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Been wanting a throwback of the ’90s when Nasty Nas, Big L and Tribe Called Quest reigned the mic? Frustrated with hip-hop these days or just stuck in the past? Well, meet Joey Bada$$, the Brooklyn borough’s young ferocious emcee who’s rhymes are leaving many reminiscing about the glory-full days of the golden era. The young phenomenon along with his 24-man army who call themselves Pro Era recently met up with us at Cinematic Music Group offices to discuss this new “progressive era” movement. Meanwhile, his 1999 mixtape plays out like an album and deserves mention as one of the best projects in 2012 on and off the mixtape tip. Beats and rhymes are making a return, and we can partly thank Joey Bada$$ and the Pros for it. Follow what they had to say below.
Just to set the record straight, how many members are in Pro Era?
Pro Era: 24, but 15 of us are here now.
So let’s get people familiar with you guys. State your name and what you do.
Rokamouth: I produce, I spit and I design.
Chuck Strangers: I produce, rap and watch internet porn.
Dessy Hinds: I rap, I mean emcee, I like to use emcee better.
A La Soul: Rapper, clothing line designer, sneakerhead.
CJ Fly: Rapper, sergeant.
Kirk Knight: I’m Kirk Knight aka Kirk Mizzle, aka Kirkington. I produce, I rap, I DJ and engineer.
There’s a lot of you guys, how did you guys manage to all come together and form?
CJ Fly: It first started with Joey, myself, Capital Steez and Ali who is one of our producers/DJs. From there we just started growing and growing into one big army.
There’s mentions of Flatbush and Brooklyn, is that home base and where you guys get most of your inspiration from?
CJ Fly: Yuuup. We all go to Murrow (High School), so we all are in the Flatbush area.
Some of your earlier works have been out there for quite some time and some may even say it was overlooked. However today, you guys are the buzz of New York. Tell us about that experience.
CJ Fly: Everything is happening so fast you know? But this is a good thing. It’s a great feeling to see people relating to the music and vibing with it. It’s good to see people appreciate the music and I’m truly humbled by it.
Kirk Knight: It crazy man. It was just little over a year ago. We were just chilling in Joey’s room recording for fun…
CJ Fly: Yeah man, we recorded “Survival Tactics” there and even “Hard Knock” was recorded in Joey’s room.
De La Soul: Yup, and just like from an outsider’s perspective, New York City is “the mecca” of hip-hop and there’s been an absence. No one has came through.
CJ Fly: Everything is still unreal, it’s all happening so fast.
Chuck Strangers: We support HYPETRAK man, shoutout to HYPEBEAST too!
So who’s next up in Pro Era to drop a project after this Joey mixtape?
Pro Era: We have an upcoming project from Capital Steezy.
CJ Fly: You can’t have beast without the hype (laughs).
Capital Steez: Speaking of which, I actually have a song called “HYPEBEAST” on the project but YouTube deleted it, but you can still check it out on Beastcoast47.template.
CJ Fly: Collectively, expect a drop from us before we get heavy into touring. It’s a little “sum-ching,” s-u-m-c-h-i-n-g, sumching. (laughs)
A La $oul: That’s not the title (laughs).
Give us a little background on your group name “Pro Era.”
Capital Steez: We look at ourselves as the new progressive era in music. “Pro Era” is just a little “sum-ching” we did for short. That’s who we are and what we live for. That’s our mindset going into things.
Dirty Sanchez: It’s something we do, and it’s our rules.
So Chuck, you did a lot of the production on Joey’s tape. Great musical synergy and seemingly his go-to guy. How did the music relationship form?
Chuck Strangers: I met Joey through Steez because his sister is homies with my ex-girlfriend. They knew I made beats so they were telling me to meet Steez. I knew Steez though before all these fools went to high school with him (laughs), so we just linked up one day. And that was randomly at a Raekwon concert and then we eventually started working more together. As for Joey, I was already sending him beats for 1999 at first, however they weren’t matching the sound aesthetic of the project. So I had to really sit in, and focus on the sound tip of where he was going with it and at the end it came out really good.
(Joey enters room, a loud roar of greets from the Pros and everyone daps him up)
So tell us, who is Joey Bada$$ on and off the music tip?
Joey Bada$$: Joey Bad. He’s this kid that I made up in my mind you know? Joey Bada$$ doesn’t even exist, I mean to you he does. But to me, he’s just a figment of my imagination.
