Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, the home of the hottest new rap crew around: Pro Era. Not too far away in Harlem resides the A$AP Mob, another impressive, up-and-coming gang of MCs, producers and hip-hop talents. New York City is finally back on the map, boasting a wealth of young and ambitious future prodigies. The past 18 months has seen some truly brilliant releases, notably from the aforementioned players in the rap game, such as A$AP Rocky's Live.Love.A$AP mixtape and his latest studio debut, but more refreshingly Joey Bada$$'s 1999 mixtape and his crew's first compilation tape, PEEP: the aPROcalypse. All of these releases stood out because, whilst they harked back to the past, they also brought something new to the table, mainly in the form of the kids dominating their territories.
Bada$$ and Pro Era want to revitalise what they describe as the "Golden Age" of hip-hop, a period between the 80s and 90s when groups like Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys were setting the bar higher in the mainstream. Rolling Stone were quoted as describing the era as a time "when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre." During those 10 or so years, so many classic and seminal hip-hop albums were released by De La Soul, NWA and many other artists and their respective groups. Joey's 1999 stands up there with some of the all time great records, and Pro Era's group effort stands proudly next to it.
One of Pro Era's advantages as far as a collaboration mixtape goes is the fact there are so many of them, and nobody is forgotten when it comes to delivering solid, memorable verses. Your main man is of course Bada$$. Whilst only being 17, it is apparent that he is drawing most of the media's attention, which is natural since he has his own mixtape. But the founding fathers of the group (along with Bada$$) were Powers Pleasant, CJ FLY and the tragic Capital STEEZ, who was rumoured to have taken his own life on December 23rd 2012 (he tweeted merely, "The end"). There were whispers that it might be over for Pro Era following this devastating blow, but thankfully these are just rumours. Bada$$ tweeted his mourning the following day: "This unfortunate xmas eve... Lost a best friend, a brother, a pro, a partner. Letting go is never easy... May ur soul rest in peace Jamal..."
So, sad news of another wasted life and talent aside, the mixtape in question is actually a very upbeat and positive listening experience. As I said earlier, the group may be big (roughly 20 members, give or take) but there are no weak links here. A la $ole was one of the kids that stood out to me the most especially in 'The Renaissance', where he spits with quick precision and urgency. The production is amazing throughout thanks to some gifted desk-whizzes, namely Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight, Chuck Strangers and more. There is a real 90s New York feel, heavy breakbeats reminiscent of the Beasties, which is cool since 'No Sleep Till Brooklyn' is sampled on 'Florists'. The whole collection of songs oozes Brooklyn pride from every pore. The jazzy brass sections and instrumentals are beautiful at times and add a real class to the overall sound, and again giving it that vintage hip-hop feel.
At a generous 17 songs long, it's surprising that the mixtape doesn't drag or slump along; every song is vibrant and full of life, reiterating the sadness of losing STEEZ. The teenage troupe are ferociously passionate about what they do and it shows on every single cut. They rap about girls, weed, high school, ("ya'll went to high school, I went to school high"), and of course their hometown, and there is almost a charming innocence to the whole thing even though these guys are obviously streetwise and full of experience. Maybe it's the sprightly, rich music that makes me think this way. It's just a joy to let it wash over you. Within those 17 songs are a few of the most irresistable, but subtle basslines I've heard in hip-hop for a long time, really underlining the De La Soul vibes that the guys are attempting to resurrect.
Whilst only being young men, the conviction and confidence Pro Era exude in their verses almost makes you believe they could be far older and wiser than their years. These are intelligent kids with so much potential that it would be a crying shame if the rumours suggesting The aPROcalypse is to be the collective's last mixtape end up being true. I personally think it could be bullshit, naturally generated as a result of STEEZ's untimely demise; Bada$$ has already shown that he is soldiering on (check his collaboration with DJ Premier), and it is hard to believe that the group will disband and throw away so much future potential because of such an unfortunate and frustrating event.
I cannot express enough how much of a pleasure it was to listen to PEEP the aPROcalypse again and again and again, constantly hearing the echo of Biggie ringing out, "spread love, it's the Brooklyn way..."