It started with a downpour that soaked the masses and ended with an outpouring of emotion the size of Central Park. Last night's first annual #STEEZDay, put together by Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era to honor their fallen comrade Capital STEEZ on what would have been his 22nd birthday, contained everything in between. A slew of performances, surprise guests and positive vibes washed over Central Park's Rumsey Playfield as the 5,000-strong sold out crowd chanted STEEZ's name in unison for the better part of four hours. It was, for lack of a more specifically descriptive word, epic.

From beginning to end, the vibe of the show was one of general excitement and revelry, both in the crowd and backstage. As the rain burned away by 5:30 p.m. leaving behind a humid but otherwise perfect summer afternoon, the show kicked off with openers SMTH and 22 Love warming up the crowd with Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg playing host in between acts. Dyme-A-Duzin, the young Brooklyn MC who went to high school with both Joey Bada$$ and Capital STEEZ, took the stage in overalls and a colorful checkered shirt to run through his banger "New Brooklyn" and his latest single "That Chicken," paving the way for Harlem's own Smoke DZA, who emerged on stage wearing a slick black smoking jacket and holding a WWE Championship belt. DZA opened his set by wishing STEEZ a happy birthday before burning into "City Of Dreams," the big single off his 2014 album Dream.Zone.Achieve, and the catchy, Joey-featuring "Fhvt BVsturd," which he ended a capella. (DZA also mentioned later that he's working on a new LP, on the way soon.)

As young, energetic collective Phony PPL began their set and ran through "End Of The Night," "Take A Chance" and "Why I Love The Moon," the backstage area began to fill up with special guests and MCs showing out to support as New York City came together for the special celebration. Statik Selektah, celebrating the release of his new album Lucky 7s that dropped yesterday, came through with his mom; Talib Kweli also appeared alongside a few of his artists from his Javotti Media label; and Cam'ron showed up to hang backstage, walking around and talking to various people before disappearing as rumors swirled that he would be taking the stage later (rumors that, ultimately, were unfounded).

But the night kept getting more hyped and the crowd's energy was building along with it. The Underachievers took the stage as the sun officially set, running through a slew of songs from their debut mixtape Indiegoism and their latest solo project, Cellar Door, including "Sun Through Rain" and "Amorphus." Mick Jenkins, Justine Skye, Bodega Bamz, Vashtie and 2015 XXL Freshman Raury all rolled through as Flatbush Zombies' set began to the loudest cheers of the night, while Ab-Soul and his girlfriend Yaris Sanchez hung out behind the scenes. The Zombies premiered three new songs—possibly from their upcoming album, which they announced via XXL in April—before performing some of their better-known older material like "Belly" and "Please Don't Make Me Do It." They brought inflatable beach decorations on to the stage for the ethereal "Palm Trees" before blasting Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and whipping the crowd into a mosh pit complete with fans climbing light posts, before easing the masses back down to earth with the druggy singalong "Thug Waffle."

It was during the Zombies' set that Joey Bada$$ arrived backstage, grabbing his Pro Era brethren and huddling into a dressing room to prep for their headlining set. Shortly after 8 p.m., Statik Selektah hit the crowd with the short instrumental "Greenbax" off Joey's debut album B4.Da.$$ and the man himself emerged alone to "Paper Trail$," wearing a Long Live King Steelo Pro Era jacket specially made for the occasion. "Paper Trail$" was followed by "Hazeus View" and "Big Dusty," both singles off his debut LP, before the whole crew emerged to mash up Joey's "Hardknock" with Jay Z's "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" hook. CJ Fly, Kirk Knight, Nyck Caution, A La $ole, Dirty Sanchez, Powers Pleasant, Dessy Hinds and the whole Pro Era crew, later joined by the Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies as well, all stormed the stage, jumping around and generally wreaking havoc on a stage that was positively thumping with energy.

But that was just the beginning; Ab-Soul then took the stage for his track "Terrorist Threats," rocking at the front of the stage with Joey going crazy beside him. The next to take the stage was A$AP Ferg, who hadn't been spotted backstage before then, who came out as the crowd erupted and asked the crowd to put their hands in the air for both STEEZ and A$AP Yams. Ferg then launched into "Work," which flowed seamlessly into "Shabba Ranks" and threw things onto another level. A moment of silence was called and Pro Era all took a knee on stage and turned to the projector behind them as a video tribute to Capital STEEZ played on screen. As STEEZ's mother, sisters, nephew and other family members watched from the side, Pro Era huddled for a moment in the middle of the stage before launching into "Survival Tactics," Joey's breakout song off 1999 that featured STEEZ and did more than anything to that point to launch Pro Era's hip-hop dreams and expose their balanced and insightful lyricism to the masses.

As the chants of "STEEZ Day" echoed out and the show came to a close, any thoughts of rain from earlier had long since left the building, giving way to hugs, tears and congratulations backstage. The first-ever STEEZ Day—the first annual STEEZ Day, as Joey kept reminding people, insinuating that this was just the first of many—left behind a feeling of camaraderie that has been absent from the New York hip-hop scene of late. Its return was definitely worth the wait.

Dan Rys and Sidney Madden




@jozifbadmon rocks a "Long Live King Steelo" Pro Era jacket as he takes the stage #SteezDay

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Pro Era plays a special tribute video to Capital Steez. #SteezDay #longlivesteelo

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Ab Soul x Pro Era #SteezDay

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Capital Steez's family after a successful 1st annual #SteezDay

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@jozifbadmon reflects on an epic first #SteezDay

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