Tell us about a day in the life of Joey Bada$$ and your intrigue in the chakras.
Joey Bada$$: Yeah definitely, my homie Steez put me on. Actually underachievers put Pro Era on to that shit and every day we just try to open up all our chakras and balance them. That’s what it is.
One of your memorable moments was the impromptu Skype interview with MTV involving Odd Future, tell us how that all went down?
Joey Bada$$: (Laughs) Yeah man, MTV called me on Skype, and I had to cut class and chill behind a staircase to do it.
So you’re still in high school then?
Joey Bada$$: Yeah man, I’m a junior. Still got another year unfortunately (laughs).
How’s school life been after all this shine you have been getting?
Joey Bada$$: People used to never say shit to me before, now it’s kind of like “yo what’s up Joey?!” You know the regular shit, asking me the same ole. New people come up to me everyday now asking me if I rap and stuff. Not to toot my own horn, I’ve always been a popular kid in school so it’s nothing that I’m not really used to. It’s just now though, there some actual fame shit outside of school opposed to me just being a popular kid in school.
In regards to appeal, your music has just that. People see you’re a young rapper with a vintage ’90s flow. Explain how you’re able to bring forth this gritty NYC ’90s flow – where does the sound come from? What inspired you?
Joey Bada$$: I’ve always been flowing in my subconscious from when I was younger, and I just picked up on it as I got older when I reflect on the pass. There was a point when I came into high school a lot of people I met opened my eyes and ears to a lot of different things. Like Steez for example, he put me onto MF Doom and when he put me onto MF Doom, I didn’t even know there was people rapping like that. I was so used to everything that was happening on the radio and the TV screen and that just made me want to find more [of that kind of hip-hop].
You mentioned only knowing music on the radio and TV screen prior to MF Doom’s influence. Who were some of the acts you liked during that time prior to MF Doom?
Joey Bada$$: Weezy F Baby! Please save the babies! (laughs) Word. I used to also listen to Dipset, 50, you know all the commercial shits, the hits. From about 2003 to 2007, shit like that. I used to always wanna know the next dance too, because some new shit was always coming out (laughs).
What was your mindset getting into your 1999 project? Was there a message or sound aesthetic in mind that you wanted to really focus on at any point?
Joey Bada$$: The only concept that was really behind it was how the people refer to the ’90s as the golden age of hip-hop. So ’99 being the last year of that age, it was basically like a “last hope” type of thing you feel me? It also coincides with the whole Y2K epidemic that was happening during that time so I felt it was perfect synchronization during that time only in 2012.
That definitely takes a special producer to recreate that sound. So tell us about some of the producers you’ve been working with.
Joey Bada$$: Chuck Strangers is my homie.
(Chuck walks into the room)
Joey Bada$$: Oh shit you see, synchro-life! Synchro-life! This happens all the time!
Chuck Strangers: What happened?
Joey Bada$$: I just said your name bro and then you just walked in (laughs).
What exactly is “synchro-life?”
Joey Bada$$: (laughs) Synchro-life is just synchronization. Hashtag: synchro-life.
Are you currently working with any outside producers?
Joey Bada$$: Lots of people have hit me up: old heads, the greats. But right now I’m just loyal to my team you feel me? If they’re giving me good beats, I don’t need to reach out. Loyalty before royalty.
Let’s just say though, if you had a choice to work with anyone in the game right now, who would it be?
Joey Bada$$: Well, this DJ Premier thing is about to happen real soon. Lord Finesse is also on the table. Pete Rock perhaps, but I haven’t gotten official word yet, but I’m sure we can work something out.
Those three you just mentioned had a stronghold in the golden era. Defined the hip-hip landscape during that time. They also parallel what you do it seems. Would you ever be open to do something on a mainstream level?
Joey Bada$$: Oh you know what, Hit-Boy actually hit me up yesterday and not to say he’s mainstream, but I would never turn down a good beat. I’d rather just lock myself in a studio with someone from my team rather than going somewhere else. I mean I would do it but it’s always loyalty over royalty for me.
Any final words?
Joey Bada$$: Download 1999 and I been trying to get on HYPETRAK for a minute! Thank you for the opportunity.
The best right there, so is this something we can expect on an upcoming album? What’s your plans for that?
Joey Bada$$: Next year, maybe year and a half. I’m going to drop a couple of projects in between that time as well.