Given Name: Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott
Aliases: JayOhvee, OG $wank Lord
Occupations: Rapper, Producer
Early Life: Growing up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, Bada$$ was the first of his West Indian family to be born in the states. He enrolled in Edward R. Murrow highschool to pursue acting, but switched his focus to rapping around the age of 14. At 15, he uploaded a freestyle video to YouTube, which was reposted to World Star Hip Hop and caught the attention of Jonny Shipes, manager of Big K.R.I.T. and Smoke DZA. In 2010, he and his Pro Era drew were signed to Shipes' label, Cinematic Music Group.
Releases: The Secc$ Tap.e, collaborative mixtape, May 2012; 1999, mixtape, June 2012; Rejex, mixtape, September 2012; PEEP: The aPROcalypse, collaborative mixtape, December 2012; Summer Knights, mixtape, July 2013, Summer Knights, EP, October 2013; The Secc$ Tap.e 2, collaborative mixtape, February 2014.
Career Highlights: Signed to Cinematic Music Group at age 15. In February 2012, Bada$$ and Capital STEEZ released the "Survival Tactics" video, which got over four million views and a bunch of attention from hip-hop publications. Released 1999 in May 2012; it was nominated for "Best Mixtape" at that year's BET Awards and saw placement on many year end lists. Got his first credits as a producer on STEEZ's 2012 mixtape Amerikkkan Korruption. In January 2013, he was featured on the song "1 Train" on A$AP Rocky's debut album. Made XXL's Freshman Class of 2013. His debut commercial release, the Summer Knights EP, was released in October 2013 and debuted at number 48 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Sound: Like many of his Pro Era peers, Bada$$ early music was comprised mostly of samples, copping tracks from J Dilla, MF DOOM, Styles of Beyond and others. Since then, he's collaborated with big-name producers such as DJ Premier, Statik Selektah an The Alchemist, all of whose sounds reflect Bada$$ '90s vibe. Clearly a fan of jazzy, chilled-out sounds, Bada$$ also recently delved into reggae with his single "My Yout," which saw him reconnecting with his Caribbean heritage.
Strengths: Since his first freestyle hit the web, Bada$$ draw has always been his precocious lyricism. It's one thing to be a well-known, teenaged rapper, but Bada$$ brainy bars prove that his age isn't the main reason he's a big deal. Even when the subject matter's less than highbrow, like on the recent "Pantie Raid Pt. 2" (below), Bada$$ still finds a way to incorporate lines like "expand your ocular." Some have criticized his reliance on a Golden Age sound, with Bada$$ himself saying that critics often "pigeonhole me into this '90s era box," but his recent attempts to expand his sound have proved just how versatile he really is.
What's Next: In April 2103, Bada$$ announced that his debut album, B4.Da.$$, would be released early in 2014. We haven't gotten any moe confirmation on that, but we do know he's been in the studio with DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Q-Tip working on that project.
Capital STEEZ (RIP)
Given Name: Jamal Dewar
Aliases: STEELO, Jay Steez
Age: 19 (at time of death)
Early Life: Steez went to high school with Bada$, and they were friends before they formed Pro Era together in 2009. Before PE, STEEZ rapped with his friend Jakk the Rhymer under the name The 3rd Kind.
Releases: The Yellow Tape, collborative mixtape with The 3rd Kind; Amerikkkan Korruption, mixtape, April 2012; The Secc$ Tap.e, collaborative mixtape, May 2012; PEEP: The aPROcalypse, collaborative mixtape, December 2012.
Career Highlights: Received a lot of praise for his verse on "Survival Tactics," earning spots on XXL's "25 of the Best Closing Lines in Rap" and SPIN's "The 25 Best Rap Lines of 2012" lists. Amerikkkan Korruption was named the most overlooked mixtape of 2012 by MTV.
Sound: Compared to Bada$$, STEEZ was a bit more adventurous with his beat selection, with tracks like "Bonafied Loving" and "47 Piiirates" (below) showcasing sounds pretty far removed from PE's usual blueprint. Funnily enough, both of those songs were produced by Bada$. Elsewhere, STEEZ rapped over beats by Madlib, MF DOOM and DJ Premier, in keeping with the general character of PE.
Strengths: As he proved on "Survival Tactics," STEEZ could easily hang with Bada$$ wordy flows. His rhymes may have not always been as intricate as Bada$$, but with verses that dealt with heavy subjects like government conspiracies, STEEZ always packed in enough significance to make his lyrics insanely enjoyable. Contrary to what you might expect from someone who later committed suicide, STEEZ rarely seemed depressed in his tracks, opting instead for punchlines and some light relief from Bada$$ deep, sometimes overly serious voice. As the good-natured MC once said himself: "I'm more in it for fans than I'm in it for me."
