On October 18th, XXL, along with Cinematic Music Group and Ecko Unltd, presented “Remember When Rappers Could Rap?,” an evening entrenched with energetic performances from some of the game’s hottest young talents such as Big K.R.I.T., Smoke DZA, Joey Bada$$ and Fat Trel.

With newcomers Chance the Rapper and Cashius Green setting the energy of the stage to the right temperature, Brooklyn-bred rapper Joey Bada$$ along with his Pro Era posse performed songs off his critically acclaimed mixtape 1999. The young rapper’s yet-untitled new single is due out in early November through Green Label Sound. When asked about the new project, Joey claimed, “It’s going to be dope and I get to work with someone I consider an icon,” hinting an upcoming collaboration.

For the penultimate set, Smoke DZA—backed by his champagne-sipping entourage—bulldozed the stage. The Harlem native tore through his catalogue, earning a great crowd response, performing tracks off his recent release Rugby Thompson, entirely produced by Brooklyn’s Harry Fraud. DZA, with sweat dripping under his bucket hat, delivered a high-energy performance, keeping the lifted audience further elevated with lighters sparked throughout his set.

Finally, when Big K.R.I.T. took the stage mid-way through 10 p.m., he apologized in advance for cutting his set short, but proceeded to drop his country anthem “I Got This,” to an excited group of fans. With the stage all to himself, the Mississippi-born rapper blazed through his hyped-up, hook-driven bangers and proved to his New York constituency why he deserved to headline the event.

Are rappers still rapping? Last evening’s showcase clearly proved, “Yes, they’re rapping better than, ever.” —Nick De Molina (@odmod) and Anastasia Williams (@AAAAAnastasia)