"You go in there and you can pretty much get just about anything you need," says the rapper Joell Ortiz, talking about his local corner bodega on Kingsland Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ortiz, who was raised in the nearby Cooper Park Houses, is breaking down the science behind the one-stop shops that are an ever-present feature across New York City's five boroughs.
Whatever the hour of day, if you're looking for something to smoke, snack on, or wipe your ass with, the bodega is quick, cheap, and convenient—so as long as you avoid impulse-buying those dusty items resting high-up on the shelves behind the counter.
Going hand in hand with the bodega's convenience factor is the unique strain of shorthand that's evolved between customers and store workers, which facilitates a hyper-efficient shoppig experience. Ever-present brands like oversized Arizona Iced Tea cans and Backwoods cigars are simply condensed to "Ari" and "Woods"; meanwhile, breakfast sandwiches fired up on the seasoned grill in back are ordered either by way of acronym—“SEC, that’s sausage egg and cheese,” as Ortiz puts it — or, as Desus from the Bodega Boys podcast says, by mushing the component parts together into a single elongated word: “It’s important how you say it. It’s one word: baconeggandcheese. One word.”
In full flow, this speedy back-and-forth chatter between customer and owner is testament to the almost telepathic bond between the bodega and its regulars. As Nasty Nigel, the Queens-based rapper and member of the World's Fair crew, testifies, "The most important thing is to become friends with the bodega owner." And once a friendship is forged, the exclusive world of corner bodega credit is opened up to discerning patrons.
Despite the growing number of self-proclaimed "gourmet delis" popping up in New York's gentrified areas, it's the rugged corner bodega—with its brash lighting and loose six packs—that fuels the everyday, all-hours needs of the city's denizens. To that end, it’s important to take a cue from Action Bronson’s cohort Big Body Bes and uphold the honor of your local bodega: "It’s part of your duty to defend it. They’re the people you see every day."
Here, we turn to a handful of seasoned New York emcees to explain their distinct relationship with the bodega, and better understand why it's firmly enshrined as part of the city's cultural fabric.
- DVS, self-anointed "rap guy extraordinaire" whose DVTV album is available now. (@dvsblast)
- Joell Ortiz, recently released the No Panty project alongside Bodega Bamz and Nitty Scott MC, and titled his debut album The Brick: Bodega Chronicles. (@joellortiz)
- Nasty Nigel, MC who just dropped the Drives To Cherry Valley mixtape. (@nigelnasty)
- Your Old Droog, Brooklyn artist whose debut EP includes the bodega classic "Loosey In The Store With Pennies." (@yourolddroog)