even the freshest Gore-Tex shell.

YL is shipping CDs from home and greets this drenched North Face-clad writer in an oversized vintage Mark Sanchez New York Jets jersey, Nike sweats, and the same style of pearl-colored Foamposites that Ray Allen wore in Spike Lee’s He’s Got Game. Starker is already there, lounging by YL’s home recording set-up with a gray Aime Leon Dore hoodie, vintage Nike swishy pants, and a pair of Air Barkleys while subtly flexing a vintage North Face Mountain Light jacket that’s hanging off a chair. Even YL and Starker’s chillest fits would be the best look for the gram for most New Yorkers. “We fly to perform in Japan and everyone at the show is dressed like us.” says YL, sitting next to a foot-high stack of international orders for the duo’s latest album The Diamond Collection. “That’s when you know it’s deeper than the music. It’s almost like ‘Triple-R’ has become this uniform.”

Founded by YL in 2010, RRR Music Group (an acronym for “Real Recognize Real”) releases soulful and sample-based hip-hop that reminds listeners of classic New York sensibilities without shoving a Junior’s cheesecake slice of ‘90s nostalgia down their throats. “It has a fresh air to it,” YL says of their label’s sound. “We’re constantly pushing that and not trying to scare the hoes with the music or nothing.” He’s speaking from his bedroom, which looks more like a walk-in closet for a vintage archivist; it’s where over a dozen projects, mostly created by YL, Starker, and their in–house producer Zoomo, have been mixed, mastered, and recorded for their independent label.

The duo behind most of RRR’s catalog formed in 2014. YL was studying audio engineering at the Institute of Audio Research and met Starker through a mutual classmate. They began linking up regularly to record and study the nuances of the underground New York hip-hop they were raised on, spending days supplementing their knowledge with classics like Rawkus Records’ late-90s Soundbombing compilations and old freestyles by Max B. “As soon as we started clicking we started building this heavy vault of music,” remembers YL.“I never met someone who was this much into the same shit I was, and he kept putting me on, too”

Gen F: YL and Starker are self-styling a New York rap revival

Gen F: YL and Starker are self-styling a New York rap revival

YL and Starker work the same as they did a decade ago, creating The Diamond Collection over the course of a year through casual link-ups. The album’s title and theme were inspired by vintage game-worn Major League Baseball apparel of the same name that they’re currently collecting — a stack of Diamond Collection New Era fitted caps sits on YL’s bed during our interview.

Both MCs were rapping years before they garnered recent co-signs from Eyedress, Westside Gunn, and the clothing label Aime Leon Dore. They keep their creative circle tight; production duties are mostly helmed by Zoomo and Noface, a recent addition. Yet, as their popularity grows, outsiders have been vying to place beats with them. Their latest album marks one of the few times they worked with multiple producers on a record, including beats from Subjxct 5, Lord Unknown, JUNIE, and more.

The Diamond Collection feels like sitting inside an Uber with two native New Yorkers as they ping-pong musings about the five boroughs shortly after blowing a bag at Saks. “New Eras with the Moschin / I’m on Canal, trying to get my jewelry cleaned” spits YL on “O’Doyle Rules” over a gloomy saxophone sample that would slide perfectly on a Guru Jazzmatazz record. YL and Starker are formidable MCs alone, but their friendly chemistry brings out new creative pockets. “Varsity Avirex / cars in different flavors / matching the leather perfect like a professional racer” Starker breathlessly and aggressively raps on “Superstitious” as if he just ran to brag to YL. “Fried Jordans, take my card, swipe it / I got addictions / I used to rock the Black Cats but I ain’t superstitious” YL quips back like he just linked Starker to smoke Za shortly after dropping a paycheck on rare Jordans at Flight Club.

RRR’s flexing goes beyond braggadocio and becomes a chronicle of a changing city that gives so much to the intersecting cultures of hip-hop and streetwear. “People believe a part of growing up in New York is letting go of the best parts of your upbringing here,” Starker says. “You might enjoy our music on a surface level, but we’re also talking about shit that you had to be here for. Every block, every business, just opens and closes so fast. Sneaker stores like David Z and Michael K ain’t even here no more. So to motherfuckers that know the stores we’re rapping about, It’s like ‘Yeah, they talking their shit.’”

Gen F: YL and Starker are self-styling a New York rap revival

The Diamond Collection’s release party in March was held at Aime Leon Dore’s private sound room, a luxurious, finely tailored space that has hosted invite-only events for Freddie Gibbs and Mach-Hommy. Underground New York hip-hop titans like Wiki were in attendance alongside emerging East Coast MCs like Papo 2oo4, while marketing suits for brands like Timberland and Avirex rubbed shoulders with members of the New York City graffiti crew LNE, sipping on mixed drinks concocted by YL and Starker; they also designed limited-edition posters and signed them for attendees after the event. YL and Starker are the first New York rappers to perform in the room, and it’s hard to imagine a better duo to have the honor.

“Our fans don’t just come to our shows because they like our shit, they love it,” says YL. “RRR is the thing you should want to know about if you consider yourself a New Yorker,” adds Starker. “We’re this badge of what New York culture is to them and it’s been a 10-year reign of good music, no hiccups. That’s not easy, especially when coming from a city where people can’t wait to not fuck with you.”