Latest Track: On December 24th, 2013, the one-year anniversary of STEEZ's death, Pro Era shared a video for his song "47 Piiirates."
Occupations: Producer, Rapper
Career Highlights: Strangers rose to prominence with his work on 1999, which included producing four songs and rapping on two. In 2013, he produced "B.A.R'd," Bada$$ collaboration with Action Bronson on XXL Freshman Class of 2013 mixtape.
Sound: On 1999, all of Strangers' tracks showcased a spacey, keyboard-heavy sound with beats that ranged from more modern, trap-influenced fare, to classicist boom-bap. With his tracks on The aPROcalypse and Summer Knights, Strangers continued to move down the rabbit hole of trippy sounds.
Strengths: Though producing is clearly his main focus, Strangers has showed some promise in his rap verses, especially on "FromdaTomb$," in which he brags about his beer pong skills and raps in a Biz Markie-esque style. Though he's Pro Era's main in-house producer, he hasn't been that prolific as of late, with two beats on Summer Knights and none on The Secc$ Tap.e 2.
Early Life: Along with Bada$$ and STEEZ, Fly is one of the founding members of Pro Era, forming it with his two friends in 2009.
Career Highlights: Fly first emerged with two tracks on The Secc$ Tap.e, and three features on 1999. Last October, he released his debut mixtape, featuring appearances from Bada$$, Ab-Soul, Erick Arc Elliott, Buckshot, Phife Dawg, Statik Selektah and BrandUn DeShay.
Sound: His track "Flyin' Lo" from The Secc$ Tap.e sampled Flying Lotus' cover of Slum Village's "Fall In Love," and that gave a good idea of what to expect in the future from CJ Fly. Usually opting for hazy, jazzy instrumentals, CJ Fly's the type to rap over horns and xylophones rather than trap beats and synths. With pretty much no exception, none of Fly's tracks sound anything close to aggressive.
Strengths: Even more so than Bada$$, who's carved out a nice little niche for himself, CJ Fly has done an expert job curating his material, with a distinct sound and no real outliers. Especially in the '90s, there were plenty of rappers who made "jazz rap," but recently, no one has as much claim to that genre tag as Fly. If you're a fan of this non-confrontational, legit jazz sound, CJ Fly will never disappoint, but if not, his tracks can start to all blend together a little bit.
Aliases: Kirk Knasty
Occupations: Rapper, Producer
Career Highlights: Knight began his career with one song on The Secc$ Tap.e and two features on 1999. Becoming initially recognized for his rapping, Knight has since come into his own as a producer, making one track on The aPROcalypse and two each on Summer Knights and The Secc$ Tap.e 2.
Sound: Generally speaking, Kirk Knight makes pretty minimal tracks. His instrumentals usually consist of a no-nonsense beat and one or two melodic instruments as the only accompaniment. He showed how effective this formula could be on Summer Knights cut "LongLiveSteelo," transforming guitar and vocal samples into an emotive, touching instrumental for the STEEZ tribute track.
Strengths: As a rapper, Knight really broke through with his verse on Bada$$ "Amethyst Rockstar," attracting a lot of buzz and proving that he was equally talented in the rapping and beatmaking departments. His delivery is similar to Bada$$, and he's probably the rapper in Pro Era who you could most easily mistake for Bada$$. Right now, he seems ripe to follow CJ Fly as the next Pro Era member with a solo tape to his name.
Aliases: Lizard Man, Supa Slacka
Occupations: Rapper, Singer
Career Highlights: Lewis first showed up on The Secc$ Tap.e's relatively strange "Interlude88," and later appeared on two tracks each on aPROcalypse and Secc$ Tap.e 2.
Sound: True to his "Supa Slacka" nickname, Lewis has a supremely smooth flow and usually raps on laid-back tracks. Other than "Interlude88" (in which he delivered a spoken word verse), his only solo outing to date is "Wordz of the Wize," which is a characteristically jazzy PE joint.
Strengths: Though his first few guest spots just featured him rapping, Lewis has recently shown himself to be quite the singer, both on "Wordz of the Wize" and "Sol Luna" (below) from Secc$ Tap.e 2. His rapping lacks the urgency and skill of some of his peers, but as he's only appeared on a handful of PE tracks so far, he's got plenty of room to grow.
Aliases: Ala Sole
Career Highlights: A La $ole started off with one solo track on The Secc$ Tap.e, and continued with three on aPROcalypse, one feature on Summer Knights, and two tracks off the new Secc$ Tap.e 2.
Sound: To date, $ole has rapped over the most soulful beats of any Pro Era member. From Bruce Leekix's smooth production on "I Still Love H.E.R.," to the Pete Rock-esque "Renaissance" from aPROcalypse, it seems that, true to his name, $ole prefers soul music to jazz. He hasn't had enough solo tracks to define a distinct style, but that will soon change when he releases his debut mixtape
Strengths: $ole has already proven himself an immensely skilled lyricist, despite his relative lack of material. On tracks like "Dirty Dancing" (below), he rips through nuanced flows like he's been doing this for years, holding his own among PE and giving us plenty of hope for more great music in the future.
