Third Annual Steez Day At Playstation Theatre, Friday, July 7th, 2017
On what was the single best rap concert I’ve seen since forever, the shout out from members of the Pro Era collective and their friends was raised to the roof of the Playstation Theatre over and over again, “so he can hear us in heaven”. Steelo aka Courtney Dewar Jr, aka Capital Steez, one of the top freestyle rappers of the 2010s, jumped off the roof of the Cinematic Music Group in the flatiron district after a final tweet of “The End,” on December 23rd, 2013. It sent the collective reeling in no uncertain terms. The most popular Pro Era member, Joey Bada$$ was just seventeen when his best friend and big brother ny another mother killed himself, and next thing he knew it was up to Joey to represent Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers and the center of Flatbush Pro Era. Helped a lot when Malia Obama rocked a Pro Era shirt back in 2015, they’ve broken through in the past two years.
As late as April, Joey told Angie Martinez that he was still shook up by the death, but Pro Era have gone from strength to strength and last night’s third annual “Steez Day” -a celebration of Steelo, Pro Era, and Pro Era friends and family. I was never that impressed, too deep into trap to turn my attention from Atlanta to Brooklyn, the performances last night were a revelation. Old school till they die, two DJs behind Macbooks kept down the tracks, and one great rapper followed another for two and a half hours before Joey Bada$$, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution -they perform together as, wait for it, Nyck And Knight) and other members of Pro Era performed for over an hour, just to remind us what Malia saw in them. Kirk Knight is moving forward and fast.
The consistency here was unbelievable, opener Saba from Chicago who responded well to a tech problem and Jazz Cartier from Toronto ( but not part of any Drake crew) were both completely ready for their close up, and Jay IDK in a Reagan mask, was up against the wall, J.I.D. performed a terrific acapella rap, Ab-Soul, who barely entered my consciousness with his sophomore album last year, made it his night with the best rap set I’ve seen since Migos opening for Future, Dirty Sanchez and 47 (stuck in a stupid controversy because their band logo looks like a swastika), didn’t make enough of an impression, A$AP Mob, who sucked at Governors Ball, got their mojo back and A$AP Rocky, who was sick as a dog, came out to rock a fine “Yamborghini High” and pay his respects. The Underachievers are a good little band, kinda kid brother to Flatbush Zombies (not represented last night) and Pro Era. The real pity is that XXXtentacion, surely the hottest rapper in the world today, had cancelled his tour after his cousin got shot. A huge loss but not the end of the world because at the very least, this was Pro Era’s show.
The Pro Era set was a long, winding, dream of rap as hardcore agitprop, they are so young to be so angry, but for all Pro Era’s , up against the wall, black youth movement, the audience is palefaced indeed, I was the blackest person in the audience. I have no idea why Pro Era haven’t entered the black consciousness because they are indisputably black conscious. Joey Bada$$ new album is called ALL-AMERIKKKAN Bada$$ and he means it. Joey performed “Rockabye Baby” -do you know that one?
“Feel like Ali in his prime
As-Salaam-Alaikum, alaikum salaam
Peace to my Slimes, and peace to my Crips
Neighborhood police and they always on the shift
Protect my Bloods, look out for my cuz”
That’s a verse almost uncomfortable, I am so used to thinking of the Cribs and the Bloods as villains, it is astonishing to hear that they could even be considered local enforcement and better and safer than the police. But that is Joey and that is Pro Era. Steez himself was a smart but strange young man, nineteen years old when he died, he was into Egyptian mysticism, numerology, astral projection and the Indian chakra system. The rest of the pro Era collective aren’t as strange, sometimes it’s all pussy and weed but they aren’t gangsta at all, and the power is all in the rapping in an art form that has become more about the backing tracks. Certainly, unlike trap, everything here wasn’t layered and taped, though it wasn’t DJed either, the tracks were the tracks, the beats not bad but not maths either, and the songs pointed jabs of anger without rap’s signature modern day denseness. It was also brighter than the blue period of rap we are mostly in. This caused an energy level for Pro Era’s long set that lasted and lasted all night long, and despite a bit of a sag when CJ hit the stage, by the end of the evening, where they went from a yet to be released song followed by their breakthrough song, followed by Kirk introducing Steez’s mother and sister, it was very impressive stuff. There was something both deep and threadbare, no band, no out of the world soundsystem, it felt old school concentrated rap fun. The collective is releasing their first album on July 21st and a long anticipated Capital Steez album December 23rd, so expect them to be all over the place. The Pro Era collective are political, angry young black men in their teens and early twenties performing for white middle class guys, they hate Wall Street and cops in that order plus they come from the same drug dealing and gang affiliation world that Biggie came from, and they are Brooklyn’s finest, better than A$AP Mob. There is something completely pure about these kids, it is all about the rapping and only about the rapping, the fashion, the shirts, everything else takes a second place to the constant cadence and attack of so many great rhymers. Their best song, “Extortion,” with its excellent “Who wants war? They don’t want that war,” effortlessly echoed Muhammad Ali through the ages with the simple truth: blacks don’t want to fight white wars but they are gonna have to do it, is typically clever. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening, this is back to why we loved rap at the start, Brooklyn boys rhyming… RIP Steez…
(Stream it here)