Yesterday evening, thousands of Beast Coast fans flocked to Central Park’s Summer Stage to observe the 4th annual Steez Day celebration. For those who don’t know, Capital Steez was the founding father of Pro Era, as well as the creator of the term “Beast Coast.” Unfortunately, as Pro Era’s momentum really started to snowball, Steez took his own life and subsequently became another east coast hip-hop martyr.

This year’s Steez Day seems to have been the largest one yet, and it’s interesting to see the balance between the desire to pay homage and the desire to turn up. Fans of all ages and creeds descended on the park, but there was no mistaking that the overwhelming demographic were young white men. Perhaps that’s a testimony to the reach that the Beast Coast movement has accomplished, or maybe it’s simply reflective of the high price point for tickets and merchandise. It’s probably a little bit of both. Still, it’s always a little uncomfortable seeing a young black man turned into a symbol and the tragedy being commoditized. However, given that the festival was created to honor Steez’s memory and assist his family financially, I would say that the day was undoubtedly a success.

The Pro Era members flowed smoothly into each other, starting off with a short set from Dessy Hinds, who was followed up by Aaron Rose (formerly A la Soul). Next came a powerful performance by Chuck Strangers, who reminded everyone why we were gathered there today by starting his set by saying, “Hi my name is Chuck Strangers and I’m here to honor the dead homies.” Up next was Dirty Sanchez, who kept the energy high and then performed a newly released Steez tribute, entitled “Rose From The Bush”. Dirty’s set ended with a feature from CJ Fly, who remained on stage to seamlessly transition into his own performance. Fly’s set was probably the most reverent as he alternated between playing Steez’ verses and his own. He ended with a new track the announcement that “Me and Statik Selektah are working on an album. Don’t tell anybody. Tell everybody.” So now you know.

Nyck Caution kicked things into high gear, rapping at a breakneck pace and moshing with audience before asking for a moment of silence for the loss of both Steez and XXXTentacion, making sure to admonish a non-compliant spectator. He then brought out Kirk Knight to perform some of their “Nyck @ Knight” collaborations before leaving the stage to Kirk who managed to match his energy. Somewhere between playing new music and crowd-surfing, Kirk reminded the audience that he didn’t only rap and was “double platinum,” before rapping the chorus of ASAP Ferg’s “Plain Jane.”

After a brief intermission, Jay Critch came on stage for one of the evening’s more lethargic performances. He ran through some of his hits, but due to the lack of audience recognition and/or enthusiasm, they didn’t hit as hard as they otherwise may have. He had three other homies on stage with him who were somehow even lower energy, and honestly, as a unit they were probably too smacked. On the other hand, MadeinTYO came in with so much energy that people went right back to losing their minds, but that’s pretty much what his music exists for. He lost his shirt almost immediately, and spent his entire performance running up and down the length of the stage.

After another short pause, Mick Jenkins took to the mic and despite some mishaps had one of the most dynamic and honest sets of the night. There was a clear lack of recognition from a chunk of the audience, which I found surprising because I would think that Mick’s music would be analogous to the sounds the crowd was trying to hear. I personally was putting nearby strangers on to his work. He described undertaking a self induced exile of sorts, talked about our aversion to showing love to each other and apologized for not being in top performance form after. After performing some songs off The Waters and The Healing Component, he freestyled a portion of his last verse with tongue in cheek references to his lack of connection to his old work and other rappers’ inability to freestyle. Whether due to his own choice or time constraints the ending of his set felt abrupt.

Next up were The Underachievers who, as far as I know, never introduced themselves but had crowds of scattered kids flocking to the stage area upon their arrival. In the middle of their set they started a series of rest in peace chants not only for Capital Steez and XXXTentacion but also for their own fallen comrades. They maintained a high level of energy before disappearing from the stage as swiftly as they took it.

Flatbush Zombies needed no introduction, but given the literal droves of people wearing their merchandise it was clear that they didn’t need one. They brought out an incredible number of supporters and had the place lit from the moment they arrived. Their confidence in themselves and their fans was palpable as Juice paraded about with a championship belt slung over his shoulder and Meech practically frolicked on stage. Erik Ark Elliott was unfortunately confined to a wheelchair, but didn’t let it prevent him from spitting ferociously while being rolled around. Of all those in attendance, the Zombie fans appeared the most die hard.  After having the crowd rap most of “Palm Trees” Meech ended their set by leading them in singing Happy Birthday to Juice, who was celebrating his 28th.

By the time Joey Badass took to the stage, the crowd was at a fever pitch. The lighting and special effects shifted into a new level, with plumes of smoke periodically firing and colored lights flashing. Joey performed in front of a projection of the paisley American flag from his All Amerrikkkan Badass album, drawing music from his recent work and his prior album B4.Da.$$. In honor of Steez, he also performed a portion of “Like Water,” and their wildly successful collaboration “Survival Tactics.” He ended the night with another moment of silence for Steez and X before closing the night with all of the day’s artists on stage, and a final performance of his single “Devastated.”   

The concert was incredibly prompt, starting exactly at 6 PM and ending at 10 PM on the dot, practically unheard of for a rap show. As I was being herded out of Central Park amidst a sea of white teenagers I couldn’t help but wonder what the Steez Day celebration was going to look like in the future. It is likely to grow even larger, moving further away from those who were intimately touched by the man’s life and music. This is a natural part of the proliferation of art, as there’s no real barrier for entry beyond enjoying it (unless there’s a cover charge). Although there were definitely people simply attending to look cool, the amount of love for Steez and the whole movement was palpable. Not to discredit how anyone decides to pay their respects to the fallen, but there certainly is more to it than simply buying a t-shirt with their face on it. Hopefully in the years to come this balance, between revelry and reverence can be maintained and we can honor the memory of the dead with dignity.

Rest in Peace XXXTentacion. Rest in Peace King Capital.