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10 Greatest Brooklyn Music Acts: 1990 - Present



Though hip hop originated in the South Bronx, many of the artists who were responsible for bringing the music genre into the mainstream in the nineties were raised and got their careers started in Brooklyn. At the start of the new millennium, music venues like the Music Hall of Williamsburg, The Knitting Factory and The Bell House moved in and indie bands took up residence in nearby converted warehouses and lofts.

In Part Two of our compilation of Brooklyn's greatest musical acts, we examine our Top 10 artists spanning the 1990's through today. Here's who made the list:

Before he won seventeen Grammy awards, co-owned the Nets, married Beyonce, was CEO of Def Jam and built up a net worth of nearly $500 million, as estimated by Forbes, Jay-Z grew up in the Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy. Born Shawn Carter, he was given the nickname “Jazzy” which was later changed to “Jay-Z,” a name that has been rumored to pay homage to the J and Z subway lines, which stop at Marcy Avenue.

Key Tracks: “99 Problems,” “Empire State of Mind”

The National

Though originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, The National has more than established themselves as a Brooklyn band. Formed in the late Nineties when lead singer Matt Berninger joined two sets of musical brothers, it wasn’t until their fourth album, Boxer, that The National gained popularity. With High Violet, their fifth and most recent album, the band began playing massive venues like Madison Square Garden and the new Barclays Center.

Key Tracks: “Mr. November,” “Fake Empire,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio”

Norah Jones

Born in Bed-Stuy but raised in Texas, Norah Jones won critical acclaim (and five Grammys) with her 2002 debut album, Come Away with Me. Now back living in Brooklyn with five LPs under her belt, Jones has also starred in a film (My Blueberry Nights) and collaborated with countless other performers, including Dolly Parton, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles and M. Ward.

Key Tracks: “Come Away With Me,” “Happy Pills”

TV on the Radio

Formed in 2001 in Brooklyn, TV on the Radio spans an incredibly wide range of genres, including electro, soul, post-punk and pop. Now signed to Interscope, the band has five EPs and four full-length albums, not to mention all of the production work that guitarist Dave Siteks has done on the side for such bands as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Foals, Jane’s Addiction and countless other bands.

Key Tracks: “Wolf Like Me,” “Will Do”


The Notorious B.I.G.

At 6’3” and nearly 300 lbs, Biggie grew up in Clinton Hill near the edge of Bed-Stuy. He only released one album during his lifetime, Ready to Die, which was produced by Sean Combs. A week after he was murdered in 1997, his double album, Life After Death was released and Biggie was recognized as a true musical icon.

Key Tracks: “Big Poppa,” “Juicy”

Sleigh Bells

Guitar player Derek Miller met singer Alexis Krauss at a diner in Williamsburg, where Miller was working as a waiter. The two formed noise-pop rock band Sleigh Bells, and the duo was soon signed to M.I.A.’s  N.E.E.T. label. Their 2010 debut, Treats, introduced listeners to a sound so massively huge, that it made us re-think rock music altogether. Mixing Miller’s loud guitar hooks with Krauss’ feminine voice, the band created a sound like none other.

Key Tracks: “Tell 'Em,” “Comeback Kid,” “Rill Rill”

LCD Soundsystem

Fronted by singer/songwriter/producer James Murphy, LCD was together for ten solid years and released three full LPs before calling it quits. Going out in true New York glory, the band played nearly a full week of shows at Madison Square Garden in front of packed audiences. Fun fact: before making it big with LCD, at age 22, Murphy was offered a writing job for a new, unknown sitcom called Seinfeld, which he decided to turn down in order to pursue music.

Key Tracks: “All My Friends,” “Dance Yrself Clean,” “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down”


Matt and Kim

Brooklyn indie pop duo Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino, who met as art students at Pratt, officially formed in 2004. It wasn’t until their video for “Lessons Learned,” where the two walk in slow motion through Times Square on a cold February day slowly stripping down until they are completely naked, became a YouTube hit and the band’s popularity skyrocketed. The band signed to FADER for their second album, Grand, which they recorded in Matt's childhood bedroom at his parent's Vermont home.

Key Tracks: “Daylight,” “Good old Fashioned Nightmare”

Adam Yauch

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Adam Yauch helped form a four-piece hardcore punk band in 1981 which, a few years later, evolved into hip hop act the Beastie Boys. In 1985, after releasing several successful 12-inch singles, the group went on tour with Madonna and then recorded their first LP, Licensed to Ill. As one of the longest lived hip hop acts, the Beastie Boys sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. After a three-year battle with cancer, Yauch sadly passed away in 2012 at age 47.

Key Tracks: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” “Fight For Your Right”


Busta Rhymes

Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr. was born in Red Hook and grew up in Flatbush, where he graduated from the same technical high school as Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. and DMX. He was later nicknamed Busta Rhymes by Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Best known for his quick and intricate rapping, Busta has also appeared in films such as 2000’s Shaft and Breaking Point.

Key Tracks: “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check,” “Break Ya Neck”


Check out Part One: 10 Greatest Brooklyn Music Acts: 1950s-1980s

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November 1, 2014

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