What's Next: His solo debut, The Art of SOLE, is coming soon.
Occupations: Singer, Rapper
Releases: The Secc$ Tap.e, collaborative mixtape, May 2012; The Secc$ Tap.e 2, collaborative mixtape, February 2014.
Career Highlights: Sang on two tracks on The Secc$ Tap.e, one each on Bada$$ 1999 and Summer Knights, and one on the second Secc$ Tap.e. She also rapped on 1999's posse cut "Suspect."
Sound: Apex always comes through with very smooth, sensual hooks, splitting the difference between Erykah Badu and recent TDE signee SZA. As she doesn't have any solo tracks with PE to date, we can't say what constitutes her sound yet, but whenever she gets around to it, we're sure it'll be soulful.
Strengths: Were it not for her phenomenal verse on "Suspect," we would've definitely said that singing was Apex's strong suit, but her rapping is just too strong on that track. To date, it's her only appearance as an MC, but if it's an accurate indicator of her talent, she could easily carry an entire tape herself. She mostly employed by PE for hooks, but if given the chance, Apex can really shine in the booth.
Career Highlights: Hinds got his first look on 1999 posse cut "Suspect," and has popped up with increasing features on each successive Pro Era release. He appeared on three cuts on both aPROcalypse and Summer Knights, and two on the new Secc$ Tap.e.
Sound: Of the three solo tracks Hinds has to his name right now, both "Mo Wetter Blues" and "Chocolate Strawberries" (below) feature him in full-on romantic mode. It may just be the fact that both were released around Valentine's Day, or it could be Hinds' aspiration to be PE's resident lyrical lady killer. Not all of his guest verses reflect this character, with his bars showing his versatility, but when Hinds steps off on his own, it's usually to seduce some women.
Strengths: Lyrically, Hinds does a great job of balancing Bada$$-style intelligence with harder rap clichés, perfectly illustrated on Bada$$ "Satellite" when he rhymes "idiolect" with "eyein' the Tec." As he's one of the lesser-known members of the PE crew, Hinds is proof that you need to be an exemplary lyricist to hang with the crew. There hasn't been any word about his solo debut, but you can be sure that his thrilling verses will be a highlight of every PE release from here on out.
Early Life: Before hooking up with Pro Era in 2012, Caution released a solo mixtape, The Pursuit Vol. 1, in 2011.
Career Highlights: After his solo mixtape, Caution appeared on 1999's "Suspect," six aPROcalypse cuts, two tracks on Summer Knights and one on the new Secc$ Tap.e.
Sound: Caution's mixtape saw him rapping over varied material such as Flying Lotus' "A Milli" remix and Kanye's "Say You Will," meant to show his range as a lyricist. So far, he seems hesitant to pick beats that sound similar, opting instead for his brash lyrics to define him. He hasn't yet had a solo release that contains original production, but as a member of PE he flows just as well on old school boom-bap tracks as he does on some of the more adventurous beats he's rapped over.
Strengths: Lyrics, definitely. The best example of his talent might be Summer Knights' "47 Goons," in which he references Harry Potter, Leonardo Da Vinci, Jorge Posada and the video game "Absolution." He's not afraid to make nerdy references ("get the green like I'm Bulbasaur"), but his rapping is hard-nosed enough that he never once feels soft.
Latest Track: It's actually "Far," but as that's also T'nah Apex's latest, here's a Caution solo track from November.
Get familiar with Pro Era's many members in this week's "Crew Love," where we break down a different crew every other week.
Last week, Pro Era released the triumphant sequel to their debut mixtape, 2012's The Secc$ Tap.e. The new tape, showcasing tracks from up-and-comers like Dessy Hinds, Rokamouth and Nyck Caution as well as the crew's more established stars (Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly and Kirk Knight), proves that Pro Era is one of the deepest crews in the game right now.
Rising to prominence with group leader Joey Bada$$' 2012 mixtape 1999, the Brooklyn crew quickly became fan favorites for their boom-bap revivalism and dense lyricism. After Bada$$ attracted attention, everyone thought that PE's Capital STEEZ would be the next to break, but tragedy struck on December 24th, 2012, when he chose to take his own life. Regrouping and and seeing increased output from its other members, Pro Era returned with Bada$$' 2013 mixtape Summer Knights.
As the entire crew includes more than 40 members, we've chosen Pro Era's 10 most prolific artists to profile in this edition of Crew Love. Read on to learn more about Pro Era, and if there's another crew you'd like to see profiled, shout it out in the comments.