Pro Era Family Tree: Meet The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Crew Spearheaded By Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ burst onto the hip-hop scene last year with his 1999 mixtape, a dedication to early-1990s boom-bap rap, and a whole crew behind him proudly touting their Pro Era credentials. In the intervening year, the P.E. Conglomerate has released a collaborative mixtape, PEEP: The aPROcalypse, and supported Joey as he released his Summer Knights tape this July and went on a whirlwind tour earlier this year alongside Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers. Yet despite Joey's insistence on bringing his crew along with him—he'll rarely do interviews without at least one other Pro Era member by his side, and often insists on keeping production and features on his releases in-house—many of Pro Era's myriad MCs and producers have skated by under the radar, quietly putting out singles and contributing verses to posse cuts without raising much noise in the mainstream scene. Now, after the release of Summer Knights and with a slew of Pro Era projects slated to come out later this year, XXL has dug deep into the crew's back catalog to give you the rundown on some of the major players—both rappers and producers, artists and hype men, third eye aficionados and hook specialists—that together help to make up Pro Era.—Dan Rys (@danrys)
Name: Joey Bada$$
Role: Group Leader/rapper
Bio: The breakout star of Pro Era, Joey is the undisputed leader and creative figurehead of the group, with a pair of critically acclaimed mixtapes and cosigns from everyone from A$AP Rocky to Action Bronson to Jay Z to his name. He’s widely regarded as being at the forefront of the Beast Coast and New New York movements, and has a penchant for the early-1990s boom bap sound of producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock.
Best Lyric: “That's your biggest rival, in your whole life
These bars you can't handle you better hold tight
They sayin' I'm the best, I'm like you're so right
Still ain't got enough shine to last the whole night”
—“Survival Tactics,” 1999
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 14
Name: Capital STEEZ
Bio: Made a name for himself with his verse and the video for “Survival Tactics” alongside Joey on the latter’s 1999 mixtape, and played a big role on the Peep: The aPROcalypse group mixtape that came out in late December. One of the most prolific members of the P.E. Conglomerate—as well as its founder—he was also the group's spiritual leader, introducing many members to the concepts of the body's chakras and the opening of the "third eye," both of which crop up repeatedly throughout Pro Era's rhymes. Unfortunately, two days after the tape dropped, STEEZ took his own life, ending the promising career of a kid who was very clearly next in line to step out from the Pro Era umbrella.
Best Lyric: “Riding on hoverboards, wiping out motherboards
Stopped spitting fire cause my motherfuckin lung is scorched
King Arthur when he swung his sword
A king author I ain't even use a pen in like a month or four”
—“Survival Tactics,” 1999
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 8
Name: CJ Fly
Bio: With the release of Summer Knights and the impending drop of Joey’s debut album, the stage is set for CJ Fly to be the next to step out from the Pro Era umbrella. With rumors intensifying that his debut solo mixtape The Way Eye See It is on the horizon, he’s dropped two tracks that may be cropping up on the track list, with the most recent, “tug-at-war,” coming on his 20th birthday July 6th. He’s mysteriously absent from Summer Knights (save a quick appearance on the posse cut “Sorry Bonita”), but he was featured on three tracks off 1999 and was a standout performer on the Pro Era single “Like Water” alongside Joey and STEEZ.
Best Lyric: “But yo, then I wasn't fully grown, no joke
Mood got blown when they found out that I smoke
Like damn, our son is an arsonist
Shine bright, get enlightened from the spark within”
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 3
Name: Kirk Knight
Age: “I don’t believe in age”
Bio: Initially billed as one of the group’s main producers, he’s experiencing something of a coming out party now that Summer Knights has dropped, both behind the boards and on the mic. Since the crew dropped the project’s third single, “Amethyst Rockstar,” the buzz has been building about Knight’s verse, while his production on opening track “Alowha” as well as “Right On Time” and the STEEZ tribute track “#LongLiveSteelo” showed a progression from his earlier work. While his beats may be laid back, his vocals—much like Joey’s—have gotten tougher since his first verses on 1999. Knight’s recently dropped a pair of singles in “Dreams” and “Early Morning Hiatus” which bode well for his future endeavors as well.
Best Lyric: "How is Hip-Hop dead? Im still makin' a killin'
Banana clip peelin' n ho's I'm still stealin'
This is not for the soda pop niggas
Take me to the leader of the new school or the block dealas"
Best Beat: Joey Bada$$, “Alowha”
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 8
Name: Chuck Strangers
Bio: Amidst the MF DOOM and Lord Finesse beats that made up the backbone of 1999 came the emergence of Chuck Strangers, whose production sets the tone in the first track and peaks with “FromDaTomb$,” which features a hilarious verse from him as well. Much more a producer than a rapper, Chuck also put together the spacy beat behind The aPROcalypse’s “Wrecord Out,” the reggae jam of Summer Knights’ “My Yout,” the classic head-nodding feel of “Satellite” and the swirling, reverb-heavy “Reign.” He also manned the boards behind the jazz-based “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” collaboration between Joey and Action Bronson for the 2013 XXL Freshman mixtape. As he continues producing, his beats keep getting more complex and atmospheric, though he also claims he’s got other tricks up his sleeve outside the Joey-spearheaded boom-bap renaissance.
Best Lyric: "Life been getting better
Since they heard about the Era
They say Chuckie got beats, but his bars can be better
Well if you gonna suck my dick, make it wetter"
—"F A Rap Critic"
Best Beat: “FromDaTomb$,” at least for now.
