Last night, The Smokers Club took over Brooklyn at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with their 4/20 celebration show, Legalize NY, featuring some of the East Coast’s heavy hitter contemporaries (with the exception of Lil Bibby from Chicago), including: Brooklyn’s Pro Era rap collective – in attendance were Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly, Kirk Knight, A La $ole, Dyemond Lewis, Rawle, Ali, Dessy Hinds, Nyck Caution, and Dirty Sanchez; Kris Kasanova, Black Dave’s Stone Rollers Skate Gang (SRSG); and Shakespeare, the hall was packed wall to wall with fans from all over on Easter evening.
I arrived a bit late coming from The Harlem Penthouse, but just on time to run amuck backstage with SRSG thanks to one of their members – Zoo – a hometown friend I know from way back when the NJ Hardcore music scene still had a pulse. Thereafter, I went downstairs to the main landing of the stage and witnessed Chiraq’s Lil Bibby move the crowd with heavy bass and 808s that are signature of GBE’s Chi-Rap, playing familiar tracks from group affiliate Chief Keef and others off of his own records. Nyck Caution came on stage and switched up the mood with flows that bubble-wrapped all in attendance with a nostalgia that threw most back into the womb (because no one there was over the age of 30). Caution gave off an air character of NYC in the summer of 1994, Illmatic just dropping prior, a sound that preserved the East Coast flavor that hip-hop has somewhat lost its taste for in recent years with the rise of trap music and minimized elements of storytelling in music. The rest of Pro Era came on mobbing the stage, eventually bring out Joey, of whom kicked a dope freestyle while Kirk Knight beatboxed on the spot, all before stage diving and crowd surfing to M.O.P.’s “Ante Up”, New York City’s national anthem.
In all honesty, I only noticed Joey after listening to 1999 in the last semesters of college, my curiosity mostly driven by his young age, dexterity in verse and flow, using throwback beats and melodies I grew up listening to because of my father playing De La and Tribe in our home as a 90s baby. I really started becoming a fan of his when I spun Summer Knights for the first time, completely hooked after “Death of YOLO,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “Sit N Prey.” And even with his classic feature on A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train,” I really started paying attention to the Brooklyn emcee. At first I was a little hesitant about his aesthetic because it was super nostalgic of 90’s rap, afraid that he may be a gimmick artist, not thinking him as someone who simply refracted the mood of his mentors and muses. Crested by a sound reminiscent of Nas at his prime, when Belly was still considered a block buster, and geopolitics determined tour dates and album features, Pro Era (or the Progressive Era) are a group of incredibly gifted and creative artists with souls more vibrant than the melodic samples used on each track, engineered with the importance of message and delivery in mind. I also learned a lot about deceased/founding member, Capital Steez, understanding how impactful his legacy was and still is to the rest of the group he helped create with Joey. I was thoroughly impressed by the brilliant chemistry shared between each young musician on stage – DJ’s included – and can confidently state that the young collective has more than enough innovation and potential to become as iconic as their predecessors like Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and The Pharcyde, while at the same time maintain their individualism as separate artists working together to make great music.
Wasn’t able to make it out to Brooklyn for 4/20? Don’t trip. Peep The Recap Reel™ above or head on over to EARFLOAT TV™ for the video as well as other performances by Pro Era. For photos, check the gallery below.