When LA rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All first emerged (nay, projectile nose-bled) across the Internet in 2010, many heralded the young group as the next Wu-Tang Clan. The comparison was, perhaps, evidence of a general longing for the kind of street-clever, posse rap that hip-hop had been lacking for over a decade but stylistically misapplied to the SoCal provacateurs. What’s followed in the past three years is a renaissance of young “indie” rap crews from New York and Chicago alike, launching breakout stars from hyper-local hotbeds of talent.
Pro Era may be the true heirs to that Wu-Tang legacy and barely 18-year-old Joey Bada$$ is their rising star. Since releasing the 1999 mixtape last year, he’s ascended with the likes of the Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies to represent a powerful return to classic Brooklyn boom-bap. With a forthcoming mixtape due in July, I expected the Upstate Concert Hall to be packed on a Saturday night for Pro Era’s first major tour. The half-full room proved that Pro Era is still flying solidly under the radar. Give it a year, though, and I think fans will be begging to get them back to the area.
I missed openers the Underachievers but by the time I got there, Joey Bada$$ was deep in his set, holding court with just a DJ for a good string of his lyric-dense tracks. What’s striking is both Bada$$’ babyface and the ease with which he handles himself over old-school vinyl drum breaks. The kid is young but his knowledge of the craft is deep. One-by-one, members of Pro Era began to materialize on stage for guest verses and supporting hype, none a day over 20. “Ya’ll went to high school, I went to school high,” he quipped precociously with Dyemond Lewis, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution, as if to boast his education for this career was apt. As the stage began to fill, totalling 16 bodies by the show’s climax, the tracks grew denser with the mic being passed five, six, seven times to showcase talent like CJ Fly, Rokamouth, Dessy Hinds and secret weapon T’nah Apex, who’s probably the most captivating female rapper around right now.
By the time calling card track “Survival Tactics” arrived, the vibe onstage was as hot as it was in the crowd, the performers forgoing tired rap posture and braggadoccio for visible, playful delight in the opportunity to perform this stuff in a club they’d mostly be too young to enter.