That’s it, it seems like groups are now a thing in Hip Hop again. Obviously they never left, but contemporary acts such as Black Hippy, OFWGKTA, the nascent Brooklyn outfit Pro Era and, to a lesser, more spiritual degree, YMCMB and G.O.O.D. Music, have garnered more acceptance and recognition than the LOX or D12 could hope to imagine.
Regarding Pro Era, the 17-man crew whose assumed leader and fan favorite Joey Bada$$’ first official project 1999 has only been released for three days, the exact mission and impact of the group has yet to fully manifest. Its best effort to date, “Survival Tactics,” is an ambitiously raw missive of adolescent aggression that entices how a full-length LP would turn out.
Like untrained mercenaries for a cause too real to sleep on, Joey and Capital STEEZ drop knowledge of the ongoing struggle of a land seemingly removed from the pomp and circumstance of pop rap’s familiar digs (oh wait, its called “the real world”) over a dour beat speckled with drill sergeant calls and gun blasts. They stress for change by any means necessary, even though a Martin Luther King button remains affixed on a group member’s hoodie: “F*ck the police! F*ck every corrupt politician! Public Enemy. Assassinate us, bitch!”
Yet to be honest, most of that aggression and theorizing comes from Joey’s end. STEEZ, although taking an easy jab at Lil B and President Obama in his verse, would much rather compliment his own rapping skills or make awkward Pokemon references than fully pursue the assumed Pro Era calling. And despite his bigger build and ability to grow facial hair, he sounds slightly too immature to compliment Joey’s also young, but mentally mature and socially conscious lyricism.
The same largely applies to STEEZ’s debut mixtape, AmeriKKKan Korruption. With a name as evocative of a rough and rowdy middle finger to “the man” as that one, listeners expect a more overt, if not similar level of uneasy street rhymes that “Survival Tactics” set up. And its sad to say that the project never comes close to that.
Korruption‘s most socially conscious section- the second and third track- are the best tracks. “Dead Prez” features STEEZ rhyming about how his crew hopes to “revive the game” and how he stays faithful despite unwanted circumstances. The borrowed hook gets annoying after a while, but the first half digs at something worthwhile: “Is there a heaven for us hip hop heathens/Big Pop and Pac, even Easy had to meet him/we all children lookin’ for a reason/what do you believe in, betrayal, treason?”
The next track, “Free The Robots,” takes very political assumptions that will immediately divide listeners. I personally find myself indifferent to the whole Illuminati conspiracy theories; give me more than some coked-out guy mumbling on Youtube about the MTV Video Music Awards to support a covert global control scheme. But he at least knows its wrong supposing its true, and he disgraces black-on-black crime among other things. STEEZ goes nuts at the end of this song, spewing out so much passion through his delivery that seals the deal for a whole listen through.
But alas, the rest of the mixtape quickly recedes into well-known territory- punchlines, pill popping, teenage drama, overblown hip hop bragging, a friggin love song!- that doesn’t offend as much as it simply baffles how wrong his artistic image is. He’s in this fledgling group striving for Malcolm X-level change, names his mixtape in a very visceral manner, and at least bothers to gives the song evocative titles as well (Dead on Arrival? Doggybag? Heelz yeah pro era fo life fuck dem otha wack ass muhfuckas!). But, really, is it all a scam? Is he some closet swag rapper riding the waves of underground appeal?
And even if he did lean more to the side of Public Enemy, his lispy, atonal and very high pitched delivery makes repeated listens feel like sticking my hand into a bucket full of worms. It doesn’t hurt, but uuuuuuuuuuuuuugh its so unnerving. And his singing on “Dead on Arrival” should have melted the microphone with how godawful it sounds.
I don’t hate STEEZ, or this mixtape, for that matter. The mixtape, on its own merits, is decent. The major point, however, is that he represents an ideology that’s very easy to get sucked into, in terms of people’s actions or their musical preferences. It would be quite easy for a casual listener to get absorbed by the rough mixing, dark, grimy production and his stilted lyrics and sum it up as “a refreshing release of nostalgia to cleanse our rotten, cotton candy rap-mangled ears.” If the beats and a few lines were swapped out, the difference between Korruption and any other newcomer would be minimal, but it wouldn’t make listeners want to fight the power.