A phrase made famous by Nas on "The World is Your's" from his universally acclaimed debut album, iLLmatic. Nas used the term again on the track "One on One" from the Street Fighter soundtrack in the mid 90's.
In a literal sense, the term "Rotten Apple" is a nickname for New York City, for obvious reasons.
In a symbolic sense, however, it could be a much deeper metaphor, meaning a negative, angry, depressed, or confused state of mind. "Dwellin' in the rotten apple, you get tackled, or caught by the devil's lasso..."
It could also be a metaphor for deadly games & habits such as drug addiction, pomiscuous sex, alcoholism, anorexia, etc.
This line is a perfect example of elite lyricism, portrayed by an elite rapper, spawned from true talent, skill, and understanding for Hip Hop. It has a literal sense that the vast majority of people can relate to - it is easy to understand - it is creatively soken to sound pleasing to the ear of the listener - and it also has a fascinating "iceberg" below the surface that can be explored by those who are passionate fans of hip hop, writing, and music.
-His rhymin' is a vitamin.
Dwellin' in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled/
or caught by the devil's lasso, shit is a hassle/