Print Edition: September 3, 2014
The Shift was released back in May, making it the most recent release by Pro Era. Founded by Capital STEEZ (Jamal Dewar, now deceased), the New York hip-hop collective counts among its ranks Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly, Kirk Knight, A La $ole, Nyck Caution, and others, a total of 13 rappers, three in-house producers, as well as several other members with roles as photographers and publicists.
Released in between CJ Fly’s mixtape The Way Eye See It and Joey Bada$$’s upcoming debut album B4DA$$ (the title of which, pronounced “before the money,” a reference to the fact that Joey Bada$$, despite numerous releases, features, and praise from the hip-hop community, has chosen not to sign to a record label and remains independent, affording him creative control over his music), The Shift is one of several bodies of work released by Pro Era as a collective, featuring various MCs on each track.
“Extortion,” the first track off the mixtape, features a busy, hazy production, and verses by Kirk Knight and Deymond Lewis. Although the former delivers the better verse, Deymond’s is different enough in style and execution from Kirk’s to make the combination of both verses coalesce into a thoroughly enjoyable track to kick off the mixtape.
The production on “Come Come,” the second track on The Shift (which features verses from Dirty Sanchez, RokaMouth, and Jakk the Rhymer), comes off as kind of uninspired, although Dirty Sanchez’s verse serves to tie the track together with a rhythm that seems more suitable to the production.
Featuring verses from A La $ole, Dessy Hinds, CJ Fly, and a steady, grooving beat, “Hail Razor” is one of The Shift’s best tracks. Each of the three featured rappers deliver great verses, starting with A La $ole’s controlled cadence spilling over the track, and although Dessy’s verse has a comparatively messier delivery than the previous one, the energy he brings to the track more than makes up for it. CJ Fly delivers the last verse in a manner so relaxed and full of confidence it’s easy to miss how good it is; CJ doesn’t miss a beat, and gives us a verse that easily equals — perhaps surpasses — A La $ole’s.
“On My Life” has the honour of hosting one of Joey Bada$$’s only two verses on all of The Shift, as well as highlighting Nyck and Joey’s expertise as rappers, and features some of the more interesting production on the mixtape. Right from the start, Nyck Caution spits his verse in an almost ridiculously fluid manner; it’s as if while he’s rapping he’s not attempting to deliver his verse, not consciously making an effort to perform a sequence of lines that he’s written and learned beforehand. Instead, Nyck’s verse seems to literally flow from him over an ethereal, almost dreamy production, a waterfall of words effortlessly and naturally cascading out from some internal reservoir completely of their own volition.
This track is a perfect example of how much Joey Bada$$ has groomed and perfected his craft since his 2012 release of 1999, a mixtape that thrust the then-17-year-old Brooklyn native into the spotlight. Two years later, Bada$$ is consistently crafting verses that display an almost absurd level of skill — and while this verse is a far cry from being the best thing Joey has put out, it’s still hands-down one of the best and most ambitious verses on the mixtape.
“Butterflies,” the last song on The Shift, has some really relaxed production work; it’s calm, and it highlights the verses of the six rappers on it. Standout verses abound — this track is a testament to how much talent the members of Pro Era truly have. Rokamouth’s verse, for instance, is fluid from start to finish. CJ Fly’s rhyming is concise and meticulous, boasting a fast-paced, unbroken rhyming pattern in his verse. Kirk Knight’s verse on this track is one of the most enjoyable, whereas Dessy Hinds’ preceding verse is good, but not great. Of all the verses featured on this track, however, the best is saved for last, as Joey Bada$$ boasts a fluid and deliciously wordy verse, as well as a sentimental touch by ending the song off with a nod to Steelo: “In honour of the Pro Steez we proceed.”
I’d like to think that, were he alive to hear it, The Shift would make King Capital proud.