Portrait of Heavyweight Boxer Mike Tyson in Pensive Pose

Source: Bettmann / Getty

In New York City, each individual borough boasts its own rich history and distinct wrinkles that sets them apart from one another — a testament to its reputation as the foremost cultural hub in the world. However, while the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island all possess endearing qualities that have made them tourist destinations, for many, the heart and soul of the Big Apple can be traced to Brooklyn, the most celebrated, yet notorious of the five boroughs.
This is particularly true in the realm of urban culture, as Brooklyn has served as a birthplace and breeding ground for some of the most iconic and talented figures to have walked this earth. Known for its gritty, do or die attitude, Medina — as it’s affectionately referred to by natives and longtime residents — doesn’t suffer or pity the weak, resulting in an environment where surviving the times takes the amount of fearlessness, determination and skill of a champion. These traits are particularly useful when partaking in Brooklyn’s two favorite past times: rapping and boxing.

Comprised of various neighborhoods that ring bells across the world, Brooklyn’s lineage of pugilists and poets runs deep, but few boast the star power that can be traced back to the borough’s Brownsville section. Notorious for its high rate of poverty and being a hotbed for crime, Brownsville’s reputation as the kind of place you may not wanna frequent after dark — or during daytime, for that matter — precedes itself. However, in spite of those grim realities, Brownsville’s contributions to the sweet science of boxing and rap lore have helped stamp the neighborhood as a cultural landmark.

This trend began during the latter half of the ’80s, when Brownsville native Mike Tyson took the boxing world by storm. Spending much of his teenage years in and out of various juvenile detention facilities, he developed a love for boxing, honing his skills under famed trainer Cus D’Amato, who guided Tyson to a decorated amateur career prior to his death in 1985. Fighting his first professional bout later that year, the fierce slugger quickly rose up the ranks, ultimately becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history with his defeat of then-WBC title-holder Trevor Berbick.

By the end of 1988, Tyson had made history as the first heavyweight to unify all three belts from the three major sanctioning bodies, marking him as the undisputed heavyweight champ, a distinction he would hold until his defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas in 1990. During his initial reign as the baddest man in boxing, Tyson was embraced by the hip hop community, particularly in Brooklyn, where homegrown stars like Big Daddy Kane peppered nods to the champ in their lyrics. His mid-90s resurgence would also inspire the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Jeru the Damaja, Killah Priest, and various members of fellow Brownsville reps Boot Camp Clik to pay homage to his ferocity in the ring.
As Tyson lost control of the heavyweight division and was incarcerated on sexual assault charges in 1992, another Brownsville product by the name of Riddick Bowe had replaced Iron Mike as the man of the moment. Turning pro in 1989, Bowe gave Evander Holyfield the first loss on his record to become the new undisputed champion in 1992, resulting in Bowe being named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine.
Vacating the WBC heavyweight title later that year in protest, Bowe lost the remainder of the belts in a rematch with Holyfield the following year. Regaining a portion of the world heavyweight title in 1995, Bowe became the first boxer to win the titles of all four major sanctioning bodies. Retiring with a  43-1 record, Bowe is considered one of the greatest boxers of his era and was a favorite of The Notorious B.I.G., Smif N Wessun, Sean Price, and other fellow BK natives.
Brownsville’s streak of producing elite heavyweights continued with the emergence of Shannon Briggs, a heavy-handed brawler known for his high knockout percentage. Turning pro in 1992, Briggs — a two-time heavyweight champ — became the lineal heavyweight champion after scoring a decision against George Foreman in 1997, but lost the title the following year after a bout with Lennox Lewis.
Spending the subsequent years fighting his way back up the ranks, Briggs reached the top of the summit once again, recapturing the WBO heavyweight title with a win against Sergei Liakhovich in 2006. However, he would lose the belt the following year in a loss against Sultan Ibragimov. Embraced by various rap artists through song, Briggs’ hip hop cred has been solidified with mentions from Necro and other star talent, and is considered one of Brownsville’s greatest of all-time.
In addition to producing future heavyweight champions, Brownsville has bred a number of imposing figures across other weight classes, Zab Judah being among them. A prolific boxer on the amateur circuit, Judah turned pro in 1996, winning his first Light Welterweight title with a victory over Micky Ward in 1998. From there, Judah would go on a tear, winning multiple titles throughout his illustrious career, including the Lineal Welterweight Championship and IBC light middleweight title.
Despite defeats at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Kostya Tszyu and Amir Khan during his prime years, Judah was regarded as one of the better pound-for-pound fighters and boxing, earning his rightful place in the pantheon of Brooklyn pugilists. With blinding fists of fury and the countenance of a seasoned showman, Judah’s style and flair resonated with the hip hop community. Scoring his first cameo in the music video for Shyne’s 2000 single “That’s Gangsta,” Judah would appear alongside a number of Brooklyn rappers throughout his career, including Lil Kim, Fabolous, and Memphis Bleek.
In recent years, pundits and fans in the boxing world have placed their bets on Danny Jacobs, the latest champion to embody the intense surroundings of his neighborhood. A china bull in the ring with the precision of a sniper, Jacobs has put together one of the more impressive resumes in the middleweight division, with his only losses coming against Dmitry Pirog, Gennady Golovkin and current lineal middleweight champ Canelo Alvarez.
Dubbed the “Miracle Man” after surviving a life-threatening bout with bone-cancer, Jacobs returned to the ring in 2011 and has enjoyed the peak years of his career. Currently rated among the top middleweights in the sport, Jacobs’ popularity extends beyond the ring, as his relationships with fellow Brownsville natives and boxing enthusiasts Smif N Wessun, and rising rap star Phresher are indicative of his entrenchment in the hip hop community.
Another hot prospect from that ensures Brownsville’s legacy in the boxing world will be secure for the foreseeable future is Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington, a former 2016 Olympic alternate and Golden Gloves champion. Carrington — who fights in memory of his older step-brother Michael Hayden, who was slain in the East New York section of Brooklyn while walking home in 2014 – is considered one of the top amateur fighters in New York City and is primed to make a run at representing the U.S. at the 2020 Olympics. Despite still being a teenager, Carrington has already gained the respect and admiration of esteemed Brooklynites Casanova and Papoose, both of whom have appeared alongside the youngster in photos on his Instagram page over the past few years.
Those posts could be seen as a standard photo-op between Carrington and high-profile celebrities, but upon closer examination, is indicative of the thread connecting Brownsville boxing and hip hop being stronger than ever.