So you’ve discovered this rap crew, learn of a new project they just put out, you download it, give it a spin and check the credits. The headliner you’re already familiar with, so it’s time to get to know the folks he brought along. You start researching names and in a matter of minutes that collection of music you’ve been enjoying gets cast into a cruel light… New York collective Pro.Era released its second mixtape on December 21st, coinciding with the presumed end of the world if we were to believe pseudo-scientifical, superstitious speculations. Three days later, life going on as always, news broke that one of Pro.Era’s members, Capital STEEZ, tragically put an end to his life.
The passing of one of their founding members will be a crossroad for the young crew, there will be a before and an after, nonetheless “PEEP: The aPROcalypse” stands testament to the philosophy of the Progressive Era, notably a name STEEZ helped coin. In his honor, let me transcribe the verse with which he opens the proceedings:
“And I quote – we came like them niggas in boats
Still think it’s a joke?
Your third eye vision is broke
We lifted from smoke, and floatin’
That’s how I got my aura open
Check the horoscopes, though
You could say I’m horror-scopin’
You catch me floatin’ on a four-leaf clover
That’s the pot of gold, so we sonnin’ ’em like Maury Povich
We gon’ need paternity tests, I guess
Cause them vets ain’t learnin’ it step by step
It’s Beast Coast, we the murderous set
We rain’n fire, and I don’t mean the burners and Tecs
You gotta love it, all 47 of us
You ain’t got a number? Then I guess we gotta get you covered
I’m connectin’ to my brethren
with the westside connection
cause he say he got the best and
we got the birds like 2-4-7
So I’ma hit you back in a second
Cause we already lifted
We lifted, we lifted
You dreamt it, we lived it…”
Capital STEEZ is an instantly engaging MC, meshing youthful enthusiasm with a philosophical outlook. The verse above is elevated by the music, a finespun combination of emotional pianos and rich drums that Statik Selektah provides for “Like Water,” underlining the Common connection with vocal cuts. It’s a great entrance to a mixtape that like many group efforts enables individual members to shine moreso than the crew as a whole.
CJ Fly sports a fullly grown, charismatic flow that naturally dominates cuts like “Run Or Fly” or “Overseas.” Nyck Caution plays his position as the resident white boy, injecting, for example, “Resurrection of Real” with witty lines like “What the fuck is YOLO, probably been a pharaoh in my past life” and “Never got ’em first but I earned stripes.” Dessy Hinds is a quick-tongued, precisely flowing, opinionated cat who absolutely kills the deep groove of “Vinyls”:
“I been flowin’ extra-proficiently when the beat blowin’ out the system
I only trust stereo systems, nigga, not the system
Got slicker rhythms, they try to log on like logarithms
Shit, gimme a beat and a sheet and I make a nigga listen
From junior high school, rappin’ was a precise tool
Never had the luxury of spendin’ guap for nice jewels
Only had the voice of a amateur, so I damaged the hits
when a nigga spit like he took hits of that cannabis
My nigga Joey handed us the fountain of youth
Blow better than fountains
I been wishin’ well for wishing wells to make my wish true
Bad hoes undercover, they wanna love this brother
cause I’m known to love the others while I’m under covers
Not just another nigga sittin’ stup’ up in the group
only makin’ music cause he wanna hear it from the coupe
Y’all niggas got smart off my verses and palindromes
The closest thing y’all caught in my lines was a sickly syndrome”
And then there are the frontrunners, Joey Bada$$ and Capital STEEZ, who debuted side by side in the former’s very first video, “Survival Tactics.” The two share spiritual concerns, which they express together on “Like Water” and “K.I.N.G.S.” Further appearances are made by A La Sole, Kirk Knight, Dyemond Lewis, Rokamouth, Dirty Sanchez and Chuck Strangers (who also contributes two beats). 8 MC’s pass the mic during the “Last Cypher,” which STEEZ closes with one more verse so inspired it simply leaves you perplexed.
In light of his death criticism of “PEEP” may seem irreverent but since Pro.Era will very likely move on to bigger things some minor murmurings from the sideline won’t hurt. Intentionally or not, Pro.Era evoke times past. Musically they dip into later ’90s East Coast hip-hop, more precisely its more relaxed while not necessarily relevant manifestations. Having that dutiful guardian of some supposed East Coast sound, Statik Selektah, on their side (who produces three tracks) may not solely be a blessing (as great as “Like Water” is), and Pro.Era’s affiliated beatmakers are well advised to continue to develop their sound. The drums may be sampled from Parliament, still brandUn DeShay’s “Last Cypher” beat instantily brings to mind Nas’ “One Love.” Similarly, Hans Solo & Jonas Cook’s drums for “Overseas” couldn’t be more ’90s. The Biz Markie and Method Man samples in “Wrecord Out” and “F a Rap Critic” are somewhat unconnected to the songs themselves, not to mention that Pro.Era don’t seem yet in the position to show the middle finger to whoever they perceive as a ‘rap critic.’ Those are the kind of second-hand rap poses that the East Coast has practised for far too long. Finally it also hurts such tapes when sonically weaker tracks (“Run Or Fly,” “The Renaissance,” “Natural”) are placed next to professional sounding productions.
None of that criticism has much relevance on the potential of this crew. “PEEP: The aPROcalypse” is a tasteful tape with little filler from a talented collective. It is now draped with a black ribbon in memory of 19-year-old Jamal Dewar, who as Capital STEEZ lights up every track he appears on, who achieves a Nas/AZ level of chemistry with Joey Bada$$ on “K.I.N.G.S.,” who vows on “Run Or Fly,” “I ain’t tappin’ out unless it’s blunt ashes and clouds.” May he rest in peace.