Name: A La $ole
Bio: For someone with a scant amount of verses to his name, it’s awfully hard to pick out which verse is A La $ole’s finest. For one, they’re almost all delivered with a ferocity and a confidence that not even Joey had when he was dropping his first project ($ole doesn’t have a complete project to his name yet, but he was featured on a good chunk of The aPROcalypse), and a tendency to rhyme rings around beats. At just 18, he’s limited to the posse cuts for now, but a longer release from him would help satiate those who crave a more energetic flow from the Pro Era catalog. He’s also a designer for the team, which helped him name his upcoming project The Art Of $ole.
Best Lyric: "We cause Havoc when we Mobb Deep
Spark trees forest fires, messiah from the dark streets
No harm G, where armories get aimed at your arteries
For broader cheese niggas playing with the lottery"
—"Resurrection of Real"
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 1
Name: Dessy Hinds
Bio: Dessy has stepped out on his own before, with tracks like “Natural” off The aPROcalypse and the recently-released single “P.E.nlightenment,” which saw the Illminded Child be the only member of Pro Era outside of Kirk Knight to get his own track on that mixtape. He’s often rapping around the beats without taking a breath, rhyming within his lines like some of the pioneering rappers the P.E. conglomerate harkens back to. Dessy has hinted at upcoming projects, but nothing is concrete as of yet.
Best Lyric: "Put PEEP on repeat when I go hard in the engineering seat
Thinking deep, ‘cause that’s how digging deep make niggas not sleep
Circulating anticipation of having niggas waitin’
For that album, it's like cutting off your circulation"
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 2
Name: Dyemond Lewis
Role: Rapper/Lizard Man
Bio: The output's not quite there yet, and he only made the cut on Summer Knights when it came to posse cut "Sorry Bonita." But Dyme's flow is the laid-back antidote to the grit displayed by some of his cohorts, washing over beats with an effortless flow that would make it seem like he'd barely gotten out of bed, had the lyricism not been on point. His debut solo single "Wordz of the Wize" is delivered over an old-school acid jazz sample that wouldn't be out of place in a hazy, heroin-heavy jazz club or a soul-soaked blues jam—or, for that matter, as the first cousin to the "Sorry Bonita" beat—while his verse on "School High" doesn't disappoint. The Supa Slacka—just one of his various aliases—lives up to his nickname for now. Or is it that he's just found his favored slowed-down tempo in both production and productivity? It'd be nice to hear more from Pro Era's resident Lizard Man in the near future.
Best Lyric: "I ascend as the seasons go on and I vanish
'Cause I notice I’m slowly becoming
Way more imbalanced
A king with the crown, firm grip on the chalice"
Name: Nyck Caution
Bio: Caution might be the brightest diamond in the unexplored rough of Pro Era right now, with lyrics that ooze swagger and unabashed confidence and a flow that matches up perfectly. Just check out "Resurrection of Real" for what the kid can do—we would have taken a few bars from that track as his best, but there were just too many to choose from. He's an all-star performer on The aPROcalypse tape, and shows up on "47 Goons" off Summer Knights to spit words that reference Harry Potter, Leonardo Da Vinci, Jorge Posada and the video game Absolution in 20 biting bars of sheer cockiness. He's said that he's got a tape dropping by the end of the year, and if it's anything like his Pro Era jams, it's one not to miss.
Best Lyric: "I'm a frog, you a cricket, once was just a tadpole
And I'm still a tad po' trying to fix it
They ballin' with no limits, reckless in the Rari's
So how the fuck you expect me to be civil in Civics?"
# Of Movie References: 9
Name: Dirty Sanchez
Bio: Another rapper with a limited output but strong potential. Cap STEEZ’s best friend, Sanchez just turned 20 last weekend and is dedicated to the idea of the number 47, the mystical number that STEEZ held dear. He’s a deft lyricist, and his verse over the cold, old-school Lee Bannon production on “47 Goons” shows off an ability to move smoothly within a beat. A lack of recorded material makes it tough to really know how good he can be at this point, but his recently-released freestyle with Rokamouth for GIANI NYC provides another glimpse of where he’s headed.
Best Lyric: “I'm smoking doobies with like 20 of my goons
Hotbox the whip and let smoke fill the room
Even through my lenses, my sense is on the moon
Dirty be the name and I came from the black lagoon
I'm sick with the ink like infected tattoos
Just one love but the two-three's branded on my shoes”
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 5
Bio: Again, not much material from Rokamouth, but he does show up on both 1999 (on the posse cut “Suspect”) and on two tracks off The aPROcalypse. With only four verses to his name, the only thing harder to find than a Rokamouth line is a Rokamouth beat, though his main form of expression seems to manifest itself in the art posted to his Tumblr page. His freestyle with Dirty Sanchez shows a shy kid, though his other verses portray a more forward, if a bit sensitive, young rhymer.
Best Lyric: “But she always seeing different, I'm committed wit' you
How we started off friends in the middle of school
Now I'm touching her heart from inside of this booth
Reaching out to them stars, like how she wanted us to”
# Of Third Eye Mentions: 2
Name: Lee Bannon
Best Songs: "Run Or Fly," "47 Goonz," "95 'Til Infinity"
Bio: A sometime-producer and collaborator, Bannon functioned as Joey Bada$$’ touring DJ during his 2012 outing, before making way for Statik Selektah, who performed those duties on Pro Era’s Beast Coastal tour earlier this year. He produced four tracks off Summer Knights, including the single “’95 til Infinity,” a piano-based track that saw Joey unleashing his most ferocious vocals to date.
Name: T’nah Apex
Best Songs: "Snakes," "Suspect"
Bio: The female vocalist most closely associated with the Pro Era crew, T’nah showed up to croon on a number of P.E. and Joey hooks, with her coming-out party on 1999’s “Snakes” putting her in the public eye. Her verse on 1999’s posse cut “Suspect” was the world’s first taste of her as a lyricist, and the results were not disappointing.
Name: Bruce Leekix
Best Songs: "Death of YOLO," "Bun N Cheese"